MURRAY, Ky. — The Fulbright U.S. Student Program awarded Samantha Wright, a Murray State University student from Owensboro, with a 2018–19 English Teaching Assistant (ETA) grant to serve as a teacher and cultural ambassador in Taiwan beginning August 2018.
The Fulbright U.S. Student Program is an educational exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government that offers research, study and teaching opportunities in more than 140 countries. In addition to its academic offerings, Fulbright is designed to increase communication and understanding between the U.S. and other countries with Fulbright scholars exhibiting academic and professional achievements as well as demonstrated leadership potential.
“This opportunity gives me a chance to see parts of the world but, more than that, it offers an opportunity to grow as a person and as a teacher to have a more global perspective and understand people more fully,” Wright said.
Wright graduated from Murray State in May 2018 with a bachelor’s degree in learning and behavior disorders from the College of Education and Human Services. She is a presidential fellow and student in the Honors College, a community within Murray State that offers a unique honors curriculum, critical-thinking seminars and specialized programs and activities. In addition to her coursework and student-teaching requirements, Wright has conducted extensive research on strategies to prevent anger and aggression with guidance from education professors Dr. Eric Umstead and Dr. Ajay Das since the spring semester of her freshman year.
“We were not surprised that Samantha was selected by the Fulbright committee,” said Dr. Warren Edminster, executive director of the Honors College. “We’re confident Murray State and Honors College students can compete with the very best candidates in the country. Samantha’s selection only proves that.”
As a high school senior deciding where to pursue her undergraduate degree, Wright looked for a university where she could excel academically and personally. She found that university at Murray State. Over the last four years — whether it was through her involvement in the Springer-Franklin Residential College, her work in the department of adolescent, career and special education or her participation in education abroad opportunities — Wright consistently looked for ways to step outside her comfort zone to grow as a student and, ultimately, as an educator.
As she started the fall 2017 semester, looking toward her impending graduation in the spring, Wright began the extensive Fulbright application process after talking with several faculty and staff advisors. She decided to apply for the grant in Taiwan for a number of reasons. One such reason was the country’s emphasis on teaching English for elementary and middle school students, which is Wright’s primary area of focus.
“I just knew it was the one,” Wright said.
To be considered for the Fulbright program, Wright was responsible for writing essays about why she was interested in the program and what she could bring to it in addition to submitting traditional application materials. She also completed a roundtable interview with faculty and staff from the University to discuss her prospective teaching methods and how she would serve as a cultural ambassador for the U.S.
“Samantha embodies the compassion and desire to inform exhibited in educators, the diplomacy and professionalism of an ambassador and the sparkle in her eye of a life-long learner,” Umstead said. “In a time when many countries and communities are becoming more polarized, Samantha embodies the skills an educational ambassador needs to positively represent our country abroad while at the same time bringing people together.”
When she learned she had been accepted to the program, Wright recalled it being an emotional moment — the culmination of her hard work paying off. She will now depart for Taiwan to begin her ETA program in August 2018. From there, she is excited to see what the future holds and to begin her Fulbright experience.
“You have to jump in with both feet,” Wright said. “Give it all you’ve got.”
Wright’s selection as a Fulbright scholar also continues to put Murray State in a global spotlight that displays the University’s commitment to a high-quality and worthwhile education both at home and abroad.
“We challenge our students to engage in experiences that lead to self-discovery and personal growth through scholarly activity as part of their academic journey,” said Dr. Mark Arant, provost and vice president for academic affairs. “Samantha’s selection as a Fulbright recipient is well-deserved and incredibly significant. We are proud of Samantha and trust that her time as a Fulbright scholar will be both personally enriching and profoundly impactful.”
Wright is the third Murray State student in the past decade to be selected as a Fulbright scholar, an elite group that includes Ashley Winkler, a 2011 graduate who served as an ETA in Spain, and Bryant Powell, a 2016 graduate who served as an ETA in Belgium.