SMC Recognized for Fulbright Scholars

Caitlin Herz | Staff Writer |

Recently the U.S Department of State recognized St. Michael’s as one of the colleges and universities with a high number of students who received Fulbright Scholar awards. St. Michael’s has four Fulbright scholars who are currently abroad in Mexico, Thailand, Vietnam and Spain. 

Professor Patricia Siplon shares her input on how Fulbright is a great opportunity for students 

“The schools are recognized because it’s a marker that they are producing culturally competent citizens,” said Patricia Siplon, professor of political science and a two time Fulbright scholar. St. Michael’s has many study abroad opportunities that allow students to prepare for the Fulbright experience ahead of time, while expanding their cultural experiences.

Jeff Ayres, professor of political science and the director of the Center for Global Engagement is a member of the Campus Fulbright Committee that supports and guides students through the Fulbright application process.

“The designation is really prestigious, especially for us because we’re smaller,” Ayres said. “I know that percentage wise University of Vermont and Middlebury have a larger student population than we do, I think we compare incredibly to those two other Vermont schools.”

The University of Vermont with 12,000 undergraduate students has three Fulbright scholars, and Middlebury with 2,800 students was recognized for having four. St. Michael’s small student population makes this a big accomplishment, and the community allows students to be fully equipped for the Fulbright process.

The Campus Fulbright Committee is made up of five faculty all of whom are previous Fulbright scholars. Patricia Siplon, Jeffrey Ayres, Candas Pinar, Kimberly Sultze, and Jon Hyde are the members of this community. This committee recruits students in the beginning of every fall semester, and interviews students throughout the process, leading to the professors reading the students personal mission statements. After this process, the student then gets sponsored by St. Michael’s in order to become a Fulbright scholar. 

Fulbright Scholar Haley Jensen ’22 is studying abroad in Vietnam.

The four scholars who were recognized by the U.S. Department of State are all English teaching assistants, working in places of higher education.

Aisha Navarette ’23, is a Fulbright scholar in Mexico at the Instituto Tecnológico Superior de Zacapoaxtla in the state of Puebla. “I will never forget my first year at Saint Mikes when I was introduced to my advisor and she asked me about myself and my hopes for my college experience,” Navarette said. “After sharing some of my thoughts, Professor Siplon said ‘Remind me you’re going to apply for a Fulbright, we will revisit it your junior year’. I remember having no idea what a Fulbright was but being excited that someone had ideas for all my exciting dreams,” Navarette said. As a Fulbrght scholar, students immerse themselves in a different country and culture for a whole year, and going into a new country with a specific role can make it a very meaningful experience.

Kimberly Sultze, a professor of digital media and communications, worked as a wildlife photographer for her Fulbright experience in Malaysia. Sultze said being a Fulbright requires a lot of adaptability. “Being in a heavily intensive multilingual society was very significant in my experience,” Sultze said. “Fulbright gave me a really good sense of Malaysian culture.” The Fulbright experience is very transformative according to Sultze. Students are fully immersed in a new culture and a certain level of cultural competence is imperative before starting the year-long cultural immersion.

According to Ayres, the small class sizes at St. Michael’s foster open communication between students and professors, and this  helps students get involved with study abroad opportunities, including Fulbright. It is important to build up skills and competence with other study abroad opportunities before becoming a Fulbright. Adaptability and openness are crucial to being a Fulbright.

Jeremy Little, ’23, is an English teaching assistant in Madrid, Spain. “I spent about 18 hours per week in a Spanish secondary school teaching various subjects in English,” Little said. “Much of my time is spent giving cultural lessons in English classes about different aspects of life in the United States. These are classes where I do most if not all of the lesson planning and subject material decisions.”

Little believes that St. Michael’s staff helps facilitate the cultural competence of students. “The Center for Global Engagement on campus and its director, Jeffrey Ayres, has done a stupendous job with providing students with the resources and knowledge necessary to be not only conscientious community members, but more aware global citizens,” Little said. “It has helped many clubs and individual students to learn and experience life in ways that would not be possible without the strong leadership of all its amazing members.”

Hayley Jensen, ’22, is teaching English in Vietnam at Hue University’s School of Hospitality and Tourism. “The scholars are internationally-minded, compassionate people that can adapt to new and unfamiliar situations,” Jensen said. “These are skills that SMC encouraged us to develop while at school. Additionally, I think the relationships that we are able to form with professors really helps in the Fulbright process. The Fulbright can seem like an impossible dream, but Professor Siplon and all my other amazing faculty role models never made it seem like that. She encouraged me to work toward my goal, giving me invaluable guidance and support to be successful.”

The Campus Fulbright Committee places an emphasis on how it is never too early to begin the Fulbright process. “Get started early,” Ayres said. “This is a really great opportunity for a student if you are interested in pursuing a Fulbright. Ideally don’t wait until the month before your senior year starts to start thinking about it.” The professors involved with Fulbright are willing to make themselves available to any student interested in Fulbright, they are a crucial aspect of the process and want to guide students to success.

“Fulbright is not only an amazing way to get out in the world yourself, but the Fulbright program is designed to bring people from other parts of the world to campus,” Ayres said. Fulbright is a worldwide organization, and the exchange of cultures is really impactful to the scholars. Ayres said, “It promotes mutual understanding, it helps break down barriers between people around the world.”

The Fulbright program brings scholars an entirely new study abroad experience; the year-long exposure into another country is a life-altering experience, according to Siplon. St. Michael’s Campus Fulbright Committee supports students through the intense process in order for the students to fulfill their goals and potential.