In 2010 I arrived as a freshman on the campus of the University of Scranton. I was energetic, competitive, and lanky. My sister was a senior at the time and I was coming in as a recruit for the lacrosse team. Surprisingly, I felt no pressure coming in as a Presidential Scholar. I knew great things were expected of me, but I was confident I could deliver. I decided not to share my status with many of peers because I knew they would think different of me. I wanted to be judged by my actions, not by distinctions and labels. At that time I was an undeclared major, but was taking pre-medicine classes in the hopes of attending medical school. I realized quickly enough this wasn’t possible. Not only did I absolutely dread chemistry and biology classes, but I discovered I didn’t see myself in that field. I went to the advisor I had been assigned and expressed to her my concern. Withholding her name, I can tell you she wasn’t pleased. I’ll never forget what she said to me. She told me that I was scared of the work ahead of me, and that I would regret this decision for the rest of my life. Having known me for less than a semester, she concluded that it would be a waste of a Presidential Scholarship, and that I would be happier in the bars than in the library. Now out of all that, the only part that is accurate is the last part, and only because I prefer to study in my room and not the library.
As the years progressed, I never forgot that conversation. After my initial anger subsided I was able to see that this advisor had good intentions. I hadn’t yet found the health administration field that I enjoy so much, so in her eyes I was just distancing myself from the med school track. The next two years were a giant melting pot of academics, athletics, and social activities (the perfect trifecta). By the end of my junior year I had an internship lined up at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center for the summer that I was ecstatic about. Around that time, my mom mentioned to me that I should look into the prestigious Fulbright program, having read about the success Scranton has had receiving grants. I attended the first seminar with Dr. Trussler, whom I had taken for Economics of International Business. Dr. Trussler is an intimidating, demanding, and an absolutely brilliant woman. Most people on campus associate her only with the classroom, where her reputation precedes her as a tough grader. In that seminar she outlined the timetable for preparing to apply for a Fulbright. Some of the tasks mentioned were drafting essays, studying country statistics, meeting with faculty members for recommendations, and tri-weekly meetings with her once we returned for the fall semester. I left that seminar overwhelmed and, for the first time in my life, unsure of my qualifications.
It was a night in late June that I finally decided to go through with applying. It took a push from a couple people close to me (my mom and my Aunt Kathy), but I emailed Dr. Trussler and told her to sign me up. The next step was to write rough drafts of both my personal statement and grant purpose essays. Included in them was every activity related to teaching that I had ever partaken in. I was instructed to write down everything that came to my head, and significant revisions would follow. For the remainder of the summer I had an online Skype meeting with Dr. Trussler every week. Since I was working at Sloan, I would lug my laptop into the city for the day and talk to her while I shoveled in food on my lunch break. We narrowed down my list of countries, and settled on a little known one called Malaysia. When I returned to school in the Fall the pace quickened. My meetings with Dr. T were three times a week, and I was constantly editing, revising, and rephrasing my essays. I studied everything I could get my hands on about Malaysia. I spoke to any former Fulbright recipient whose email I could obtain. I was fortunate enough to have a couple professors with whom I had a close relationship with, and they agreed to write recommendations. By the time October rolled around I had written sixteen drafts of each essay. The final step, besides actually submitting the application, was a grueling interview with the Fulbright Committee; comprised of six, doctored professors at the University. I was grilled for over an hour on everything from the culture and religion of Malaysia, to my extracurricular activities. I put my heart and soul into preparing for that interview. I walked out of that room confident that I had given it my best shot, and the rest was out of my control.
I think we all know where the story goes from here. I made it through the first round of cuts in January, and was notified of my grant in April. I think of how far I’ve come in the year and a half since I made the decision to even apply. Scranton is fortunate to have such an incredible Fulbright advisor. I consider Dr. T a mentor, as well as a friend. I’m confident that as long as she remains at Scranton they will continue to have unrivaled success in obtaining Fulbright grants. I also feel I’ve done my part for the University of Scranton. They took a chance on me, and I owed them my very best.
To whom much is given, much is expected.