Editor’s Note: Since this story was published, two additional Pitt students were awarded Fulbright winners, bringing the total to 13. Read the updated story here.
Planning for the future can be worrisome. But for 11 Pitt students, the first few upcoming steps toward a career have been established — at least for a few months.
These 11 students are recipients of Fulbright Scholarships for the 2018-2019 school year. The Fulbright annually awards 1,900 scholarships to recent college graduates from the United States who will spend time in a foreign country where they can teach English, conduct research or earn a master’s degree. The scholarship exists in order to improve cultural relations between countries.
Fulbright applicants hear back in a rolling process based on the country they apply to, but Pitt’s Honors College has been announcing winners on social media as they hear back. So far, seven winners have been announced.
Among the winners is senior linguistics major Abby Neer. Her scholarship will send her to South Korea for the first time to teach English as a second language to elementary or secondary school students for a year. Applicants have the opportunity to choose their host country, and due to her interest in the culture and her knowledge of the language, Neer said she chose South Korea.
Neer said the Fulbright program at Pitt, which is run by the Honors College, was instrumental in the application process.
“The Pitt Honors College, they really help you,” Neer said. “I had multiple appointments just to help me with my application, they read through it with me and told me based on experience like ‘Oh, this is what the selection committee likes, make sure you add this, emphasize this part or whatever.’ It was kind of a lengthy application process, but they helped a lot with it.”
When reviewing applications, the Fulbright committee looks for students who will represent the United States well in other countries.
Lesha Greene, Pitt’s Fulbright adviser, attributed the students’ success to Pitt’s Fulbright advising, which specializes in helping applicants individualize their profiles.
“At the Honors College and by extension at Pitt, we take a very personalized approach to advising. While winning a Fulbright is the end goal, we focus more on helping the students tell their stories, whatever they may be. Fulbright is looking for a diversity of experiences and voices, and we try to focus our recruiting and mentoring efforts on bringing new stories and different backgrounds to the forefront,” Greene said.
For Neer, this background was defined by her time spent working with the Korean community in Pittsburgh through multiple conversation groups. Neer said the Fulbright Korean program does not require an applicant to know Korean, but her time as a conversation partner in addition to her coursework may have put her at an advantage in the Fulbright committee’s eyes.
“I was already going in having three years of college instruction Korean, so I think that helped my chances a lot. Also being a linguistics major, that probably helped because I’ve taken classes specifically on second language acquisition and seeing that side of it,” Neer said.
Greene and other advisers in the Honors College helped applicants hone in on their passions and academic backgrounds in order to perfect their applications. For Zac Enick, a fifth-year senior and Fulbright winner with a double major in French and Italian, it was a linguistics research background and a passion for language acquisition that likely helped him win the scholarship. Enick is headed to France in the fall to get a master’s in fundamental and applied language research.
“I’ve known for quite some time that I have been thoroughly interested in languages. I’m not very good at many other things,” Enick said. “So language was like, ‘If I want to study something I enjoy, language is my only out.’ But aside from that I’ve always been fascinated by language and how distinct it can make people from other people and people from other animals.”
Enick said he’s studied two other languages — Italian and American Sign Language — but he’s studied French the longest. After 11 years of learning the language, including a study abroad trip to Paris in 2016, Enick said the “draw” he felt from France compelled him to apply for a Fulbright there.
“It’s a beautiful language, I’ve had a lot of time to read literature, to study at times superficially and other times with a greater scrutiny French politics, French culture, how the two interact, French people, French behaviors,” Enick said.
When applying for a Fulbright scholarship, a student can go through a host institution, which Enick said is preferable, or they can apply as an individual as what’s called an “at-large student.” While the official Fulbright deadline isn’t until October, Pitt has a host institution deadline in late August in order to give enough time for the advisers to work with students on perfecting their official Fulbright application.
Enick said the Fulbright advisers were instrumental throughout his application process, but they were indispensable when he really decided to start his application 10 days before the Pitt host application deadline.
“I was like, ‘It’s time we start actually looking into what a Fulbright is’ and I didn’t realize that the applications were due in like 10 days,” Enick said. “I reached out to the Fulbright advisers who were a huge help, pretty much immediately, and they sort of gave me a road map of what I needed to do.”
Enick isn’t sure what he wants to do after his master’s program, but he said he has a few things on his agenda before he leaves in the fall for Universite de Cergy-Pontoise. Primarily, he wants to spruce up his French skills.
“The last French class I was in was the fall of 2017, so I haven’t spoken French regularly in a while,” Enick said. “So I’m gonna spend this summer listening to podcasts, I’m gonna try to get a penpal, grease up the wheels a little bit.”
While Enick said he’s stressed about switching tongues, Neer said she’s nervous about the sensitivity of hers.
“I’m probably just gonna relax and decompress after the semester and try to raise my spice tolerance,” Neer said. “The food is pretty spicy there and I don’t wanna be a wimp. I don’t want them to just give me less spicy food, I want to be able to do the real thing. So I’ll do that, work on my chopstick skills, stuff like that.”
Pitt’s announced 2019 Fulbright winners:
Fiona Eichinger — Malta
Zac Enick — France
Grace McHale — Brazil
Suzanna Carnevali-Doan — Brazil
Abby Neer — South Korea
Jennie O’Donaghue — Colombia
Elizabeth Withers — Colombia
Jess Penn — Taiwan
David Skrovanek — Germany
David Nascari — Italy
Saket Rajprohat — India