Recently, I had a chance to attend Phi Theta Kappa’s annual International Convention in San Antonio, Texas. Phi Theta Kappa is the honor society of the two-year college, and has prided itself in having a strong international membership and presence around the globe. The convention for me was a coming home party. I had served as an international officer, presiding over an International Convention in Philadelphia, and former international officers often return to conventions to take in the sights and relive past glories.
This convention was going to be a different experience, however, because I also returned as a Fulbright Alumni Ambassador. One of the things that motivate me to go to work every day is the idea that I can expose folks to the opportunities and experiences that I have been extraordinarily lucky to be a part of. My return to the convention had a second motive, to connect the Gilman Scholarship and Fulbright with the unique experience that is Phi Theta Kappa. The convention typically brings about 5,000 Phi Theta Kappans together from chapters across the United States and international chapters in places such as the British Virgin Islands, and the United Arab Emirates, amongst others. Experiencing this gathering of varied cultures really a sight to behold, especially when one considers that many Phi Theta Kappans are non-traditional students who often do not get the opportunity to meet many individuals from other places. Combine these new involvements with an ethos of academic curiosity and a deep sense of servitude, and those three days are truly magical.
Speaking to so many students about my life after having served as an officer was amazing because I could see in their eyes how they were making plans to take advantage of the same opportunities I had. Simply asking a member where they would most like to study abroad broadened their mindset to an international context that now included them as well. I look forward to an expanded and continued collaboration between Fulbright and Phi Theta Kappa. Through this partnership, the cultural mosaic that is the United States reflects itself back onto the world in very profound ways.
Fulbright has meant much to me, specifically from my experiences I will now be able to help the people of the Gulf Coast, where I am from. We are a blue-collar folk, working hard to make a living, especially in my hometown of Pascagoula, MS, where Ingalls Shipbuilding and Chevron Refinery are two of Mississippi’s largest employers. I want to grow our local economy more, through initiatives such as enhanced workforce training. Over the next year, I will be completing a German Chancellor Fellowship, in Germany, which will allow me the opportunity to research best practices of the German vocational education training model, contextualize them to Mississippi, and strengthen our workforce development system in a way that very few states are currently capable of doing. This type of research was enabled by the years I have spent in Germany, and I can point to the Fulbright Program as being a program that positioned me to do so. It is only right that I connect more Phi Theta Kappans to Fulbright as well as continue to strengthen the program and to get the word out that Fulbright really does represent the rich diversity that is America. Imagine the possibilities!