Dolph Lundgren, Wallace Stegner, John Steinbeck, Henry Kissinger and John Lithgow were all Fulbright Scholars. University of Utah students Alison Shimko and Elizabeth Gamarra recently joined that list. Both will head to Spain to teach English beginning Fall 2017. Two other students, Tuscan Thompson and Claire Taylor, were selected as alternates.
The Fulbright Scholarship is a prestigious program that allows 1,900 US students each year to travel abroad either to perform research or to teach English. Past recipients of the award include 54 Nobel Prize winners, 92 Pulitzer Prize winners and 33 heads of state or government.
The program is sponsored by the US Department of State and allows scholars a stipend to explore the local culture when not in the classroom or lab. While both Shimko and Gamarra are participating in the English Teaching Assistant (ETA) program in Spain, if selected Taylor hopes to conduct research in New Zealand, while Thompson would teach English in South Korea.
The U’s Fulbright program has an exceptional ratio of applicants who are offered a scholarship, with four of 14 candidates gaining at least alternate status this year. Howard Lehman, a professor in the Political Science department and director of the program, said that the program’s number of applicants lag behind those of other Pac-12 schools such as Stanford, however, which sees up to 60 applicants per year.
The program is open to both undergrads and graduate students and operates in over 160 countries worldwide. Its mission, according to Lehman, is to strengthen relations between US citizens and other nationalities in order to solve global challenges. The application process involves writing a personal statement and letter of purpose and securing three references, while applicants are evaluated on their academic background, community involvement and previous language experience.
Shimko and Gamarra aren’t well acquainted and coincidentally chose Spain as their destination, though each has an impressive background that is characteristic of Fulbright recipients. Shimko is an honors student, graduating this semester with degrees in Speech and Hearing Science and Spanish. She was inspired by her high school Spanish teacher who pushed her to develop her language skills while guiding her to success in a difficult class. This led to an interest in learning more about Spanish culture and instilling in her a deep respect for teaching, which is evident in her work with children at the Natural History Museum of Utah.
Gamarra brings a different background to the Fulbright program as a lifelong Spanish speaker from Peru. In 2003, she emigrated to the US with her family at the age of six. She recalled in her essay the challenges of being an outsider as a young student and how that experience has shaped her life. Overcoming early adversity led to her work in an ESL program at Salt Lake Community College, where she mentored students and taught citizenship classes for new refugees. At just 19 years old, Gamarra is already pursuing a Master’s in Social Work and will eventually work toward a Ph.D. in the same field.
For students interested in pursuing a Fulbright Scholarship, Lehman is eager to provide guidance through the application process. Lehman hopes to see the program expand and catch up with other Pac-12 institutions while maintaining the U’s high acceptance rate. For more information on the program, visit http://www.fulbright.utah.edu/ or contact Lehman via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.