“Winning is hard work,” says Phillip Stalley, associate professor of political science and Fulbright Program advisor, about DePaul’s six students who were awarded Fulbright U.S. student grants* for 2014-15. “The application process is so rigorous, and the competition is so stiff, that every application has to be very polished, thoughtful and substantive. That takes a lot of talking, thinking and drafting.” 

The six winners—(in the photo, from left to right) Kevin Cole, Susannah McFaul, Rebecca Son, Ian Moore, Sowmya Sastri and (pictured separately) Jason Czerwiec—were among 37 applicants from DePaul. The number of both winners and applicants sets a record for the university. 

Process makes perfect

Because the grant application itself is short—just a two-page proposal of purpose and one-page personal statement—every word counts. Stalley advises students to start early. “I like to meet each student before June so we can work together during the summer to get the application ready for a campus committee review in September. Three or four professors, chosen by their expertise in the student’s proposed subject and country, provide carefully considered and specific feedback. After that, there are more revisions and rewrites before an application is submitted in October.”

“Our job is to help the applicants tell their stories by presenting their skills, experiences, achievements and motivations—all the things that make them uniquely qualified for a Fulbright,” says committee member Caterina Mongiat-Farina, an assistant professor of Italian. “That process is very satisfying.” Classes and extra-curricular activities show potential, as do study abroad experiences, volunteer work, and knowledge of the history, customs and language of the host country.

“Academic record is one thing, but, even more important, Fulbright winners need to show an exceptional communication style, confidence and cultural capital,” adds committee member Robert Rotenberg, professor of anthropology. “What kind of cultural exchange—which is at the heart of the Fulbright—will be achieved by this student? Each applicant has 30 minutes to present his or her case; it’s not easy, but Phil has created a process that works.”

The students agree

“Phillip was incredibly helpful; he read multiple drafts of my proposal,” says Ian Moore, a doctoral candidate in philosophy. “Then, the committee suggested I rewrite my personal statement because the one I’d done—which I thought was good—was actually pretty generic. I would not have won without all that feedback. In fact, I even ended up changing my PhD dissertation topic as a result of talking through the application.” Working with scholars in Wuppertal, Germany, Moore will critique the anti-Semitism of Martin Heidegger by reading the 20th century philosopher’s works against those of the medieval theologian Meister Eckhart.

Jason Czerwiec, who earned a BA in international studies last year, expresses similar enthusiasm for the rigor of the process: “Early on, Phillip clarified the application itself, so I could take the right steps to make mine strong. Then the campus committee forced me to sharpen my proposal, to make it more focused and within my capabilities. And I was encouraged to leverage my family history as driving my interest in migration and assimilation policies in Lithuania.” Czerwiec will study at Vytautas Magnus University in Kaunas and work on cross-EU migrant support projects for the International Organization for Migration in Vilnius.

“The professors on my committee had a lot of insights that were relevant to my application,” recalls Susannah McFaul, who is graduating this year with an MA in multicultural communication. “For example, they asked me concrete questions to gauge my political and economic knowledge of Turkey, which is where I’m going. And they helped me make my proposed extra-curricular project more solid and substantial.” As a result, above and beyond her role as an English teaching assistant, McFaul will conduct weekly workshops in cross-cultural communication and friendship between American and Turkish students.

Although Stalley describes his role as “bringing students and faculty together,” he deserves extra credit for raising the visibility of the program among students and faculty. More than 100 DePaul faculty and staff supported the Fulbright applicants this year, including 22 professors serving on campus committees and staff from the International Programs Office and the Study Abroad Program.

“Phil deserves a medal,” says Rotenberg. “He spends so much time in the office, one-on-one with each student. And he’s got the touch; he understands Fulbright positioning.”

Everyone’s a winner

Campus committee participants are quick to point out that students gain a lot from applying, even if they don’t end up with a grant.

Maureen Sioh, an associate professor of geography, likens the process to incubation: “I like to get students to think about the future. That’s not just an intellectual inquiry; it’s a question of identification. Going through the Fulbright application process makes students appreciate the idea that they are citizens of a larger world.”

Mongiat-Farina adds, “Fulbright fits with DePaul’s ethos because it also fosters a culture of mutual respect and collaboration among diverse communities.”

Stalley brings it back to what DePaul is all about: “During the process, the students reflect on their college careers and think about what they want to do after graduation." And for the faculty and staff? "This year's large-scale participation reflects our deep reservoir of enthusiasm for teaching itself.”

* Fulbright grants are among the most prestigious in the world. Candidates submit a statement of purpose for work they'll do for one academic year in a country outside the U.S. During this time, the scholars meet, work with and learn from people in the host country. The atmosphere is one of openness, academic integrity and intellectual freedom, thereby promoting mutual understanding. For more information: http://us.fulbrightonline.org/