Jared Steiman said he felt good about his application.
He thought the interview went really well.
He felt like everything he had done in his life led directly to this moment, “but you don’t know until you know—so there was still a lot of anxiety around it.”
The wait is now over. Steiman, a 2020 University of Tennessee at Chattanooga graduate who now works as a GEAR UP program coordinator in the UTC Center for Community Career Education, became the second UTC alum in recent weeks to be awarded a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship (ETA). He will be traveling to Mexico in the fall to assist in teaching English while representing the U.S. as a cultural ambassador.
Steiman’s win marks the first time two UTC-affiliated honorees have won Fulbright Scholarships during the same cycle. Last month, May 2022 graduate Oleander Reagan-Artemis landed a Fulbright ETA to Romania.
“There’s so much involved in getting it, so it was a relief to know that, yes—I did get it,” Steiman said. “It wasn’t just, ‘Did I get it or did I not get it?’ It’s about, ‘I’m going to have to quit my job, uproot my life and move to another country for a year.’ Now that I know what’s coming, I can start planning and making it happen.”
He said specifics are still to be learned, but it is his understanding that he’ll be Mexico-bound in September. The students’ academic level he will work with could be anywhere from kindergarten to university level.
“I don’t know what age I’ll be teaching and I don’t know what part of Mexico I’ll be in,” he said, “but I’m sure I will love it no matter where I end up.”
As an undergraduate and Brock Scholar in the Honors College, Steiman received bachelor’s degrees in humanities: international studies and creative writing. He is currently pursuing a master’s in creative writing.
The Chattanooga native and Center for Creative Arts graduate has added motivation for desiring this particular study abroad opportunity: his wife, Alondra Gomez Nuñez, hails from Michoacán, Mexico. The two were married in 2017.
“We’ve been friends since we were 11 and we’ve been a couple since we were 16,” he said. “We went to the same middle school, the same high school, we went to tech school at Chattanooga State together and then we went to UTC together.
“She was my first phone call, of course, and as I was thinking through all the people I have to thank for helping me get here, I don’t owe anybody more than I owe her. I wouldn’t be involved in any of the things I’m involved with—working with immigrant populations, having been to Mexico to study, learning Spanish, getting involved in advocacy work for incarcerated people. Everything I’ve done that bolstered my application to make this work is a result of my relationship with her, what I’ve learned from her, and the ways that we’ve supported each other over the last 10 years.”
Gomez Nuñez said it was very exciting to be the recipient of that call and that it also “made us both cry.”
“He’s been putting a lot of energy toward his application and the work that he does—not just at UTC but out in the community—so hearing the excitement in his voice after the many weeks of suspense was just really nice to share with him,” she said.
“This goes to show how supportive he is of not just my family and our culture but the Hispanic and immigrant community in Chattanooga. The work, the time and the energy he’s putting in speaks volumes.”
Gomez Nuñez, who took gap time away from her studies due to COVID-19, re-enrolled at UTC last fall and is on track to receive a bachelor’s degree in humanities: international studies in December.
Steiman said a considerable part of his desire to pursue the Fulbright ETA to Mexico was another occasion to connect with his wife’s heritage.
“I’m very honored that he has taken the time to do that for me and my family,” Gomez Nuñez said. “I would expect that in a partner, of course, but the lengths he has gone to connect with my family and be there for us—uplift our stories, our culture, our histories and learn more about our people is way beyond what I could have imagined.
“I remember when he was first learning Spanish and me thinking, ‘Oh, that’s sweet. I wonder if it’ll stick with him.’ Now he’s completely fluent. He can write in both languages. He has full conversations with my mom and my siblings. It’s very beautiful and fascinating to see that it wasn’t just him learning Spanish; it was him really wanting to connect with my family in all of these ways.”
Steiman participated in a study abroad program in Mexico as an undergraduate. He also spent a semester working for GEAR UP, a program designed to provide support and resources to low-income students and increase access to post-secondary opportunities.
He rejoined the program in a full-time capacity in April 2022.
“Jared landing a Fulbright gives GEAR UP a boost in every way,” said Hunter Huckabay, the program’s director. “We will miss him, but as we said when he decided to apply for the Fulbright, this will make the universe better and we always like seeing that happen.
“GEAR UP’s underserved, first-generation students are seeing firsthand how being in college can put your life on an entirely different trajectory. The teaching assistants and after-school counselors he has supervised—all UTC students—see they have a mentor who can give them great academic guidance and is an amazing example of achieving one’s goal. The rest of the GEAR UP team is thrilled to see our colleague who has worked so hard for students achieve such an important goal.”
Steiman and Reagan-Artemis are among a small group of UTC students selected for the Fulbright award. In spring 2019, political science major Simone Edwards became the University’s first Fulbright recipient since 1965, traveling to Guatemala for her study abroad experience. The following year, political science major Hannah Horton was selected as a Fulbright Scholar to South Korea.
The Fulbright Program 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 Fulbright Program has partnerships with more than 140 countries worldwide.