Nine Pitt students, alumni awarded Fulbright scholarship


TPN File Photo

The Cathedral of Learning.

By Khushi Rai, Staff Writer

From teaching English in Turkey to studying sustainability in Iceland, Pitt students and alumni are taking full advantage of their recently awarded Fulbright scholarships. 

The Fulbright scholarship, a prestigious program sponsored by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, enables students to teach or conduct research abroad. 

This year, nine Pitt students and alumni won the scholarship — Emma Adams, Robert Blankemeyer, Diana Flatto, Benjamin Hudock, Karenna Öner, Meghan Orman, Emma Rupert, Sophie Sfeir and Lauren Towner. Two are doctoral students, one is an undergraduate student and six are recent graduates.

Karenna Öner, who graduated from Pitt in 2021 with a degree in political science, is using the scholarship to teach English to students in Turkey with the Turkish Fulbright Commission. She said she has studied the intersection of international education and refugee resettlement and hopes to continue doing so during and after her Fulbright scholarship.

“My cultural background has shaped my interest in human security,” Öner said. “Colombia and Turkey are both countries with significant migration crises, which I explored as a political science major. At the same time, I double majored in English writing and dove into narratives of the displaced and other marginalized populations.”

Öner said she applied for the Fulbright scholarship because it allows her to focus on her research without worrying about finances.

“The award is an unparalleled opportunity to live abroad and embrace another country while earning a comfortable stipend from the federal government,” Öner said. “As a first-generation American of Colombian and Turkish heritage, international exposure has always been a top priority of mine and the Fulbright is a fully funded opportunity to live and work a year abroad.”

Benjamin Hudock, another Fulbright recipient, graduated from Pitt in December with a degree in chemical engineering. He will use his Fulbright to teach English in Brazil, and said he likes the flexibility it gives him between graduation and the start of the program in March.

“I knew the program was going to start in March and I wanted some time to just kind of go wherever right after graduation,” Hudock said. 

Hudock said it’s important for applicants to start their application early because acceptance depends on the nature of the grant, including the type of work the recipient plans on doing and the country they want to travel to. 

Pitt’s Honors College coordinates applications for the program, providing advice and coaching. The national submission deadline for the 2023-24 year is Oct. 11, but the Honors College requires that applicants submit their materials to the National Scholarships Advising Office before the general deadline.

“There was a campus deadline in August,” Hudock said. “So I submitted more or less the 80% version of what was going to be the final product. I did the interview with the committee and then submitted the final thing in October. My advice is to start as early as possible.”

Meghan Orman is a doctorate student in applied developmental psychology who will be spending next year in Iceland studying the connection between kids and nature. She said she’s interested in the role of sustainability in educational systems around the world.

“The research I do is on kids and nature,” Orman said. “Iceland provides a really unique opportunity, and that nature is part of the school curriculum from early childhood all the way up through even university. So, there’s a strong emphasis on nature and sustainability across the educational systems here in Iceland.”

Orman said the Fulbright scholarship propelled her career. She said she tells others to apply to Fulbright if they are unsure of what they want to do because the process helped her figure out her future.

“The application process was impactful in itself even before I knew I got the Fulbright,” Orman said. “Sitting down to really focus and write on, you know, what I see myself doing down the road in one or five years sort of helped me find the thread that I’ve had throughout my whole academic career and tie it together in a really coherent story.”

Diana Flatto is in her third year of Pitt’s doctorate program in the history of art and architecture and said she is traveling to Argentina for her Fulbright because it is necessary for her dissertation.

“My dissertation focuses on women in anti-fascist visual culture between Argentina and why most of the archives and artworks that I’m studying are in Argentina,” Flatto said. “I’ll be based in Buenos Aires, but I’ll be traveling to other cities around the country that have other resources as well.”

Flatto said it was crucial for students to plan their goals for the Fulbright ahead of the application.

“Make sure that you find a project and a place that you want to go that you care deeply about that you feel connected to in some way,” Flatto said. “Be able to communicate that really well to have the best shot at it and also the best experience once you get there.”