Bates College has been named the top producer of Fulbright Student awards for the second out of three years. This prestigious award was originally created by Senator J. William Fulbright in 1945 to promote international goodwill by sending talented and driven U.S. students abroad. Yet, one may wonder why Bates is one of the top producers of Fulbright student awards, and what the whole process is really like?
To begin, students are encouraged to start thinking about their application as early as six months in advance of the early October application deadline. One Fulbright recipient is Sarah Rothmann ’19, who is teaching English in the Czech Republic. She said that it is “never too early to start your application!” When asked what her advice would be to prospective applicants, she said that she would recommend allocating plenty of time to the application and to “research your country thoroughly before applying.” Furthermore, she emphasized that “if you have never been abroad or don’t have much teaching experience, still consider applying.”
In addition to the challenge of curating the application, applicants need to prepare for an interview in the early fall. These interviews are conducted by the Campus Committee Evaluation (CCE) in early September to both evaluate students and prepare them for the final stages of their application.
Robert Strong, the Director of National Fellowships at Bates, explained that these interviews are conducted so many weeks in advance because they are meant to be a tool to strengthen applications rather than an attempt to weed applicants out. Strong explains that at Bates, the interviews are meant to be a positive opportunity where “you could ask a question of someone on the committee and keep working on improving your application.”
Rothmann said that her interview was “a bit intimidating but extremely helpful,” and that it helped her “feel as confident as possible about becoming a finalist.”
Part of the interview’s effectiveness comes from the exceptional professors that comprise it. Selected from a variety of disciplines, these professors work closely with students throughout the application process.
Strong highlighted that the “thesis culture” at Bates is one of the many factors in Bates student’s success with Fulbright applications.
In addition to Bates’ exceptional mentoring relationships, Strong commented that the emphasis on community engagement in Lewiston, a surprisingly international city, gives Bates students an edge.
Rothmann commented that in her time at Bates, she spent a large portion of time at the Lewiston Public Schools as part of her many education courses. This experience helped her decide to pursue teaching, and she used her other extracurriculars to construct a compelling application.
Overall, the entire process of Fulbright is extremely rewarding for both professors and students. Strong explained that many professors find working on the committee gratifying because “you work with students who are going after a goal, and [who] are self-motivated.”
Committee members and students engage in deep conversations that can be beneficial even if the student does not receive a grant. The rigorous process of identifying and articulating one’s passions, goals and skills is an invaluable experience that can aid in graduate school applications, or even applications to other scholarships and awards.
Strong has found that for him and other professors on the committee, working with students towards the goal of a Fulbright award is extremely fulfilling, because “you get to work with them in this magic moment. And then, if they’re successful you get to see their joy at getting the grant.”