Senior Sylvia Sierra discovered on April 3 that she had won a Fulbright Scholarship to Mexico. Sierra is the fifth student to earn a Fulbright at the University of Mary Washington. The scholarship entails all expenses paid for a year of research and study in the applied country.
She had originally planned on attending graduate school after college, but over the past summer, Sierra had a change of heart and decided to follow her dream of teaching English in Latin America. After informing some of her professors about her intentions, they recommended that she apply for a Fulbright.
“I had never really heard about the program,” Sierra said. “But I talked to Dr. Al-Tikriti, our university’s Fulbright advisor, and he really encouraged me to apply for the Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship because I already had a good academic record and experience founding and teaching ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languagues) classes at UMW.”
Sierra’s linguistics project, which she worked on in her American Accents seminar with Nabil Paul Fallon, UMW assistant professor of Linguistics, consisted of collecting speech data from lifelong residents of Fredericksburg to learn about the dialect in the area and how it is changing. She believes it definitely had something to do with her winning a Fulbright since she was able to present her research in San Francisco at the annual Linguistic Society of America Conference.
“When I got the e-mail that I had been selected for a grant I was spazzing out, jumping around shouting, the usual thing people do when they hear really good news like that,” Sierra said.“ I was ecstatic and couldn’t stop smiling all day.”
According to Dr. Al-Tikriti, the University’s Fulbright advisor, only ten students have applied for the Fulbright in the past two years. Nationally the Fulbright committee awarded 6,000 grants in 2008 for both teaching assistantships and research projects. The application process begins in October and winners are announced in April.
“The process was very, very long. It wasn’t really hard, just a lot of work,” Sierra said. “I had to write a bunch of essays, revise them all like 10 times until they were ‘perfect’, get references, take a language proficiency test, have an informal interview, plus fill out all the other paperwork.”
When all that was done she had to wait about three months just to find out if she made the first round of selection in the U.S., and after she knew that she had made it that far, she had three more months of waiting to see if she had made the final selection.
Sierra will be doing a teaching assistantship for English as a second language. She originally wanted to go to Chile, but is just as enthusiastic to be headed to Mexico.
“I’m really excited about going to Mexico because I’ve always wanted to live and work outside of the U.S. to be immersed in another culture and to improve my Spanish,” Sierra said. “I’m not too nervous about it, although I know it will be a lot of work to get there and once I’m there I’m sure it’ll take a while to get situated. I’m sure the experience will be worth it though.”
The Fulbright scholarship is one of the largest scholarships in the country. The scholarship aims to encourage international awareness as well as leadership and education opportunities.