Five Stony Brook University students have been recognized by the Department of State’s prestigious Fulbright U.S. Student Program, a highly competitive program that provides funding for American students to conduct research or teach English in over 140 countries overseas.
This year’s Fulbright honorees are Rashaun Allen ’17, Jessica Opatich ’17, Tayisha St. Vil ’17, Richard Tomczak ’19 and Jessica Willdigg ’17. All five honorees are New York natives and represent a diverse array of Stony Brook’s academic programs.
The majority will be pursuing mentored research abroad: PhD student Tomczak from History heads to Canada to research mandatory labor in the colonial period; Allen, an MFA student in Creative Writing, will travel to Barbados to write a memoir about his exploration of his family history;
Opatich will examine the role of radio in Ghana after graduating from the School of Journalism in May; and Willdigg, a graduating senior in Biology, will be based in Denmark studying bacterial resistance to antibiotics. St. Vil, who is pursuing a Master’s in Public Health, was designated an alternate to teach English as part of a newly-established program in Benin.
“I come from a multicultural background as my mom was born in Italy, my father is of Polish descent and I’m Paraguayan, so we’ve all been these cultural ambassadors in and outside of our home – there’s always been a value placed on cultural exchange and understanding,” Opatich said. “that’s why I’m excited to be a cultural ambassador and represent these principles.”
Visiting Professor of Political Science Harsh Bhasin, who served on the Fulbright Campus Committee, noted the important role of these SBU students in promoting Fulbright’s vision: “These ambassadors of goodwill from America will surely spread the message of friendship and compassion and demonstrate that the US is not shying away from is global commitments. As someone who has spent nearly four decades as a career foreign service officer in nine countries across the globe, this is naturally music to my ears.”
SBU’s Fulbright submissions are managed by the Office for the Integration of Research, Education, and Professional Development (IREP). This year, the IREP Office more than doubled Stony Brook’s participation with 32 total applications. The 2016-17 fellowship cycle was also the first to feature the IREP Office’s Fulbright Boot Camp, which helped applicants to develop strong applications and hone their professional skills.
“IREP provided a blueprint to turn my Fulbright goal into a reality,” Allen said. “There was support every step of the Fulbright process from videos and information sessions to faculty-led discussions giving relevant feedback to my application. The learning curve to put together a winning Fulbright application was steep but the IREP team provided support that gave me a solid shot.”
Jen Green, IREP’s Fulbright Program Advisor, said, “I couldn’t be more pleased with this year’s results, our students represented SBU and its global mission with poise and professionalism.”
In keeping with IREP’s focus on professional development, Green noted that numerous students who went through the application process but were not finally selected for Fulbright went on to be recipients of other prestigious awards and gain entrance to top graduate programs.
“At IREP,” Green noted, “we believe that every student who puts in the effort comes out a winner.”
The Fulbright U.S. Student Program is the largest U.S. exchange program offering opportunities for students and young professionals to undertake international graduate study, advanced research, university teaching, and primary and secondary school teaching worldwide. The program currently awards approximately 1,900 grants annually in all fields of study, and operates in more than 140 countries worldwide.
More than 360,000 Fulbrighters from the United States and other countries have participated in the Program since its inception in 1946. The Fulbright Program awards approximately 8,000 grants annually. Currently, the Fulbright Program operates in over 160 countries worldwide.