Seven University of Tennessee at Chattanooga students or recent graduates have advanced to the semifinal level in the Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program award process, the highest total in the University’s history.
The semifinalists include senior Lola Oke, a political science major and Brock Scholar in the Honors College, and 2020 graduate Jared Steiman—who currently works within the UTC Center for Community Career Education as a GEAR UP program coordinator.
“Seven semifinalists are more than I’ve ever had,” said Leslie Pusey, director of the UTC Office of National Scholarships. “Just moving forward through the National Screening Committee and becoming a semifinalist is a challenging and significant accomplishment.”
The Fulbright Program, according to its website, is the flagship international academic exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government, providing awards to approximately 8,000 students, scholars, teachers, artists and professionals each year. Founded in 1946, the prestigious program has partnerships with more than 140 countries worldwide.
Eligible applicants are reviewed first in the U.S. by the National Screening Committee before being recommended to the in-country administering agency—either a Fulbright Commission or U.S. Embassy.
Oke, a 2019 graduate of Campbell High School in Smyrna, Georgia, is a semifinalist for an open study/research award to Kenya. She has won numerous national competitive scholarships at UTC, most recently the Charles B. Rangel Graduate Fellowship.
Steiman, who received two bachelor’s degrees, one in humanities: international studies and another in creative writing, applied for a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship (ETA) in Mexico. Participants in the ETA program assist in teaching English while representing the U.S. as cultural ambassadors. The host institutions span from kindergarten to the university level to training institutes.
“This is something I’ve been wanting to do for years,” said Steiman, who has continued his UTC education; he is pursuing a master’s in creative writing and is on a prose track. “I’ve always loved teaching and I’m the oldest of four siblings, so I was always the tutor growing up.”
A Chattanooga native and alumnus of the Center for Creative Arts, Steiman has added motivation for desiring this particular study abroad opportunity: his wife, Alondra Gomez Nuñez, hails from Michoacán, Mexico.
“Over the past 10 years, I’ve come to love Mexico and Latin American culture,” he said. “I’ve found a lot of beauty in the culture, language and connections and I also studied in Mexico as an undergrad. This would be another opportunity to connect with the roots of that half of my family.”
Julie Goonetilleke, a December 2022 graduate, also applied for the ETA to Mexico. The double major (Spanish and international studies) received a Gilman Scholarship in 2022 and participated in a study abroad experience in Alcala de Henares, Spain.
Sara Marc, who received a bachelor’s degree in modern and classical languages and literatures in August 2022, is a semifinalist for the ETA to France. Marc is a graduate of Chattanooga School for the Arts and Sciences.
Oleander Reagan-Artemis, a May 2022 graduate with a degree in modern and classical languages and literatures, is a semifinalist for the ETA to Romania.
Anna Yarbro, who graduated in May 2022 with degrees in communication and humanities: international studies, is a semifinalist for the Fulbright Korean Studies Graduate Degree Program. Yarbro spent the 2021-2022 academic year studying at Ulsan University in South Korea as the recipient of a Gilman Scholarship.
Jessica Poe, who received a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education in May 2017, is a semifinalist for the IE University’s Master Award to Spain.
Pusey has overseen the national scholarships program at UTC since 2018. Her previous work experience includes stints at Salisbury University in Maryland and the University of South Dakota.
After a couple of years in which COVID-19 impacted Fulbright applications and countries accepting students into programs, Pusey said she was “really intentional” during this cycle in “talking up the Fulbright and doing my best to get people interested.”
“The National Screening Committee is the hardest part and moves forward the top candidates based on the Fulbright rubric,” she said, “and those reaching the semifinalist level are the most impressive and compelling candidates.
“Getting to this stage is CV or resume noteworthy. You’re on the next step to one of the oldest and more prestigious international awards.”
During the spring 2019 semester, political science major Simone Edwards was UTC’s first Fulbright recipient since 1965, traveling to Guatemala for her study abroad experience.
The 2020 cycle saw four UTC students reaching the semifinal level, at the time the most in University history, including political science major Hannah Horton—who was selected as a Fulbright Scholar to South Korea.