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Showing Smith’s Global Reach: Fellowships Exemplify Smith’s Prominence as a “World College”

By Eric Sean Weld

This fall, 14 Smith graduates, including eight graduates of the class of 2007, have begun a range of research projects and teaching jobs in 11 countries in Asia, Africa, Europe and South America using the highly coveted scholarships they received from the Fulbright U.S. Student Program.

Like their predecessors—17 Smith women in 2006 and the 14 in 2005 named as Fulbright scholars—they went fully prepared. By the time they had boarded planes for their overseas destinations and had begun their year abroad, these Smith graduates already possessed many of the skills and qualities they will need to be successful.

Sidebar: Oh, the Places You’ll Go

With the college’s strong and long-standing emphasis on studying abroad, its programs in leadership and its broad and ongoing interactions with people and institutions around the world, Smith students already have the framework and understanding to direct projects, work with diverse populations and contribute to the betterment of the world—some of the criteria valued by the Fulbright program.

“To win a Fulbright in the first place, they’re already exceptional and extraordinary individuals,” says Donald Andrew, fellowships adviser in the Office of the Class Deans, “through their academic performance and extracurricular activities. One way or another, they’re already leaders.”

This year’s crop of Smith Fulbrighters, among 30 of the college’s applicants for the prestigious scholarship, represents one of the college’s highest percentages of successes for the program. In fact, Smith’s 47 percent yield of Fulbright fellows this year is nearly double the typical percentage of Fulbrighters accepted from the applicant pools of most colleges nationwide, says Tony Claudino, director of Fulbright Student Outreach.

During the past four years, Smith has remained among the leaders nationally in its production of Fulbright Fellows. With 17 Fellows in 2006, Smith led the nation with the highest proportion of any institution.

“It takes a campus to produce a Fellow,” says Donald Andrew, fellowships adviser in the Office of the Class Deans. Andrew attributes Smith’s success to an extensive collaboration in which he and faculty members work closely with students during the application process. Photo by Fish/Parham.

The Fulbright U.S. Student Program is the largest international exchange program in the country, operating in more than 140 countries worldwide.

The Fulbright grant is given annually by the U.S. Department of State to support student projects and academic endeavors abroad. The fellowship, which was named after Senator J. William Fulbright, is awarded to recent bachelor’s degree recipients and master’s and doctoral candidates, as well as to young professionals and artists.

In addition to its relatively high number of Fulbright Fellows in 2007, Smith also helped 49 alumnae and current students win fellowships with several other programs, including six Blumberg Traveling Fellows and two Boren Scholars for study abroad; two DAAD Fellows for study abroad in Germany; three French Government Teaching Fellows; and two Goldwater Scholars for study in the sciences, mathematics and engineering.

Smith’s high yield of Fulbright Fellows and its overall fellowships success continues a recent trend for the college, says Andrew. In addition to acknowledging the impact of the college’s leadership and international studies programs, Andrew attributes Smith’s success to an extensive collaboration in which he and faculty members work closely with students during the application process.

“It takes a campus to produce a fellow,” says Andrew, who has served as fellowships adviser for six years. “It involves a lot of people. It’s a big process and a huge amount is learned. It’s a matter of getting everyone on board, everyone engaged.”

Greg White, professor of government, attributes much of the college’s Fulbright success to the dedication of individuals on campus, such as Andrew, to shepherding students through the rigorous application process. But White also points out that Smith’s commitment to playing a positive role in the world undergirds its Fulbright application system.

“We often talk about Smith as a ‘world college,’” says White, who lived and worked in Tunisia in 1991 on a Fulbright student fellowship and who mentors Fulbright candidates at Smith. “This is part of that. There’s a strong interest and an emphasis in going abroad here that is, perhaps, unique. Time and time again, the successful Fulbright candidates are those who have been abroad.”

Fulbright’s Claudino, who works with applicants from several colleges—including Smith—in the Northeast, agrees that Smith highly values its students’ experiences abroad in comparison to other schools. He also attributes the college’s success with Fulbright awards to the collaboration among faculty in mentoring its grant applicants.

The benefits of a Fulbright Fellowship are many, says Andrew. “Recipients will often refer to their Fulbright year as one of the most influential times of their lives,” he says. “Through this experience, these scholars can go on to become influential people. They become wiser and able to understand more. They become better big-picture thinkers, which is what leaders need to be.”

Equally as important, says Andrew, is the presence of talented young leaders from Smith interacting with those far away from campus. “The Fulbright program is creating mutual understanding,” explains Andrew. “It enhances one’s empathy toward other people and other nations. And people in the host countries get to know an outstanding American.”

Indeed, Smith’s success with Fulbright and other fellowships programs is a substantial component of the college’s mission as “a college of and for the world.”

“Smith College is very proud of its recent succession of Fulbright scholars,” says President Carol Christ. “The Fulbright program provides a unique opportunity for our students to increase their experience and understanding of the world and to learn about other people and about themselves. For many, the Fulbright Fellowship represents the beginning of a lifetime of international work.”

Ka’Neda Ellison ’06, who taught English at an all-girls’ middle school in Cheongju, South Korea, as a Fulbright scholar last year, attests that the Fulbright experience is one of opportunity and change. “Living in Korea for a year began as a journey and ended as a life-changing voyage,” says Ellison, who was president of the Student Government Association during her senior year and is now serving a two-year term on Smith’s board of trustees. “Surprises became expected and welcome. Adapt, question and observe would be my first words of wisdom to current and future Fulbright scholars.”

For Andrew, one aspect of the Fulbright program has particular relevance in today’s unsettled world.

“The more bridges we build between countries, the more peace we will have on earth,” he says.

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