University News

Fulbright winners find life-changing experiences in posts abroad

Fellowships & Student Research
February 12, 2024

Halfway through her time as a 2023-24 Fulbright student teaching in Mexico, Audra Kimbell ’23 is experiencing “some of the most formative months of my life.”

In a Vienna classroom, Sarah Kovacic ’23 is challenging European assumptions of the United States — and reconsidering the U.S. perspective as well.

And living in Colombia, Fernanda Aiala ’23 finds her eyes open “to the realities of the world, about how amazing and vast Colombian culture, natural beauty, and hospitality goes.”

The three are among four recent Denison graduates now abroad after winning prestigious Fulbright U.S. Student grants for the 2023-2024 academic year — a total that once again secured Denison’s place as a Fulbright Top Producing Institution. The program announced its list of institutions on Tuesday, Feb. 13.

Denison has been named a Top Producer for six of the last seven years.

The college’s fourth Fulbright student, Zoya Gheisar ’23, is also in Colombia. Gheisar was a history and data analytics double major with a Spanish minor. A fifth Denison graduate declined a Fulbright to accept a job opportunity.

“Denison students are bright, driven, and intellectually curious about the world around them,” President Adam Weinberg said. “They graduate ready to hit the ground running, and these Fulbright awards underscore that readiness to contribute to important global conversations.”

Fulbright grants are awarded based on academic and professional achievement, as well as applicants’ records of service and leadership potential in their respective fields.

Funded by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, these grants build international bridges through education. Awardees spend a post-graduate academic year teaching English, conducting research, or studying at a university in one of over 140 participating countries.

“There are many things that make Denison students strong applicants for Fulbright,” said Corey Efron, assistant director of fellowships at the Lisska Center for Intellectual Engagement. “Fulbright is definitely prestigious, but they care about much more than a student’s GPA. Denison students excel because they are multi-dimensional.”

Interested in applying for a Fulbright?

Current juniors, seniors, and recent graduates are eligible to apply for the next cycle of Fulbright awards. Please contact the Lisska Center to register for an in-person information session on Feb. 29, or a virtual session on March 4.

Denison’s Lisska Center for Intellectual Engagement provides advice and support for students preparing their applications for Fulbright and a wide range of other international and domestic fellowships.

Efron works individually with students to craft personal statements, refine applications, and meet deadlines. The effort required in applying for grants like Fulbright is considerable, but students shouldn’t mistake that for insurmountable, Efron said.

“If you asked any of our students, ‘Did you think you would win?’ they probably would say, ‘No,’” Efron said. “But they’ve proven that it definitely is attainable.”

Kimbell, the recent graduate teaching in Mexico and a Spanish and history double major, said the months of preparation — the Fulbright application process takes the better part of a year — were worth it.

“It has been an incredible journey,” she said, “meeting countless people, living in and exploring Yucatán on my own as well with new friends I’ve made along the way, and enjoying a year out of graduation that looks very different to that of many of my peers.”

She began teaching in a small town but later moved to a larger city, where she connected with other Fulbright students, volunteered at a local museum, and immersed herself in Mexican daily life.

“Denison taught me the value of adaptability,” she said.

Outside the classroom, Kovacic, in Vienna, has been building a database of music files for the Exilarte Center, a research institute for the University of Music and Performing Arts that revives the lives, legacies, and musical works of musicians and composers who were persecuted, exiled, and murdered by the Nazis. Kovacic was a German and history double major at Denison, with a minor in East Asian studies.

In Colombia, Aiala had wondered whether her teaching would leave only a fleeting impression on her students. Those doubts have been allayed. She majored in biology and minored in Spanish at Denison.

“Now I see how excited they are and how much they love having a U.S. representative in class with them,” she said. “Living in Colombia has also taught and helped me grow as a person. I’m so grateful that my time at Denison has prepared me to have experiences like these.”

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