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Five Miami University seniors named finalists in Fulbright student program

By Christina Ferrell
On February 7, 2013

Five of the 18 Miami University students who applied for the Fulbright U.S. Student Program have been named finalists. The program awards grants to students to study, research or teach abroad. Last year, about 1,800 Fulbright Awards were granted out of almost 9,500 applicants.

Seniors Brian Cash, Jessica DeCandia, Ryan Martini, Priya Mehta and Jacob Hofstetter are all finalists.

The Fulbright Award is a grant opportunity for graduating seniors, graduate students and young professionals. Applicants can choose either an individually designed research project or an English Teaching Assistantship. The five Miami finalists all applied for English Teaching Assistantships in various countries.

The Fulbright U.S. Student Program began with a bill submitted by Senator J. William Fulbright to the United States Congress in 1945, which proposed that war surplus funds be used to fund "promotion of international good will through the exchange of students in the fields of education, culture, and science." President Harry S. Truman signed the bill on Aug. 1, 1946, and Congress created the Fulbright Program.

The program allows students to travel abroad to study, research and teach, while observing the cultural, political and economic foundations of other countries. The program also allows students from other countries to do the same here in the U.S.

Since its founding in 1946, the program has had more than 307,000 participants. One of the Miami finalists, DeCandia, said she sees the Fulbright program as a starting point for future endeavors. Her initial reaction to the news was happiness, and a look ahead.

"The Fulbright program is a way to propel myself to the things I want," DeCandia said. "I could see my future unfolding. It's our government at its best."

Cash was also excited to find out he was a finalist. He said he expects it will be a great learning experience.

"It's a great opportunity to strengthen my language skills and increase my knowledge of German culture," Cash said.

Cash said he applied for an English Teaching Assistantship in Germany because of his experience studying abroad in Raunheim, Germany. As an architecture major and German minor, Cash is interested in the layout of the country.

Hofstetter, a history major and Spanish minor, applied for an English Teaching Assistantship in Spain.

"I was incredibly excited," Hofstetter said. "Just to be in the finalist round is a huge honor ...Who wouldn't want to go abroad and teach English? You get to learn about the world and come back as globalized leaders. I value the idea of cultural exchange and to be able to represent students abroad is an amazing opportunity."

Martini, who is currently student teaching in Australia, said he is interested in teaching, and that's why he applied for an English Teaching Assistantship in Indonesia.

Martini said because he had no real strong argument for why he should be accepted by Indonesia, he thought he should have been ruled out immediately, so he was excited to hear he was a finalist. He said he sees the Fulbright as an opportunity to expand his teaching experiences and learn how to work with diverse learners.

Priya Mehta applied for an English Teaching Assistantship in Mexico, stemming from her experience studying abroad in Barcelona, Spain and her experience with a Mexican student program this past summer.

"I don't want to be a teacher, so I see this program as more of a segue into something else," Mehta said. "I want to be an attorney. I want to work with international law, possibly in corporate America with import and exports, possibly in immigration, and those issues are very involved in the Mexico/U.S. relationship, which is another reason I was attracted to Mexico."

Mehta noted the helpfulness of Karla Guinigundo, the international grant coordinator and advisor, and Fulbright Program adviser at Miami.

"Karla is a wealth of information," Mehta said.

According to Guinigundo, the application process is pretty lengthy.

"Our campus deadline is always in mid-September with a national deadline in mid-October," Guinigundo said. "We have an earlier campus deadline because we're required to do campus interviews."

Because of this step in the process, Mehta said she was surprised to find out that she was a finalist.

"That interview didn't go so amazingly, so I was a little bit worried about my application after that interview, but I guess that's what they're trying to do, they're trying to make your application stronger by pointing out weaknesses in it," Mehta said.

According to Mehta, she was nervous to send in her application after the interview.

"At the end of the day, you are you, and there's only so much you can change to make your application stronger," Mehta said.

Guinigundo said most students apply during the fall semester of their senior year.

"If students want to do a Fulbright, they want to do it right after graduation as sort of a buffer between either graduate school or finding a job," Guinigundo said.

Recruitment for next year's applicants is going on right now, which Guinigundo attributed to the long application process.

"During spring semester students generally start formulating their projects and their proposals, then, hopefully over the summer, they start working on their essays, and when we come back in the fall, they finalize their essay and do the final editing in order to be able to submit for our campus deadline in mid-September," Guinigundo said.

According to Guinigundo, this year's finalists were competitive because of their backgrounds and previous experiences.

"They're all such unique individuals, and one of the things that makes them competitive is that they all have a very compelling case for the country where they've applied," Guinigundo said. "It's a really good fit for them."

Guinigundo also attributes the students' successes with their applications to their international interests and academic successes.

"With each of our finalists it's a combination of having a fantastic academic record combined with demonstrated international interest that pertains to the country where they've applied," Guinigundo said.

Final decision announcements will be made from mid-March to July, though most finalists expect to hear back from their countries by April or May.

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