News and Events
Fantastic Five: Meet Pepperdine's Recently Recognized Fulbright Scholars
Every year, a committee of faculty advisors and a team of administrative staff assist a new crop of Fulbright hopefuls, sending off their applications and wishing for the best. This year, 16 students applied and seven applicants were selected as finalists. Slowly but surely the final results came in, revealing a record-breaking year for Pepperdine University: Five of its recent graduates have joined the elite rank of Fulbright Scholars - one of the most prestigious scholarly awards worldwide.
Seaver College dean Dr. David Baird notes that 2008 has been a remarkably good year for the Fulbright harvest. "To think that five of the seven finalists received the grant makes me very proud. It is an incredible affirmation of the quality of our students, faculty and staff," he says.
Established in 1946 under legislation introduced by the late Senator J. William Fulbright of Arkansas, the program's purpose is to build mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the rest of the world. As Fulbright himself put it, "The Fulbright Commission aims to bring a little more knowledge, a little more reason, and a little more compassion into world affairs and thereby increase the chance that nations will learn at last to live in peace and friendship."
This year's awardees will be using their Fulbright awards to travel all over the globe- from Indonesia to Turkey-to embark on a diverse array of experiences ranging from researching fire-prone plants to writing children's books. "The Fulbright program is open to any field of study and that's part of what makes it so exciting," says Melissa Umbro, Seaver College national scholarships and awards coordinator. "These students represent many different aspects of the Seaver academic experience, spanning the fine arts, humanities, natural science, international studies, and language divisions."
Let's find out how Pepperdine Fulbright Scholars will bring a little more knowledge, reason and compassion into world affairs next year and beyond...
Laura Merwin '08
Fulbright Plans: Laura will spend 12 months at Curtin University in Western Australia, examining plants in drought and fire-prone Mediterranean ecosystems that have evolved unique life-history types.
What Malibu and Australia have in common: "Australia and Southern California share a similar vegetation type known in California as chaparral and in Australia as kwongan. We'll be looking at correlations in population structure and life history type between different types of plant species, so basically how they reproduce and how that affects their population genetic structure. Hopefully, that will in the long term have conservation benefits perhaps here or in Australia."
Like father, like daughter: "I'm really proud to be a Fulbright scholar because my dad was one, so that's really big for me. Obviously it's a really prestigious award and that makes me feel better about applying to grad school. To be able to say that you're a Fulbright Scholar means that you can be taken seriously because the United States government takes you seriously enough to give you money and send you to a different country."
Why she's excited to visit a continent filled with poisonous animals: "I just like going to new places. Australia is a fascinating country, especially in terms of biology. There are a lot of crazy things there that you just don't see anywhere else and more poisonous animals than anywhere else in the world. There's also a lot of empty space. In a lot of ways, it's still just frontier, so that's really interesting."
Laura will follow in the footsteps of her father who was a Fulbright Postgraduate scholar to the United Kingdom in 1978. She plans to pursue a PhD upon her return.
Alissa Smith '08
Major: Creative Writing, with a minor in Philosophy
Fulbright Plans: Alissa will travel to Turkey next year where she will complete an English Teaching Assistantship while studying Turkish children's literature. She hopes to write a series of English children's books about the Turkish culture.
Why she has an appetite for Turkey: "I chose Turkey because it's a captivating and exciting country, spanning two continents and at the same time, two worlds. Turkey is one of the oldest occupied areas in the world and has struggled throughout its history to integrate the east and the west, the conservative religious sect and the western democracy, the Old World and the New. More than the country, or the government, or the culture of Turkey, I can't wait to get to know the people-their histories, their families, their beliefs, and hopes."
Why she didn't tell any of her friends or family when she got the award: "I didn't quite know what to do with myself, and it didn't help that my phone died the day before so I couldn't get in contact with my parents or friends. I had applied for the Fulbright on a very off chance, thinking it was a long shot, so I hadn't prepared myself much for the chance that I might be living across the world for the next year, immersed in a new culture."
