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Five Roanoke women win Fulbright scholarship


Photo Courtesy of PR

Article Written by Sarah Joseph


The nearing graduation date for many seniors looms increasingly over their heads. While these soon to be alumni reflect back on their time at Roanoke, they are also looking ahead. Some are mixed with sadness, others with great excitement, and additional ones with stress in anticipation of the student loan debt awaiting them.

In one special case however, five students will be able to postpone such stress for one more year, as they are filled with the disbelief and excitement of embarking on a one year journey outside of the United States.

Kristen Wicander, Brieanah Gouveia, Edyth Cisneros, Stephanie Shields, and Savannah Scott have all made history by receiving five Fulbright awards to Spain, Scotland, Mexico, Germany, and Austria, respectively.

Like all seniors, they are experiencing the typical excitement and nerves, just with the added bonus of earning a prestigious scholarship. As Wicander put it, “I still can’t quite believe this is real.”

I caught up with each of the five Fulbrighters to hear them reflect on their time at Roanoke and discuss what has led them to where they are now.

I met Edyth Cisneros first, talking over the drink of choice of many college students – coffee. My first impression of Cisneros was that she was outgoing, funny, and loved to tell stories, a far cry from her freshman self that she described to me. “I was a shy freshman who avoided eating in front of people – that’s how self-conscious I was,” Cisneros said. She credits the sorority Alpha Sigma Alpha (ASA) for the person that she is today.

“Before joining ASA, I would go home right after class – I was a commuter – or hide out in the library by myself. I didn’t try to talk to anyone outside of class. But then the seniors in ASA dragged me to events and even pushed me towards my major in Spanish.” Interestingly enough, Cisneros is going to Mexico to teach middle schoolers, in Spanish.

Since her involvement in Greek life, Cisneros has grown outside of her bubble, building an impressive resume from interning at the Blue Ridge Literacy Center, traveling to Spain for May Term, working as a Resident Advisor, and participating in multiple Honor Societies: Phi Beta Kappa, Order of Omega, Alpha Lambda Delta, and Sigma Delta Psi, to name a few.

As evidenced from her heavy involvement, she advises current students and incoming freshman to “not be afraid to put yourself into situations that may not interest you at the moment. Because who you are now is not who you are going to be. So live in the moment and allow yourself to live.”

Next, I spoke with Kristen Wicander, who like Cisneros is going to a Spanish speaking country, Spain, to teach middle schoolers the English language. Wicander comes from a small town in Connecticut. She said her small town way of seeing the world expanded while at Roanoke. She credits her growth through her four years here to Dr. Lynn Talbot and her core group of friends that she has maintained over the ears.

“I have a support system here. I was once a reserved freshman but now I am more sure of and comfortable with myself.” Since day one, Dr. Talbot has been with her through everything as she was her INQ professor and later Spanish advisor. “She would tell me ‘This is what you’re going to do’ and would connect me with contacts and events that have boosted my experience,” Wicander said.

Wicander advises future and current students to jump into every opportunity they are given, because the unplanned and unexpected can lead you down great paths.

I next met with Savannah Scott. Scott knows exactly what she wants and takes the necessary steps to get there. To explain, she said she wrote her first Fulbright draft her junior year while studying abroad. “I was sitting in a cafe in Paris,” said Scott. She is also a French minor who learned German independently to prepare herself for the possibility of Vienna.

“When I got the email from Fulbright, it was over spring break and I was by myself lounging on my couch. It was surreal and absolutely surprising,” said Scott. Scott will be going  to Vienna for research in microbiology and afterwards will fulfill her plan to become a doctor – but not the type she originally planned.

Since her sophomore year of high school, Scott said she knew she was going to go to Roanoke College and that one day she would be a doctor. It was as a freshman that she found her passion in bacteria and microbiology studies.

From Long Island, Scott said Salem provided her with a new perspective. She found that the emphasis on an interdisciplinary education here at Roanoke has been essential. It has helped her approach scientific research in a way that takes into consideration social and economic questions.

Offering her advice to current students, she said: “My one piece of advice is that you should try everything, even if it doesn’t seem to fit, you never know what something might lead you to.”

The next senior I met with had a different vision for her future than the course she is set on now. Brieanah Gouveia came to Roanoke interested in pursuing a career in photojournalism. However, this soon changed after taking Dr. Jane Long’s art history survey course her first semester. According to Gouveia, this change laid the building blocks for the rest of her academic and professional pursuits at Roanoke.

“I had dreams of being part of an art crime police force, like the Monuments Men. But in the U.S., where no such group exists anymore, it’s not that easy,” said Gouveia. The moment she became certain that she was going to do whatever it took to fulfill this dream, was after meeting the creator and head of the FBI’s Art Crime Team, Robert Wittman, at the end of her freshman year.

Since that time, she has pieced together different opportunities to build up experience in this field, from holding two internships as part of the Washington Semester Program, pursuing independent research, and securing a Fulbright summer award to England. Gouveia found that her goals were attainable because she put the time and work in, and now she’ll be pursuing her master’s at the University of Glasgow.

Gouveia said that by having already applied to a Fulbright in the past, the second time around was still hard, but nowhere near as daunting. “I was able to get over the awkwardness of analyzing myself,” adding that “Your story is so important and if you can communicate it well, doors will open,” said Gouveia. Her advice to current students is to always ask for help:

“Faculty here are so willing to help. If it weren’t for professors like Dr. [Jason] Hawke, Long, and [Jenny] Rosti, I would not have achieved half of what I have today. So, you have to remind yourself that you can’t succeed at many things in life by going at them alone. If you have the courage to ask for help, you’d be surprised at how many people are willing to help you get where you want to go.”

Last, but not least, on my list was Stephanie Shields. The professors Shields credits the most in her success of being awarded a Fulbright to Germany, where she will be studying the neuroscience of bats, are Dr. James Ogier (German professor) and Dr. David Nichols (research advisor).

Shields has had eight classes with Dr. Ogier and said he motivated her greatly throughout her time here. “He told me I had to apply sophomore year,” said Shields. Dr. Nichols supported and led her towards her love of bats and birds.

Shields said her favorite thing about Roanoke is the fact that she can talk to her professors about not just the important stuff, but also movies and books. “I came from a small high school where I was friends with many of the teachers and being able to continue to have that at Roanoke is special to me,” said Shields.

I met Shields to talk to her about herself, but she couldn’t stop from expressing her love for the professors here: “The professors here are so amazingly gifted and smart and the fact that they choose to stay here, in this small school in a small town says something about Roanoke. The professors see something special at Roanoke.”

While reflecting, Shields said: “I now have the ability to do things I never knew I could do. My advice to you is welcome failure, because the things that disappoint you the most, are the things you will get the most out of.”