Two recent Abilene Christian University graduates will live, work and learn abroad next school year as recipients of the prestigious Fulbright U.S. Student Program awards from the U.S. Department of State and the Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board.
ACU had six students apply to the program this year, with four qualifying as semi-finalists and two selected as finalists.
“The Fulbright program offers incredible opportunities to learn and grow in an international setting and is a great fit for the global mission of ACU,” said Dr. Jason Morris, dean of the Honors College and director of the Office of Major Scholarships at ACU. “I’m thrilled that we have several students and recent graduates who apply and are selected for this highly competitive grant each year.”
Skye Gill, who received a degree in English with a public service minor in May 2023, will be an English Teaching Assistant in Taiwan, and she also plans to volunteer in underserved communities within Taipei.
While at ACU, Gill took a class to become certified to teach English to speakers of other languages, and through that course, worked with refugees and immigrants here in Abilene, giving her additional confidence and motivation to apply for the Fulbright program.
“Working with the refugees and immigrants made me realize how scary it can be to be in a new country where you don’t speak the language – and that is exactly the position I will be in while abroad,” she said. “This experience will give me a greater empathy toward this community, and I hope to be able to use my expanded understanding to support me through law school and a career afterward, possibly in immigration law.”
She applied to work in Taiwan specifically, inspired by Taiwanese poet Liu Ka-shiang and the country’s beauty and unique culture.
“There is so much I am looking forward to, but Lunar New Year in Taipei is at the top. They do a huge celebration every year in the city, and since this will be a new holiday to me, I cannot wait to learn more about it and get to experience it myself,” she said.
Conner Crawford completed a triple major in English, chemistry and biochemistry in May 2023 and will be an English Teaching Assistant in Kyrgyzstan. He’ll also have the chance to apply his science background, as several cultural centers in the capital city of Bishkek regularly organize events for local students interested in STEM careers, and he hopes to help mentor students there.
“The multidisciplinary facet of my undergraduate education was a personal highlight from my academic experience at ACU, so I’m excited to keep investing in those different spheres and exploring their intersection in an entirely different setting,” he said.
Crawford’s experience with ACU’s Study Abroad program helped pique his interest in international travel, but having studied in Europe already, he sought a country in another part of the world. Thanks to reading works by authors Leo Tolstoy and Fyodor Dostoevsky, he had an interest in learning the Russian language and ultimately applied to work in Kyrgyzstan because of its specific opportunities for STEM mentoring as well as the beauty of the country’s landscape of mountains, plains and lakes.
“My long-term goal is to pursue a career in higher education, and this experience will influence how I think about teaching for the rest of my life,” Crawford said. “I think the largest impacts on my future, though, will be personal. I expect this experience to be one of the biggest personal challenges of my life since I’ve never really lived anywhere outside of Texas. It will teach me so much about finding community with other people across major cultural boundaries, and I know that both the challenges and diversity will strengthen my faith too. If I return from this experience with a richer understanding of what it means to love God and love others well – even if I got nothing else – then it will have been invaluable.”
Students or recent alumni interested in applying for Fulbright grants or other prestigious scholarships utilize ACU’s Office of Major Scholarships. This office is part of the Honors College and assists all students interested in applying for competitive awards. ACU was named a top-producing Fulbright institution for 2018-19.
Recipients of Fulbright awards are selected in an open, merit-based competition that considers leadership potential, academic and/or professional achievement, and record of service. Fulbright alumni include 60 Nobel Prize laureates, 88 Pulitzer Prize recipients, and 39 who have served as a head of state or government. The Fulbright Program is the U.S. government’s flagship international educational exchange program and is also supported by people around the nation and partner countries around the world.
— Wendy Kilmer
June 15, 2023