This article appeared in the Port Side‘s December 2012 print issue.
It is hard to find a liberal arts education better than what is offered here in Claremont. However, with Claremont’s high emphasis on humanities and a well-rounded education, the opportunities to learn job-related skills are mostly limited to summer internships and post-graduate fellowships.
For those students wishing to pursue a career overseas or experience a year living abroad, the Fulbright Fellowship is to international fellowships what the Claremont Colleges are to a liberal arts education.
Last year, 202 students at Pitzer, Scripps, Pomona, and Claremont McKenna applied for Fulbright Fellowships: 68 at Pitzer, 41 at Scripps, 59 at Pomona and 34 at CMC. Of those who applied, 19 Pitzer students, 14 Scripps students, 14 Pomona students, and 9 CMC students were awarded a Fulbright Fellowship.
In October, The Chronicle of Higher Education released a ranked list of the nation’s top producers of Fulbright students among bachelor’s institutions . The top three colleges, Pitzer, Scripps, and Pomona, are all Claremont schools, with Claremont McKenna College also coming in at 10th place.
“Nowhere touches Claremont,” said Pitzer Political Studies professor and Fulbright advisor, Nigel Boyle, who argued that Claremont has become “the national hot spot” for producing Fulbright winners.
With dominance in the rankings, it is obvious that Claremont students applying possess these characteristics and more. But how are the colleges fostering winning Fulbright applications, and what are some of them doing better than others?
This marks the third consecutive year that Pitzer has topped The Chronicle of Higher Education’s rankings, and the ninth year in a row that Pitzer College students and alumni are national leaders in Fulbright Fellowships per thousand students. Pitzer is clearly doing something right when it comes to Fulbright’s.
When Boyle first started advising students on Fulbright applications 15 years ago, he looked over only a handful of applications. This year, he was responsible for advising one-third of Pitzer’s graduating class. He has designed a half-credit Fulbright class to guide students through the process, in which students are schooled in the art of crafting personal statements, creating innovative proposals, and compiling successful applications. Boyle no longer has to encourage students to apply, and he recognizes the college’s high number of Fulbright awards is related to the rise in applicants for this program.
“[The Fulbright program] sells itself,” he said. “It’s a pipeline effect now.”
Speaking specifically to Pitzer’s success with the program, Boyle pointed to the college’s core values, which include Social Responsibility, Intercultural Understanding, and Interdisciplinary Learning. He sees these values reflected in the Fulbright program’s mission.
According to the U.S. State Department’s Fulbright webpage, “All Fulbrighters share a strong academic background, leadership potential, a passion for increasing mutual understanding among nations and cultures, and the adaptability and flexibility to pursue their proposed Fulbright project successfully.”
The college’s emphasis on interdisciplinary learning, Boyle believes, prepares Pitzer students to create eccentric proposals for teaching and research grants that combine a number of interests and disciplines.
“We have weird students,” Boyle said of Pitzer, but in the case of Fulbright, “weird works.”
However, while the homepages on the Pitzer and Scripps official websites make prominent mention of their reputations for producing Fulbright awardees, those of Pomona and CMC do not mention Fulbright or any other post-graduate fellowships. Not mentioning Fulbright on their homepages, and generally promoting it less than Pitzer, may shed some light on the variance of the popularity of the Fulbright program at the other 5Cs.
As the top Fulbright producer among bachelor’s institutions in the United States, is there is a connection between Pitzer’s publicity of the Fulbright Fellowship and the number of applicants?
Michael Miller PZ ’13, a Political Studies major who applied for an English Teaching
Assistantship in Vietnam, said Fulbright had been in the back of his mind since he started at Pitzer.
“I’d heard about Fulbright just because the college advertises it so heavily,” said Miller. “Pitzer College definitely has a Fulbright legacy just because of Nigel Boyle…he works like crazy just to do this, and he’s made the program what it is.”
Miller credits the college’s advertisement with encouraging so many students to apply. “[T]hey always talk about it, and they’re good at it.” Miller said. “[T]hey have the kind of students who would apply for them anyway in spades…[and] it’s well set up and it’s an amazing opportunity…so of course you want to do it. You publicize something like that? Of course you’re going to have a lot of kids interested.”
For Miller, Fulbright offered a unique opportunity for travel and intercultural exploration after college.
