For the second year in a row, three undergraduates have been awarded Fulbright fellowships abroad, with as many as five more winners possible.

There have been 11 applicants to seven different countries for 2005-06, and thus far seniors Ashley Poelma, Elizabeth Boerman and Thomas Hildebrandt have been selected as winners.

According to Fellowships Coordinator and Academic Counselor Belinda Redden, UR has had 16 Fulbright Fellows in 11 years. In recent years, however, the applicant numbers have continued to grow.

“We have seen a significant upsurge in UR student participation in the Fulbright competition over the past few years,” Redden said. “The more students apply, the better we get at advising them on developing competitive applications.”

Redden also hopes this year will be record-breaking for applicants receiving fellowships.

“I am particularly pleased with the outcome of this year’s competition so far and very excited about the prospect of breaking our high of four Fulbrights in a single competition, which last occurred in 1997,” she said.

The application process itself takes more than a year and must undergo review by an interdisciplinary faculty group here at UR before being sent to the Institute of International Education in New York City.

The program is sponsored by the U.S. State Department to foster cultural exchange and learning.

Students design a proposal detailing what they would like to do with the program, and the merits of it, rather than basing the deicion on students’ Grade Point Average or other test scores.

Over 140 countries participate in the program and only 1,000 Fulbright Scholars are chosen for any given year.

Ashley Poelma has been chosen to undertake research in Bucharest, Romania, on abandoned children, as well as participate in a teaching program and medical volunteer work.

Poelma had not expected to receive the award, having faced logistical difficulties throughout the process, and sees the fellowship as now doubly rewarding.

“Basically, I planned as if I wouldn’t win it, so when I did, it was just a huge blessing,” she said. “I guess it was definitely more rewarding when I finally found out I received it since I had worked so hard and waited so long to find out my status.”

Her interest in abandoned children is the central basis of her Fulbright fellowship and what has drawn her to the program.

“The abandoned kids just capture your heart when you’re there and make you want to go back as often as possible,” she said.

Thomas Hildebrandt and Elizabeth Boerman, both German majors, will fulfill their fellowships in Germany, in English-teaching programs.

Hildebrant turned down other offers in order to wait on the decision from the Fulbright committee.

“Though offered two financial jobs in New York City and one to teach English in Vietnam, I’ve had my heart squarely set on receiving a Fulbright to Germany,” he said. “I feel honored to be a part of such a reputable and prestigious program and cannot wait to return to a situation of everyday learning and cultural exchange in Germany.”

Hildebrandt looks forward to being an ambassador not only for the United States, but for UR.

“I am proud to represent UR on this journey that I am embraking on,” Hildebrandt said. “I owe a great deal of thanks to the school for helping me achieve this.”

Elizabeth Boerman, another winner, has studied German extensively.

She will participate as a teacher’s assistant for English classes at a German school.

Both Boerman and Hildebrandt will take part in programs that begin in September and continue until June.

Boerman, like Hildebrandt, refused other offers for international study, opting instead to take a chance for a Fulbright.

“I am really excited to have won this scholarship,” Boerman said. “I received another scholarship to Germany, the Congress Bundestag scholarship for young professionals, which consisted of studying in Germany and working in an internship. But I turned it down in hopes of winning the Fulbright.”

Dean of Students Jody Asbury expressed her excitement for the accomplishments that these undergraduates have achieved and the recognition that has followed.

“It’s a banner year,” Asbury said. “It’s a really great year and I’m thrilled.”

Additional reporting by Michael He.

Linden can be reached at klinden@campustimes.org.



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