By Jeffrey Billman
Sixty-six years ago, Shirley Christensen Howard ’51 became the first Rollins student to earn a prestigious Fulbright scholarship.
The Fulbright program was new then, having been enacted via federal law only five years before. It was designed, at the start of the Cold War, to promote “international goodwill through the exchange of students in the fields of education, culture, and science.” The country’s largest exchange program, Fulbright scholarships enable students and young professionals to go abroad to teach, undertake international graduate study, or conduct advanced research.
Every year, the program awards about 8,000 grants; half of them go to foreign students coming to the U.S., and another 2,100 go to visiting and U.S. scholars. The remainder—just 1,900—are awarded to U.S. students to travel to one of 160 countries. They’re among the most competitive grants around: For every student who gets one, many more apply and don’t.
“It’s a huge, complicated process,” says Jayashree Shivamoggi, director of Rollins’ Office of External & Competitive Scholarship Advisement, who has helped guide students through the rigorous application procedure since 2003.
Every year, at least one of those 1,900—sometimes as many as six—comes from Rollins. In fact, since Christensen became the first Rollins student to win a Fulbright, 66 have followed in her path, including 41 since 2006. (Another three were awarded the scholarship but decided not to participate.) They’ve gone everywhere from South Korea and Egypt to Bulgaria and Spain.
In February, for the sixth time and fifth year in a row, the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs named Rollins one of the country’s top producers of Fulbright scholars. A big reason for this consistent success, Shivamoggi says, is due to the fact that the Fulbright program aligns so well with Rollins’ mission to develop global citizens and responsible leaders.
“The students who come to Rollins are already inquisitive about international travel and experiences,” Shivamoggi says. “That is a strength for us at Rollins.”
The school’s emphasis on study-abroad programs and faculty-led field studies helps too, she says.
“Once students go abroad and come back, they’re curious and want to learn more,” Shivamoggi says. “That’s exactly what Fulbright does. It’s an opportunity for young students to become cultural ambassadors of our country and the College.”
We’ve assembled the stories of five of those cultural ambassadors. For all five, their experience overseas was fundamental in forming who they are and what they’re doing today. More than that, though, the Fulbright program served as a catalyst for both career opportunities and lives of service and social engagement—to do well by doing good.
Ryan Lambert ’13
Front-end developer, Cleverbridge
Growing up, Ryan Lambert ’13 heard a lot about Germany. His ancestors lived there—his grandmother was the family’s last German speaker—and he was exposed to German stories and letters. Early on, he made it a goal to become bilingual. At Rollins, he minored in German and spent a summer studying abroad in Münster. Lambert says he learned about the Fulbright program because so many students were becoming Fulbright scholars, and he was intrigued when he found out there were Fulbright opportunities in Germany. The school was behind him 100 percent.
“One of the things I appreciate still, that I love about [Rollins], is that if you express interest in something, there are people there who want to see you succeed,” Lambert says. “Everybody’s on your side. You have to voice it, but as soon as you do, you’ll find that there’s not just one but many people who are going to help you get there.”
Lambert, then considering a career in teaching, ended up in Hamburg, where he was placed at a vocational school for students, mostly immigrants, who were either younger or much older than him. They studied warehouse and boat-harbor logistics and worked to learn practical English.
“Ultimately,” Lambert says, “you realize that there’s no singular perspective. You’re so used to viewing everything through this U.S.-based lens. ... You never realize there are so many different perspectives you could be exposed to.”
His experience in Hamburg, he says, directly led to his current job: a front-end developer for Cleverbridge, a Cologne-based company that sells e-commerce and subscription management solutions. (He works in the Chicago office.) Having stories to tell and experience dealing with different cultures, he says, aided his career. His background in German language and culture opened up opportunities he wouldn’t have had otherwise, enabling him to make connections and eventually transfer from the sales side to the development side of the business.
“That all came from something I learned at Rollins,” Lambert says, “expressing interest up front and setting a goal and working toward it—not sitting passively waiting for those opportunities to come to you.”
