The two most recent SUNY Oswego connections to win prestigious Fulbright U.S. Student program awards add to a recent track record of success while reflecting campus efforts to expand diversity in studying abroad.

Naomi Rodriguez Jose, a 2018 dual major in global and international studies and in communication and social interaction, will teach English in Brazil, while 2016 marketing graduate Tiana Morris will teach English in Croatia under the 2019-20 Fulbright program. 

Both have been “great students” who “reach for the stars,” said Lizette Alvarado, associate director of international education and programs, who was impressed with the pair’s work as study-abroad mentors and in the “I, Too, Am Study Abroad” program – which have helped increase participation among underrepresented students, like Rodriguez Jose and Morris themselves.

“I’m so proud to share this with SUNY Oswego and anybody and everybody who helped me get to where I am today,” Rodriguez Jose said of the honor.

Early on, she learned the Educational Opportunity Program, which made it possible for her to go to Oswego, could help fund her study abroad dreams. With additional help from scholarships, she was able to travel to Argentina, Benin and Brazil during her college years.

As a desk attendant for the Hart Hall Living and Learning Global Community, where she lived all four years, Rodriguez Jose met and became friends with many students from Brazil. They helped her learn about basic language and their culture, “which honestly enriched my experience living in Brazil,” she said. “I learned more about families and what the day-to-day life had to offer.”

Spending five months there her senior year, “I fell in love with Brazil and the culture,” Rodriguez Jose said. “I felt like I needed a way to get back to Brazil and make an impact. I saw the Fulbright and it was perfect.”

In Brazil, she will be an assistant teacher for an English professor at a university, where she will create and guide activities as well as outside-the-classroom projects. She plans to ask students to share their experiences and stories about living in Brazil in their day-to-day life in English, and explore how social issues might impact their life. 

While an Oswego student, Rodriguez Jose was invited by Alvarado to participate in “I, Too, Am Study Abroad,” and share how she financed her international studies and challenges she had to overcome.

“I have this passion for sharing whatever I learn with other people,” Rodriguez Jose said. “If it wasn’t for that, none of us would be who we are today. The SUNY Oswego community was so crucial to me that I didn’t think it was fair for me to keep what I’ve learned to myself.”

Rodriguez Jose referred to her Fulbright as “our accomplishment” – it belongs to so many at the college. “It couldn’t have happened without all the professors and the staff members who helped me at Oswego,” Rodriguez Jose said. “I’m so happy to be sharing this with Oswego and all the opportunities I was provided. I encourage all students at SUNY Oswego to take advantage of these opportunities. I’m just very grateful.”

'Overwhelming' support

After graduating from Oswego, Morris went on to George Washington University, where she will earn a master’s degree in international education with a certificate in teaching English to speakers of other languages this month.

While she applied for the Fulbright through George Washington, the interest started during her time at SUNY Oswego, including a senior-year meeting with Lyn Blanchfield, a history faculty member who is the college’s Fulbright adviser through its Institute for Global Engagement.

“Even back then, I knew Fulbright was something I wanted to apply to because of the type of program it is and the prestige that comes with it,” said Morris, who will teach English and lead activities at a yet-to-be-determined university in Croatia.

Morris studied abroad in London through the CAPA business internship program her junior year, which changed everything.

“It was my first time on a plane, first time leaving the country, first time doing all this without family and friends,” she said. “When I came back from studying abroad the first time, I had the travel bug. I wanted to help other students, including students of color, to go abroad.”

Morris was a student worker in the Office of International Education and Programs, and became a study-abroad mentor and a leader in the “I, Too, Am Study Abroad” programs.

“Participating in ‘I, Too, Am Study Abroad’ was really eye opening because it allowed me to address my experience in study abroad,” Morris recalled. “We put together our own panel discussion for underrepresented groups. We really tried to include every group so everyone’s voices could be heard.”

About a month after her Oswego graduation, Morris had an opportunity to present research in Shanghai, China, at an annual business conference that arose from a partnership SUNY Oswego has with Shanghai Normal University. The colleges take turns hosting the event.

“The support that Oswego gives me is really overwhelming,” Morris said. “If it wasn’t for the experiences Oswego gave me on campus and studying abroad, I wouldn’t be where I am right now.”

Expanding horizons

Earlier this year, SUNY Oswego won an Excellence in Diversity and Inclusion in International Education (EDIIE) award from Diversity Abroad that reflects the success of Rodriguez Jose, Morris and the programs they helped lead. The Organizational Excellence award recognized the increasing diversity of campus and ways the college ensures opportunities like studying abroad are accessible to all who are interested in it.

Alvarado said increased funding support for students wanting to study abroad and outreach to faculty, students and programs like EOP have been important factors.

The student participants are a big part of it, too. Study-abroad mentors “have to be professionals” who advise students just getting interested in the process, Alvarado said, and the passion and preparation of Rodriguez Jose and Morris were evident.

“The more students who are able to take part in study abroad, the better,” Alvarado said.

Rodriguez Jose cites Alvarado an inspiration -- seeing another person of color with the same native language of Spanish in that kind of position was important -- while Alvarado’s mentorship of her, other students and programs have spawned plenty of success. “She definitely deserves a lot of credit,” Rodriguez Jose said.

Since 2014, Oswego has had nine students and/or alumni receive Fulbrights, an unprecedented number that puts Oswego in elite company for a school its size, Blanchfield said.

“Our success is having great students and great faculty and staff who are mentoring these students,” Blanchfield said. “They are successful when we work together and when we can support them through good mentorship and guidance -- which our faculty and staff do.”

In addition, the dedication of the IGE, the Fulbright Committee, and so many others at the college has established a level of success to build on, Blanchfield said.

“The advice I would give students is take advantage of all the opportunities that SUNY Oswego has to offer -- academics, internships, work study jobs, extracurricular, athletics, research projects, faculty mentorship, study abroad -- everything,” Blanchfield said.

“Oswego has a lot to offer and every student should be utilizing all of the opportunities we have here,” she added. “The students who are applying for these prestigious awards are involved, engaged and committed individuals who see college as more than a degree and classes.”

About the program

Rodriguez Jose and Morris are among more than 1,900 U.S. citizens who will conduct research, teach English and provide expertise abroad for the upcoming academic year through the Fulbright U.S. Student Program. Candidates are selected on the basis of academic and professional achievement, as well as record of service and leadership potential in their respective fields.

The Fulbright Program is the flagship international educational exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government and is designed to build lasting connections between the people of the United States and the people of other countries.

The program is funded through an annual appropriation made by Congress to the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. Participating governments and host institutions, corporations and foundations around the world also provide direct and indirect support to the program, which operates in more than 160 countries worldwide.

For more information on Fulbright and related programs at SUNY Oswego, visit the college's Institute for Global Engagement website.