On her summer fling with a software program: "I think my biggest challenge will be the language. Turkish is unlike anything I've dealt with before. There are few people in the United States who speak the language, especially in Colorado where I'll be for the summer, so it's me and a software program and so far, it hasn't been hopeful. If I can make it to the orientation in Ankara on time and in one piece with my bags, I'll consider myself blessed!"
One thing she won't forget to pack: "My webcam. As much as I'll enjoy being immersed in the culture of Turkey, the most important thing to me is my relationships with my family and my friends. I couldn't embrace the Fulbright experience without sharing it with them."
Alissa plans to pursue a career in publishing in New York upon her return.
Keith Colclough '08
Fulbright Plans: Keith will study vocal technique at the Mannheim Musikhochschule in Germany.
What will you be doing at the Musikhochschule? "Taking language courses and studying with a voice teacher there who I'm told is quite good-he has some very successful students. I'll also be working with coaches in the area and just trying to get to know the culture."
How he plans to "Freely give," upon "Freely receiving": "Being a Fulbright Scholar is an honor and it's a blessing and it's a responsibility. Like good old George Pepperdine said, 'Freely ye receive, freely give.' It's a responsibility after receiving such a blessing to both study hard while you're there and really get involved in the culture and also, when you come back, to share what you've learned and to be a better world citizen because of it."
Why applying for the Fulbright is worth it, no matter the outcome: "Getting ready to graduate is scary for a lot of people I think, and designing basically what you want to study on your own, even if it doesn't end up happening, makes you realize that there are resources out there and makes you look outside the world of undergraduate studies. Don't be afraid to take a risk."
Keith hopes to pursue a career in opera upon his return to the US.
Erin Shitama '08
Major: International Studies with an emphasis in Intercultural Communications and a minor in Sociology
Fulbright Plans: Erin will travel to Indonesia as an English Teaching Assistant.
How she plans to spend her time: "I'll spend about 20 hours per week in the classroom, and the rest of the time is supposed to be spent in cultural activities. I plan on taking thousands of pictures."
Intrigued by Indonesia: "I chose Indonesia because I have never been to Asia, and there is not a previous language requirement for the language spoken in Indonesia, Bahasa, a dialect of Malay. I was also intrigued by the fact that 86 percent of Indonesia's population of 200 million is Muslim. Living in a country that is so strongly influenced by Islam, or Hinduism if I'm sent to Bali, will be a totally different experience from my travels thus far."
Why she's relieved to be traveling to a country where she doesn't know the language: "When I found out I was chosen, I was completely relieved that I didn't have to worry about my plans for the coming year. Applying for a job was not something I wanted to do right away."
Erin co-founded a group exploring the roles of women in peace building during her undergraduate studies at Pepperdine.
Brian Clark '06
Major: International Studies
Fulbright Plans: Brian will be doing English Teaching Assistantship in Contabria, Spain. He will also be conducting a research project on Spanish language acquisition among low-income immigrants from North Africa, primarily Arabic-speaking people from Morocco.
Why Fulbright wasn't his first word as a child: "I came from a high school in the two worst gang neighborhoods in Riverside, California, so the Fulbright wasn't something I learned about until I came to Pepperdine. For me, now that I'm going to be a Fulbright Scholar, it's exciting because it represents the fact that education is possible for everyone and that there's so many possibilities out there. I think my main purpose in doing the Fulbright is going to be to portray to the students how diverse the United States really is, especially as a Chicano going to Spain to represent the United States."
"Aprender" - to learn: "I'm really excited about getting back to the realm of independent research and testing out different ideas that I have. I'm also looking forward to stepping foot into a classroom in Spain and seeing what that experience is like."
Moving on to Columbia: I got the Fulbright as well as acceptance to Columbia University for a master's degree in International Education Development. I will be deferring my enrollment to Columbia, so next year I will be doing the English Teaching Assistantship in Spain, and after that I'll be pursuing my master's at Columbia
Brian is currently serving as a Teach For America charter corps member in a socioeconomically underprivileged community on the island of Oahu.