In some ways, great global research experiences that build global citizens are like the proverbial tree falling in a forest. If you can’t identify and communicate how they formed marketable or advanced skills—to a future scholarship committee, graduate school admissions office, or a future employer—to the outside world, it’s almost like it didn’t happen.
That’s part of why every major travel program at SCU requires students to reflect upon and contextualize what they’ve learned when they get back from their trips. This includes mandatory classes and writings; workshops and retreats; meetings with people in industry; and vocational discernment.
Keith Warner underscores that students who participate in Miller Center’s Global Social Benefit Fellows program are guided to home in on key questions about direction and purpose: “‘Who am I? What do I have to give to the world? Where can I make the greatest contribution to advancing the common good?’”
The students describe such exercises as crucial.
“I think that whole idea of educating yourself to be a human for others is something that was really lived through this fellowship,” says Rudolph. And, “being able to articulate that is something that a lot of other places don’t teach you how to do.”
ICING ON THE CAKE
To encourage students to see themselves on a path to elite scholarships or to graduate school, six years ago biology Associate Professor Leilani Miller, who is also director of the Office of Student Fellowships and the University Honors Program, and senior English lecturer Stephen Carroll, started a two-unit course for Honors Program students and others, called Fellowship and Grad Prep. The class, which attracted a record 66 students this year, helps students discern their life goals, identify fellowship opportunities, and create successful applications. Five of the students who won Fulbrights this year had taken the class.
“What we talk about in this class is that the process is what is important,” Miller says. “They come to me with very meaningful experiences and strong mentorship, and we put together a fellowship application that is often the next obvious step for them. I am so proud of every single student who ends up submitting an application—winning one is icing on the cake.”
Professors also make themselves available for students and alumni. Graduating senior Marisa Rudolph remembers Warner talking her through one of the 30 drafts of her Fulbright application by phone while he drove 70 miles from Santa Fe to Taos on vacation in New Mexico. Classmate Shawna Richardson recalls waking up in India to find emailed Word documents marked up by Miller overnight. She told a Stanford student, who was also applying for a Fulbright, about the advice she was getting. “She was very jealous,” recalls Richardson. “She wasn’t getting support from her school.”
AWESOME RESPONSIBILITY ABROAD
When Richardson was in India, she went to a fourth-grade classroom thinking she would spend the day observing. But the teacher never showed up. Instead, Richardson ended up teaching the class of 9-year-olds to help them prepare for a math test in two days.
Virtually every student has a story of unexpected twists abroad that required them to think on their feet—and then do. Francks and her team were supposed to travel by train to visit a customer for a case study on home solar systems—one of the few such examples their host organization could tout. But the area was experiencing devastating monsoons and flooding. So Francks and her team quickly decided to spend the next several days researching nearby solar irrigation pumps instead.
SCU expects the students to handle such twists and not let it derail their research. “We give our students more responsibility than they have ever had,” observes Warner.
Students agree, and they say SCU prepares them well for such extraordinary independence—through courses beforehand covering research, entrepreneurship, and logistics, and also through reflections to process the experience.
“There were times where I felt alone,” acknowledges Athena Nguyen ’18, describing her travel and research in Myanmar through GSBF. “But I always felt supported, and I know how to access different resources.”
The Santa Clara students were also well prepared in the Jesuit value of accompanying—not imposing one’s own viewpoint—during their international travel. Many students are first exposed to the idea of accompaniment through Ignatian Center immersion trips and placements here in the Bay Area as part of a class.
“It’s not about coming in to help like a charity,” says Richardson. “It’s about being with the people and their community, learning from them, and then asking, ‘OK, within this context, what can I do to be helpful?’”
Nguyen agrees. “I saw this in Peru, where people would show up for a week and say, ‘Well, my volunteer hours are done,’ or ‘I took all the photos that I wanted to take of me helping kids.’ And I remember thinking, ‘That’s not what it means to accompany someone or be a person for others.’” With her teaching Fulbright in Vietnam, Nguyen says, “I’m hoping to accompany my students, my colleagues, and other English teaching assistants in a process in which we not only learn about each other, but also leave an impact on our communities that extends beyond our time there.”
Overall, the secret sauce starts with students who squeeze the very most of their time at SCU. “I tell my students to be very greedy with their education,” says Tanya Monsef Bunger, who runs Global Fellows for the Leavey School of Business. The program provides six-to-eight-week internships in countries like Ghana, Morocco, and India. “We have so many opportunities here at Santa Clara,” she says. “Your potential is unlimited…You will know what you are capable of in a way that you couldn’t understand before, and you’ll understand that you can do anything in the world.”
Rhodes winner Sean Reilly recently told SCU’s 2018 Fulbright winners: “The evaluators were able to see what an amazing, excited person you are… At the same time, you need a place that fosters that passion, and a place that will allow that excitement to grow and to shine through. And that’s what Santa Clara has offered us.”
READ MORE: SCU Fulbrighters tell their stories.