“I think I eventually want to go to law school, but certainly not right away. I’ve gone to school for a lot [of time]. And I’ve enjoyed teaching for a long time,” Miller said of his decision to apply for the teaching fellowship.
Fulbright at the other 5Cs
Though they don’t offer a specific class on the application process, Scripps, Pomona, and CMC all have ample advising opportunities for students applying for Fulbright. Why, then, do fewer students at Scripps, Pomona, and CMC apply to Fulbright than at Pitzer?
Mary Hershewe SC ’13 is a dual History and Humanities major who applied for an English Teaching Assistantship in South Korea. Fulbright appealed to her because she is considering a career in education, and also because, like many other students, she saw Fulbright as an excellent opportunity to travel and expand her cultural awareness.
“Fulbright would facilitate my desires to continue learning about and from new people, perspectives, and places,” Hershewe said in an e-mail interview.
Throughout the application process, Hershewe felt supported by her friends, advisors, and professors. Much of this support came from the Career Planning and Resources office at Scripps, which offers help for those applying for postgraduate fellowships. Because Fulbright is so popular at Scripps, Hershewe also felt that she had the support of the broader community of Scripps Fulbright applicants.
“Many of the students were in the same boat, so that also provided a support system. Lots of exchanging papers, students interviewing each other, etc, we really came together and helped one another out,” said Hershewe.
Hershewe felt that there was a culture of Fulbright at Scripps, which could be one explanation for the college’s number two spot in the The Chronicle of Higher Education ’s rankings of Fulbright producers.
“I would say that many Scripps students are aware that Fulbright is an option after college,” said Hershewe. “I did not hear of anyone being discouraged to apply.”
Jenny Miner PO ’13 applied for an English Teaching Assistantship in Brazil. A double major in Spanish and Latin American Studies, Miner saw Fulbright as an opportunity to make her way back to South America, after studying abroad there.
“Everyone has a shot, and you might not get it, but you might as well write two pages and have the chance of getting a sweet job abroad for a year and a title,” said Miner.
The Pomona Graduate Fellowships Office, a division of the Career Development Office, helps students begin considering Fulbright early, by holding informational meetings for rising seniors in the spring of their junior years. After receiving background information on the Fulbright program and application process, students can take advantage of the summer to brainstorm application goals and ideas.
Miner said that Pomona advertises Fulbright’s to an extent.
“[T]here’s Chirps about…the info sessions and upcoming deadlines and stuff that you need to do if you’re applying; but other than that not a ton [of advertising],” said Miner.
Miner first considered applying after conversations with Pomona alums that had previously been awarded Fulbright Fellowships. At Pomona, as well as Pitzer, it seems that alums are some of the best advertisements for Fulbright.
While the Fulbright information sessions convened by Pomona’s four Fulbright advisors certainly let the students know how competitive Fulbright Fellowships are, Miner felt well prepared by the help her Pomona advisors gave her.
“[Fulbrights] are really competitive and…no one can count on it, but I think at Pomona and the 5C’s in general, people have pretty good shots,” said Miner.
Mark Munro CMC ’12, a Literature and Government double major, was awarded a
Fulbright Academic Research Grant to study systemic support for social entrepreneurship in Poland. Like Miner, he decided to apply after conversations with an alum who had been awarded a Fulbright.
Munro was supported by both his professors and his advisors at CMC’s Center for Global Education. The Center’s staff members help students considering post-graduate fellowships find fellowships that compliment their interests, and offer support throughout the application process–from writing a personal statement to practicing for interviews.
Although there certainly is institutional support of Fulbright at CMC, Munro does not see it as the default post-graduate option for CMC students, to the extent that it is considered such at Pitzer.
“I would consider Fulbright among the more non-conventional routes,” Munro said of CMC students’ post-graduate plans, in an email interview from Warsaw.
Munro agreed with the idea that school culture influences student decisions to apply for a Fulbright.
“I think, ultimately, CMC’s culture manifests itself differently for dreamers and doers,” said Munro. “Fulbright is an option for the former, I believe, and maybe isn’t pushed as hard at CMC as a result.”
While each school has resources in place to help their students apply for Fulbright
Fellowships, the difference in numbers of applicants between the schools can be correlated to how vigorous these resources are promoted. Ultimately, however, it seems the colleges’ institutional culture is responsible for influencing the number of students who apply for and are awarded Fulbright Fellowships.