NU produces new crop of 24 Fulbright winners

Christina Salter

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When Caroline Kemp flies to Malaysia in January, she won’t need to spend a dime on transportation or living expenses for the next 10 months.

Kemp, Weinberg ’08, is one of 24 Northwestern winners of Fulbright grants for 2008-2009. This is the second year in a row that NU has produced 24 winners, ranking fourth in the country among major universities.

“I’m looking forward to having a new perspective to bring to the table when I get back,” Kemp said.

The U.S. Department of State funds the Fulbright program to promote exchange with over 150 foreign countries. Undergraduate seniors, graduate students and alumni can apply to teach, study, conduct research or pursue a project of their choice for a minimum of nine months abroad, said Stephen Hill, manager of NU’s Fulbright program and associate director of the Office of Fellowships.

The number of NU applicants has increased by 20 percent each of the last four years, Hill said. NU now has one of the highest applicant totals in the country. In addition to the 24 winners this year, two others won grants but declined the offer, and four applied “at-large” without NU’s help.

For Hill, the main focus is what students gain from Fulbright grants, not NU’s ranking.

“It’s a very desirable byproduct of what we do,” he said.

Applying for a Fulbright is an extensive process, especially for successful grant winners. The Office of Fellowships begins informational sessions in January. Continuing through April, the sessions “cover all the bases,” Hill said.

After Fulbright officially opens its application season May 1, the office holds a total of 16 workshops. NU applicants also have access to Fulbright faculty advisory panels, which provide detailed feedback on their essays.

“It’s really only the applications that are focused from the very first word that get the second look,” Hill said.

This year, a major achievement among winning students was Jonah Leshin’s grant to attend Cambridge University, said Sara Vaux, NU’s Fulbright program advisor and director of the Office of Fellowships. Leshin’s program has an extra stage in the application process and a two percent acceptance rate.

Other projects from this year’s winners range from nanofabrication in German labs to language and literature in Tajikistan to drumming in Brazil.

Kemp will be teaching English in a Muslim area of Malaysia, a project she thought would be a “good way to get to know the community and meet people.”

Kemp had already accepted a job when she found out she had won the Fulbright, but still decided to accept the grant.

“It was kind of a no-brainer,” she said. “It was mostly just that I hadn’t expected it to happen.”