Providence College seniors Emily M. Kennedy ’15 (Tallahassee, Fla.) and Vincent A. Whalen ’15 (Eatontown, N.J.) will both spend a year abroad thanks to Fulbright awards.
Kennedy, a global studies major who is minoring in Spanish, political science, and Latin American studies, received a Fulbright Research Grant to study a social movement to improve water access in a rural community near Buenos Aires, Argentina. She leaves in March 2016.
Whalen, who is majoring in Spanish and economics, was awarded a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship Scholarship to IE University in Madrid, Spain, starting in September 2015. He will work with faculty and business students at IE, where courses are taught in Spanish and English.
The Fulbright Program, the prestigious international education exchange opportunity sponsored by the U.S. government, is designed to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and other countries. Each year, more than 1,900 U.S. citizens pursue research or teaching assistantships in more than 155 countries through the program.
Whalen and Kennedy join nine other PC students or alumni who have received Fulbright teaching or research grants since 2010.
Kennedy’s water access research is just one example of how water has defined her life. She grew up near the coast in Florida. As a PC student, she was on the swim team, and during her senior year, she swam a personal best of 1:00.69 in the 100-yard butterfly at the BIG EAST Tournament.
As a junior, Kennedy traveled to Buenos Aires and studied access to water in Claypole, a rural community about an hour outside of the city.
Many of the residents rely on well water, but they are contaminated because of a poor sewerage system. The community formed a social movement, petitioning both the government and the local water authority to improve conditions.
While in Argentina, her study abroad program adviser connected her with a sociologist at the University of Buenos Aires who became her sponsor for the Fulbright.
Through her research, Kennedy will be “telling the story of how this community has created a social movement, and looking at what more needs to be done, and what’s inhibiting future progress,” she said.
Kennedy said she has always been interested in social justice and human rights issues. For example, she helped start PC’s “Think Outside the Bottle” campaign, encouraging the College to go bottled water free.
“We see water as a human right that should not be bought and sold for profit,” Kennedy said.
In some situations, bottled water companies target Latino communities because the infrastructure is so bad, she said. “If a country put the money into local water systems, that would be a better solution. It’s becoming an issue of who can afford water.”
Although she studied French in high school, an alternative spring break trip to Nicaragua during her freshman and sophomore years at PC inspired her to study Spanish. “I really liked it but really felt guilty,” she said. “I had to rely on translators. I wanted to be able to talk to people myself.”
Her experience with the “Think Outside the Bottle” campaign, started by Corporate Accountability International, helped her recognize that she was interested in community organizing. She has served as a regional student organizer for other campuses and served as president of the Student Environmental Action Coalition.
Kennedy credits her professors, particularly in the Department of Global Studies, for inspiring her.
“The way I’ve thought about things and interpreted the world has been shaped and changed by my classes,” said Kennedy, who is also a member of the Liberal Arts Honors Program.
For Whalen, also an Honors student, inspiration to pursue a Fulbright started in high school. One of his teachers who had had two Fulbright awards encouraged him to apply one day himself.
Receiving a Fulbright is “a great honor — something I didn’t expect,” he said. Whalen said he had to thank the College’s Department of Foreign Language Studies for preparing him.
Whalen, who has studied Spanish since he was 7, declared a Spanish major when he arrived at PC and graduates with the highest grade point average in his concentration. He knew he wanted to add another major as well and settled on economics, thinking he might have a future in international business.
The Fulbright application process was difficult — Whalen went through 15 drafts of his essay — but he was rewarded when he was interviewed in October.
In Madrid, Whalen will work in IE University’s language center with an international student body — 65 percent of the student body hails from outside Spain, he said. He also will run workshops for faculty on English grammar and other topics.
In addition, he will spend about half of his time at IE University's satellite campus in Segovia, a small town located 30 minutes outside of Madrid. The main building of this campus is the Santa Cruz la Real Convent, a former convent of the Dominican friars, Whalen said.
He felt that his experience with PC’s Board of Programmers, particularly as executive treasurer his senior year, also helped get him ready for this next role. At IE, he will be planning events for the language center as well. BOP “gave me the creativity to do that,” he said.
It’s not the first time Whalen has helped teach English to non-native speakers. During his freshman year, he participated in a Campus Ministry program that connected students with campus food service workers for English for Speakers of Other Languages instruction. Together, they read children’s books and newspapers.
Whalen also was an admissions ambassador who was selected as a senior admission fellow. In that role, he helped to interview prospective students and represented PC at college fairs and admission events.
After he returns from Spain, Whalen plans to pursue a master’s degree in public policy. He had been accepted to his first choice, the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University. But to accept the Fulbright, he also had to decline acceptances at Brown University and Stanford University.
Whalen plans to reapply to Duke, where he wants to study education policy and contribute to reforms in the United States and abroad but to transition to higher education administration after conducting research.