Students receive Fulbright Scholarship


Photo Courtesy of Jessica Romero

Fulbright recipient Jessica Romero, pictured second from the right in red plaid shirt, will be teaching English in Brazil.

By Jade Morganfield, Contributing Writer

Eleven students from the University were selected as U.S. ambassadors to participate in a year-long project for their fields of study in the countries of their choice through the Fulbright Scholarship funded by the government. 

“The purpose is to set up mutual exchanges between other countries and our own,” said David Schug, the University’s national and international scholarships program director.

If selected for the scholarship, students have the option to either become an English teaching assistant or conduct a research project with the flexibility to choose both the topic and the country.

Edgar Mejia, mechanical engineering alumnus, is one of the 11 students rewarded the scholarship, and is currently in Dubai conducting a project that deals with plastic waste.

“A big part of my project is to bring awareness to the problem with plastic,” Mejia said. “The project I am working on specifically takes that waste plastic and converts it into filaments for 3D printing. We are upcycling and are giving value to that waste.”

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Although the Fulbright Scholarship is a competitive and prestigious program, Mejia does not believe that should deter anyone from applying.

“You should give it a try. It involves preparation, it involves time, but at the end of the day if you get it, then it’s a great opportunity,” he said.

The University is one of the top 15 public institutions to produce Fulbright grantees.

“It says that we have a lot of really wonderful students this year who have done very well at the University and are now off showcasing their University education overseas. Just like they’re representing the U.S., they are representing our institution as well,” Schug said.

The application process takes an extensive amount of time; students are expected to submit their initial applications in July and their final applications in October. The final applications are then reviewed by the national committee, and in January, students are notified if they are a finalist for the Fulbright Scholarship. The final decision can come as late as May, making the process 10 months long.

To qualify for the Fulbright Scholarship, undergraduate students are expected to graduate by the time the final decision is made.

“About half of the awards go to graduating seniors and students with only bachelor’s degrees, and the other half goes to masters and Ph.d. students,” Schug said.

All student expenses are funded by Fulbright, including housing, food and transportation.

Jessica Romero, another recipient of the Fulbright grant, who received her bachelor’s in Spanish and Portuguese at the University, is currently working as an assistant English teacher in Morrinhos Goiás, Brazil.

Romero acknowledges how her time spent at the University has helped her prepare for such a significant accomplishment in her life.

“Overall just meeting people from different backgrounds and getting to know myself through the people at (Illinois) played a big role in me applying to Fulbright,” she said.

Romero is also a first-generation college student who is grateful for her parents’ support.

“I’m happy that they sacrificed so much to give my brothers and me a better future. That’s why I applied because I knew, in the long run, they were going to be proud of me. They wanted me to have these opportunities,” Romero said.

Schug has been helping students apply for international scholarships such as the Fulbright for 18 years.

“I really enjoy it because the students that I am working with are going to be world changers in their own ways,” Schug said. “There are opportunities for students from any major, and as long as you think an international experience might be useful for you in your career, there’s likely a Fulbright option that can help you get to the place you would like to go.”

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