Kate Osterloh ’09
Foreign service officer, U.S. Department of State
Kate Osterloh ’09 spent part of a gap year after high school in Cairo, Egypt, and quickly fell in love with the city. During her senior year at Rollins, Shivamoggi suggested she apply for a Fulbright scholarship as a way to get back to the Middle East. Osterloh applied to a master’s program at American University in Cairo, where she wanted to put together a research project on refugees living in Cairo.
After receiving the Fulbright, she took a job as a research fellow at American University’s Center for Migration and Refugee Studies and volunteered at a refugee resettlement office in downtown Cairo. When her yearlong Fulbright ended, she stayed an extra year to finish her master’s—and then the Egyptian revolution of 2011 erupted.
For the first six months of the revolution—before she returned home in the summer of 2011—Osterloh had a front-row seat to “international human-rights-law theory playing out in real time.” That time, she says, was “absolutely fascinating and deeply inspiring.”
“It’s been a number of years now,” she says, “and it certainly hasn’t played out the way I hoped it would, or the way that many Egyptians or many in the region hoped it would turn out. But I remember walking down into [Tahrir Square] a few days before then-President Mubarak stepped down from power and seeing a vision of what civil society and action can look like. There was this amazing sense of community in Tahrir at the time. ... For a very brief period of time, there was something very, very beautiful and moving and inspiring in the square.”
That scene stuck in her mind and led her to apply for the foreign service. She joined the State Department as a public diplomacy officer in 2012. Now, she’s on her third tour: The first was in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia; the second, Bogota, Colombia; this one, Islamabad, Pakistan, where she’ll spend the next year working on exchange programs (including the Fulbright) and focusing on women’s empowerment and entrepreneurship.
“If I hadn’t done that Fulbright, I can’t imagine I would be working for the State Department now,” Osterloh says. “There was a time in my life when I considered myself more of an activist than a diplomat. That was the attitude I had when I first went to Egypt. The experience of watching the Arab Spring unfold. The experience on the other side of working with these refugee populations and seeing what they had gone through in their lives. All of these experiences that I had in the Fulbright program gave me a much more nuanced view of the world and a much more nuanced view of these global problems that we’re still tackling.”
“The world needs activists,” she continues. “But the world also needs diplomats—people who can take these disparate messages and try to find common ground.”
Aislinn Betancourt ’12
Social impact consultant and COO, SVT Group
Aislinn Betancourt ’12 wanted something different. As a religious studies major at Rollins, she’d thought about going to law school and studying immigration law, a field that had piqued her interest during a study-abroad program in Australia, where she saw Australia and Malaysia embroiled in a refugee crisis.
So Betancourt, who was then Shivamoggi’s work-study assistant, decided to apply for a Fulbright in Malaysia, where she would help teach English while working on a research project on religious pluralism. When she arrived in Southeast Asia, however, that passion project was largely subsumed by what she calls “absolutely the greatest blessing of my grant year”: teaching theater to Malaysian girls.
After a month-long orientation in the capital, Kuala Lumpur, Betancourt was assigned to a small town, where she worked at a large high school, teaching five classes to secondary students. Then she was tapped to become the school’s drama coach. The school had been invited to participate in the district’s English-language theater competition; as one of the few English teachers, Betancourt was chosen to put together a team. She chose 15 girls, a big deal in a conservative town where women weren’t encouraged to speak in public.
Because of her education at Rollins, she says, “I was able to find really beautiful things” in the local religions, even though she isn’t a religious person. “I was also able to look at things that at first glance looked a little bit wrong to me, or a bit off, because I was not raised in that way, to be able to look at them without judgment.”
By the time she got home, she’d decided against law school. Instead, she was accepted to a master’s program in social work at Boston College, where she studied community development. There, she says, her life changed. She started working for a consulting firm that did strategic planning for nonprofits. Later, she worked for an agricultural development nongovernmental organization in Chile. That job, in turn, led her to her current employer, SVT Group, a B-corporation focused on social and environmental impacts. She’s a social impact consultant there, helping businesses and nonprofits in Bogota, Colombia, develop metrics and become more efficient.
Her time at Rollins and in Malaysia, she says, formed the backdrop for her career. Rollins “taught me to question everything from a place of humility.” Her first three months in Malaysia, when she struggled because she had no background in teaching, taught her how to “fail forward—to fail and pick yourself up.”
