Emma Astad ’21 joined Catherine Hiebel ’22 and Melina Boutris ’22 as one of Southwestern University’s most recent Fulbright Award recipients. Astad, a major in biology and a minor in Spanish, will serve as an English teaching assistant in Galicia, Spain.

The Fulbright US Student Program is the federal government’s flagship international educational exchange program. Since 1946, the program has provided more than 400,000 participants from more than 160 countries with the opportunity to study, teach and conduct research, exchange ideas and help find solutions to common international problems. .

“Diplomacy is more important than ever given the state of world affairs, and being part of this bridge and diplomatic efforts is exciting,” Astad said. “It also ties into my future goals as I become the person I aspire to be.”

These future goals include becoming a brain doctor, perhaps a neuro-oncologist or neurosurgeon. As an undergraduate student, Astad conducted research on neural circuit development in zebrafish and its relationship to human neurological disorders alongside Assistant Professor Kimberly McArthur. She also has a personal interest in brain disease: her mother died of brain cancer last December.

“I’ve always been fascinated by the brain. My independent Spanish course was all about looking at the brain changes associated with language acquisition,” says Astad, who has studied multiple languages ​​including French, Greek, Latin and Norwegian.

The combination of the COVID-19 pandemic and having custody of his mother for two years prevented Astad from studying abroad while at Southwestern. She knew that applying for a Fulbright in Spain was her opportunity to have that experience while combining her passion for healthcare (Spain has a highly regarded healthcare system) with her interest in linguistics (Spain has one official language and several co-official regional languages). , including Galician, which is spoken in the area where Astad will be teaching).

The application process was daunting to say the least. Astad estimates that she wrote six drafts of her grant purpose statement and seven drafts of her personal statement. She also had to answer additional questions and complete a language assessment. She credits the support of her three recommenders – Senior Director of Integrative and Community Learning Sarah Brackmann, Professor Maria Todd and McArthur – as well as that of Associate Professor Erika Berroth, Professor Maria Cuevas and Senior Associate Director of the Alexandra Anderson Career and Professional Development Center with her through the long process.

“There’s a student, but there’s an army of mentors,” she says. “I really couldn’t have done it without their help. They are so important and an integral part of the process.

Astad is not yet sure where her placement in Galicia will be, but she is already planning her time there. In addition to her teaching duties, she hopes to volunteer at local hospitals and eventually provide free English lessons for patients and staff. She also wants to explore the history and culture of the region.

“Galicia has a lot of Celtic influence and the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route ends in the city of Santiago de Compostela, which is the capital,” says Astad. “I’m excited about the cultural immersion aspect.”

Astad has two pieces of advice for students considering applying to the Fulbright program: do it.

“I know that’s easier said than done,” she laughs. “It’s a really intense process, and it can be super overwhelming. But Southwestern will help and support you along the way.