The Chronicle of Higher Education ranked Occidental College 10th overall among liberal arts colleges by number of Fulbright scholars produced for the 2015–2016 academic year. Occidental ranked higher than institutions such as Wesleyan University and Claremont McKenna College. Last year, nine Occidental students and alumni were awarded the prestigious scholarship. Since 2003, 94 Occidental graduates have won Fulbright scholarships.
The Fulbright scholarship is funded by the Department of State and is a grant that students and recent graduates can apply for to study, conduct research or teach abroad for one academic year.
While many Fulbright scholars teach English abroad, Ella Fornari ’16 took a different route with her Fulbright scholarship.
Fornari is currently completing a Master of Science at the University of Nottingham in Biological Photography and Imaging with her Fulbright scholarship.
“The summer before senior year I was looking into what options I had for post-grad,” Fornari said. “Like many seniors, I saw my options as getting a job, going to graduate school or traveling indefinitely.”
Kim Babon, director of national and international fellowships at Occidental, helps students start the application process the summer prior to their senior year.
Once the student arrives on campus in the fall, they begin working with a faculty mentor — someone who is not necessarily an expert in the Fulbright program, but who can help them refine their Fulbright goals. The application process extends from the spring until the following October when the candidate interviews with a panel of Occidental faculty and staff.
“It’s literally just Fulbright asking us, ‘Will this person be a strong representative of the Fulbright program? Do they have the skills to carry out the grant they seek?’” Babon said.
A number of offices on campus work together to secure students with Fulbright scholarships abroad. Babon, faculty members and the Fulbright faculty committee fill these advisory roles. Occidental’s Fulbright committee consists of 38 faculty members that conduct the on-campus interview required by the Fulbright commission, complete an evaluation of candidates and provide mentorship for essays and program selection. The writing center also assists students with polishing up their essays and proposals.
“Faculty who work with the Fulbright Program on campus mentor applicants at all stages of the application process,” Clair Morrissey, associate professor of philosophy and Fornari’s Fulbright advisor, said. “They help students and alumni identify programs, draft application materials and prepare for the on-campus interviews.”
The Fulbright application continues on after a candidate has submitted their materials in October. The candidates learn whether they have made it to the interview round of the process in January and hear if they are accepted in April.
In addition to the intensive support Occidental provides students and alumni applying for Fulbright scholarships, Fornari credits Occidental’s success to its culture of community involvement.
“Part of the mission of Fulbright is bringing young ambassadors around the world,” Fornari said. “To be an ambassador you cannot, say, be the kind of student that stays in studying every Saturday. It’s more about what you do with your studies and that you are a productive member of your community. I think in ways Oxy fosters many students like this.”
Fulbright scholar Samuel Ravetz ’16 is currently teaching English in Madrid, Spain. Ravetz was tasked with leading the program Global Classrooms, which prepares ninth graders for a Model United Nations conference.
“I’ve found that the majority of the others on the [Fulbright] program closely resemble those of Oxy students, a consciousness of the indecencies surrounding us and a natural pull of wanting to make the world around us a better place,” Ravetz said.
According to Babon, the extensive research opportunities at Occidental offered by the Undergraduate Research Center prepare the Fulbright research applicants to submit compelling proposals for meaningful research. Additionally, she observed that many Occidental students are intrinsically motivated to volunteer and get involved in the community beyond campus.
“It’s a confluence of a lot of different experiences that Oxy students [have] while they’re here that really just provide a set of skills, support and the excitement for that international experience,” Babon said.
There are currently 13 Occidental students and alumni who have advanced to the interview round of the process and will hear in May whether or not they have won a Fulbright scholarship.