Michelle Repper ’13 was working at Earl Gregg Swem Library’s Writing Resource Center last spring when she opened her email and learned she had received a Fulbright U.S. student grant. The grant would allow Repper to dedicate a year to conducting research in India following her graduation from the College of William and Mary.
“Frankly, I felt very distant from the reality of it,” Repper said in an email. “I had originally written my grant proposal about a year before, and suddenly I was being told I could actually do it.”
Repper, who is tracing artist Amrita Sher-Gil’s journey around India, was one of 14 College graduates to receive a 2013-14 Fulbright student grant. With this total, the College has the highest number of recipients of Virginia schools. Established in 1946, the Fulbright program offers merit-based grants for students and professionals to conduct research or work abroad. Fifty-three students from the College applied for Fulbright scholarships this year. In addition to the 14 who were awarded grants, four were named as alternates.
Nationally, the College ranks 20th among research institutions for producing Fulbright scholars, according to an article from the Chronicle of Higher Education.
Fulbright Program advisor and Associate Director of the Roy R. Charles Center Lisa Grimes said she was very pleased with the number of students receiving grants. She attributed the number of applicants in part to support from faculty and to word-of-mouth as students tell each other about their experiences applying for or receiving these awards.
“Knowing someone who’s won an award can make the application process — which really is a great deal of work — seem less daunting,” Grimes said in an email.
The Charles Center also offers aid to students applying for Fulbright scholarships. In addition to Grimes herself working with applicants, Peer Scholarship Advisors — students whom Grimes trains — hold office hours and provide individual attention to more students than Grimes alone can reach.
PSA Johnathan Maza ’15, in his third year with the program, said the group helps applicants as they develop their essays and offers support over the summer, since Fulbright applications are due in the fall. This semester, PSAs are offering “FocusOn” sessions, which aim to introduce students to various scholarship opportunities.
“I think that the Peer Scholarship Advising Program is definitely a unique opportunity for students here at W&M,” Maza said in an email. “It allows for our office to provide greater and more in-depth support to those students interested in applying for the Fulbright.”
The Charles Center also hosts “Fulbright Fridays,” a five-week long program in the spring that goes through sections of the application and includes panel discussions with faculty members and recently named recipients on the Fulbright application process. Grimes said the program has also held Skype sessions with current Fulbright scholars.
Repper noted the important role she thinks the Charles Center played an important role in building students’ enthusiasm for applying for grants. She added that her professors were also instrumental in helping her with her application.
“Perhaps the most valuable hint I can give to new applicants is to get as many and as varied opinions on your application as possible,” Repper said. “At the end of the day, you can decide what changes you want to make, but it’s good to see how your writing is perceived by other people.”
Repper also encouraged students interested in applying to start working early. She added that she thinks the College’s intellectual community is invested in its students succeeding.
Maza said that in general, he views the increase in the College’s number of applicants and recipients as a positive trend.
“I think it shows that our students are really starting to value the experience and perspective that spending time abroad can bring to one’s career and life,” Maza said. “Not only does it provide breathing-room for post-grads to consider their career and life goals, it ensures that students go off into the real world with a deeper understanding and appreciation of other perspectives and experiences, something that can’t be easily obtained through books alone.”