Hannah Rothwell ’19 was recently in the middle of a meeting for her internship at a D.C. think tank when she received a text out of the blue: Call the U.S. Embassy in Uzbekistan immediately.
Rothwell, who majored in economics and international affairs at the University of Mary Washington, was suddenly flooded with memories of being named months earlier as an alternate for a Fulbright award. Knowing she was only a backup and that COVID-19 had suspended all Fulbright endeavors, she had “put it completely out of mind.”
Despite – or, possibly, due to – COVID, Rothwell learned she was needed in Uzbekistan, formerly part of the Soviet Union, as soon as possible to teach English under the auspices of the Fulbright.
Designed to increase mutual understanding between countries, Fulbright is the flagship international educational exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government. Its student exchange program is the largest for American students and young professionals who want to undertake international graduate study, advanced research or teaching English worldwide. More than 2,000 grants are awarded annually in all fields of study for the program, which operates in more than 140 countries.
Another recent UMW Fulbright Scholar, Lauren Closs ’20, fully expected to be on a flight last August to continue research she did in summer 2019 at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences. But COVID clamped down on those plans, at least for a while.
Closs is now gearing up for a trip back to Norway to complete those studies. Her research focusing on wild fish stock restoration and aquaculture was conducted in collaboration with UMW Professor of Biology Dianne Baker, who herself had taken a sabbatical as a Fulbright Fellow at the same lab.
Unlike previous Fulbright recipients – many of whom have come from Mary Washington – Closs and Rothwell have had to contend with new pandemic-related complications. Although she flew out of JFK over a week ago, Rothwell first had to test negative for COVID, then undergo another test in Uzbekistan. Right now, she is quarantining in a hotel before beginning her assignment at Ferghana State University.
Searching for full-time employment in the midst a pandemic, Rothwell said her “life situation” allowed her to pick up and move to Uzbekistan on such short notice. “This just fell in my lap.”
Closs is planning to fly out in a few weeks if the Norwegian government approves her request for a residence permit. She will also need to test negative and quarantine before her housing starts March 1.
Both students attribute the Fulbright awards to their experiences at Mary Washington. “As much as I learned from my coursework at UMW, I got just as much out of [working] with The Blue & Gray Press and Washington Guides,” Closs said. “I think being able to discuss, present and collaborate on my research is just as important as textbook knowledge and lab skills.”
And with a Fulbright under her belt, Closs feels more prepared to pursue a Ph.D. in neuroscience, physiology or a related field in the future. She wants initially to work in a lab as a researcher, but eventually looks forward to teaching and “fostering scientific inquiry in future generations.”
Rothwell said she’s indebted to Professor of History Nabil Al-Tikriti, who specializes in Middle East studies and serves as UMW’s Fulbright adviser. “He has a wealth of knowledge and a wealth of contacts,” said Rothwell, who aspires to work with the U.S. government supporting American interests abroad.
As for landing a job when she returns, Rothwell said she feels confident. “A Fulbright will look good on my résumé.”