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Four Swarthmore Alumni Receive Fulbright Grants

Portraits of Swarthmore's 2017 Fulbright winners

From left: Joelle Hageboutros ’16, Steven Gu ’15, Austen Van Burns ’17, and Joshua Goldstein ’17 will travel to Jordan, Singapore, Germany, and Bulgaria, respectively.


Waiting — and waiting — to hear back about his Fulbright application and fretting over a project, Steven Gu ’15 left the office to take a walk. He sat down in a park, as doubts about his career path percolated.

Then his phone pinged — great, another work email.

“But when I saw ‘congratulations' in the subject line, I went into complete disbelief,” says Gu, who graduated from Swarthmore with a special major in urban studies and political science.

Gu is one of four alumni to accept a coveted Fulbright grant this year, affirming Swarthmore’s status as a top producer of grantees. The award is bestowed “to encourage collaboration between citizens of the U.S. and those of other countries in developing ideas and addressing international concerns.” With its vast academic focus, including the social sciences, humanities, and the sciences, the program emphasizes leadership development.

Theater professor Allen Kukarski also received a Fulbright and will spend the next year immersed in the work of five Polish major playwrights.

Gu received an urban planning and sustainable design grant, with which he will research biking communities and experiences in Singapore. He will examine biking accessibility for different demographics, identify challenges for underserved communities, and expand his culinary horizons.

“I’m most excited about the food!” he says. “I can’t wait to learn more about the hawker centre and Kopi culture.”

The other three Swarthmore grantees received English teaching assistantships. Among them is Joelle Hageboutros ’16, who will draw from her peer-tutoring, student academic mentoring, and seminar-leading experiences from Swarthmore as a teacher in Amman, Jordan.

“I have several ideas and themes I’d like to introduce in the classroom,” says Hageboutros, who majored in political science and French and Francophone studies. “Namely, having the students explore questions of identity, belonging, and the tensions arising from assimilation, integration, and the desire to maintain traditions through exposure to Jordanian-American literature, among other genres.”

Austen Van Burns ’17, who graduated with Honors in classical studies, heads to a secondary school in Mainz, Germany, to teach students from all academic levels. Her tasks will include leading conversation groups and playing games to boost the students’ pronunciation and comfort level with English.

“My school has its own vegetable garden to supply its cafeteria, and it’s also known for sports, music, and science programs — an interesting combination!” says Van Burns, who is also eager “interact with people in all the tiny, daily ways that you can’t access as a tourist.”

Echoing that sentiment is Joshua Goldstein ’17, who, as a low-income student, had never left the New York tri-state area until he came to Swarthmore. But last year he visited Hungary through the Budapest Semesters in Mathematics program, which fueled his Fulbright aspirations.

“In these difficult times, it’s an important opportunity to represent my country abroad in a positive light,” says Goldstein, who graduated with Honors in mathematics. “I’m most excited to meet my students and learn about the life they live in Bulgaria.”

Each of the grantees extolled Swarthmore’s impact on their career paths. For Hageboutros, it’s how her collective experience instilled a love of teaching; for Gu, the liberal arts pushing him to examine projects and problems from an interdisciplinary perspective. Van Burns cites the personal investment extended by her professors, Goldstein the academic and financial support of the institution.

“Four years ago, I could not have imagined being in this position,” he says. “I am so incredibly grateful for all that Swarthmore has given me, and I hope to give back some day so that others have the opportunity to learn and grow as I have.”

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