Beloit College student Amani Edwards was sitting in a café in Taiwan last summer when the idea of applying for a Fulbright Scholarship was first presented to her.
Rachel Ellett, one of her professors, told her she would make a good candidate for the prestigious program.
The Fulbright Program is an international exchange program sponsored by the U.S. State Department. Started in 1946 by Senator William J. Fulbright, it gives its participants a chance to teach, study and do research aimed at finding solutions to international challenges.
Edwards, of Atlanta, Ga., was chosen for her academic record and her leadership abilities. Fellow Beloit College student, Kate Sedlacek, from Olympia, Wash., also received a Fulbright award.
The two, who both graduated from Beloit College in May, will travel to separate cities in Siberia, a vast region of central and eastern Russia. Sedlacek will go to Omsk, while Edwards will go to Novosibirsk, Siberia’s largest city.
Novosibirsk is Russia’s third most populated city.
Edwards , a modern languages major, speaks both Russian and Chinese. “My Chinese skills were better,” she told the Beloit Daily News. “I loved Taiwan so applying for Russia was a stretch.”
She spent the summer of 2011 on the island east of mainland China. There she completed research as a McNair Scholar, studying “Christian organizations and the Chinese social welfare system.”
The 21-year-old loves a challenge. Once she returned to Beloit last fall, she made up her mind to apply for the Fulbright in Russia. With the help of a Beloit alumni friend who held a Fulbright two years ago and current advisors at the college, she completed the paperwork part of the application in October 2011.
Once she got word from the Fulbright committee of her selection as a finalist, Edwards started preparing for the upcoming phone interview that would be conducted in the Russian language.
She worked with Beloit’s Olga Ogurtsova, associate professor of Russian, until the interview in late February of this year.
“On April 2, I was on my way to track practice when I checked my e-mails. I had one from my professor congratulating me and then I saw the acceptance email from Fulbright.”
She called her mother in Atlanta who, Edwards said, “was surprised and excited.” At college graduation on Mother’s Day 2012, Edwards held a large sign reading “Thanks, Mom.”
Edwards leaves for orientation in Moscow on September 30. She is spending her summer in Beloit helping current McNair scholars on campus and brushing up on her Russian.
Once in Russia, she will teach English to Russian speakers at Novosibirsk State Pedagogical University.
She credits her Beloit College professors, Ellet, Ogurtsova, and Donna Oliver for helping her win the Fulbright. She is also grateful to those who lead the McNair program at Beloit.
The McNair program was endowed by the U.S. Congress to honor Dr. Ronald McNair, the second African-American chosen to join the space program. He made his first space flight in 1984, and died tragically aboard the space shuttle Challenger alongside six other astronauts in January 1986.
The program named for the scientist-astronaut helps first-generation college students to pursue graduate studies. Beloit College is one of the few private liberal arts colleges that runs a branch of the program.
After her Fulbright year, Edwards will enter the Ph.D program at the State University of New York, SUNY-Albany. She will study public policy but does not know exactly where her career will take her.
“My language skills and my research interests point me toward Homeland Security, an option other people have mentioned to me. It’s one idea.
“I have six years to figure it out,” the charming high-achiever said with a smile.
Edwards won the Blue Skies Award at commencement, given to the graduating senior “who helped foster good cheer, a good-humored perspective, and saving grace in the conduct of our daily lives together on campus.”
Her participation in the Fulbright Program makes her one of the 111,000 Americans who have been part of the program since its start more than 60 years ago.