“Let yourself be the agent of the community that you serve,” she says. “I carry that to the work I do now—the operative word being ‘serve.’”
Jane Lombardi ’11
Director of Citizenship and Immigration Services, Erie Neighborhood House
Jane Lombardi ’11 applied for a Fulbright award to go to Brazil her senior year at Rollins. Like most who apply, she didn’t get it. But the Latin American studies major didn’t give up. The following year, she applied for a Fulbright in Mexico, “which was actually a much better fit and made more sense, because of my experience with the Mexican community in Georgia and Florida.”
Growing up in Georgia, Lombardi interacted with undocumented immigrants who worked the horse farms around her hometown. She was exposed to both the Spanish language and the conditions Latinos face in the United States.
She decided to major in Latin American studies because she wanted to get a deeper understanding of the culture; by the time she entered Rollins, she was fluent in the language. The Fulbright offered her an opportunity to immerse herself more fully— and to live in the country.
After a weeklong orientation in Mexico City in August 2012, she was dispatched to Guadalajara for a year to be an English-speaking assistant in the University of Guadalajara’s agriculture school.
I think it really did help define my career path,” says Lombardi, who originally wanted to get a PhD in Latin American literature and become a professor. “I really enjoyed and saw the impact I could have doing direct service work.”
She opted against the PhD, choosing instead to work in the nonprofit world. For the past three years, she’s worked at Erie Neighborhood House in Chicago, where she oversees the legal services department. The nonprofit, which was founded in 1870, provides services to immigrants, helping them obtain Green Cards and prepare for the citizenship test. It also represents immigrant survivors of domestic violence and serves as a “one-stop shop for low-income Latino families,” Lombardi explains.
This desire to help marginalized communities was inculcated at Rollins, she says, through service-learning projects and field studies, as well as volunteer opportunities with the Orlando Latino community and conferences she attended with professors.
“More importantly,” she says, “the fact that I lived in Mexico and can understand the struggles people face in Mexico and struggles people face as immigrants here in the U.S. builds rapport with my clients so I can better serve them.”
Ian Wallace ’12
International Affairs intern, U.S. Department of State
The first person Ian Wallace ’12 met at Rollins was Nepalese. The two became close friends, and the summer after Wallace’s sophomore year, they traveled to Nepal together—his first trip abroad. So when the time came to apply for a Fulbright, Nepal was an obvious choice. It was a chance, Wallace says, to get to know the place where his best friend came from.
“[Nepal] always had a special place in my heart,” he says. “It was the first place I ever went when I left the U.S., the first place I ever had a chance to go abroad and see life and see a culture so completely different from what I experienced growing up.”
He was one of eight Fulbright English teachers partnered with under-resourced local government schools in Nepal in 2012. He and two others were assigned to Kathmandu. There, he lived with a Hindu Nepali host family and had to walk a half-hour through villages to the school: five to six classes a day, six days a week.
This past May, he went back to Nepal for a wedding. There, he went to visit his old school and spent a night with his former host family.
“Spending that night with them made it clear the relationship was very strong,” Wallace says. “These are people I care about very deeply. There’s a bond there.”
His Fulbright experience, Wallace says, cemented his desire to work abroad doing public service. In Nepal, his program partnered with a State Department scholarship program. When he got back, after doing two years with Teach for America at a charter school in Nashville, Tennessee, he began pursuing a graduate degree at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. While there, he took a three-month internship in China through the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, then spent 10 months in Guangxi, China, as part of a Boren fellowship, a program that allows graduate students interested in national security to study foreign languages in regions critical to American interests. This June, he started interning for the State Department in Washington, D.C., working with the Office of Taiwan Coordination in the Bureau of East Asia and Public Affairs.
When this internship wraps up, he has another year in grad school, and then the job search begins. Per the terms of his Boren fellowship, Wallace has agreed to seek a position in the national-security arena working for the federal government.
“It was an incredibly fortunate and formative experience,” Wallace says of the Fulbright program. “I don’t think that would have happened without a lot of the support that Rollins provided.”