About the SOP

**The Scholarship Opportunities Program advises competitive undergraduate UC Irvine candidates in applying for prestigious merit scholarships. Our staff conducts outreach and manages the campus-level application and endorsement processes for these national and international scholarships, all funded by outside agencies. Applicants cannot apply directly to the funding agency (except NSF).

Please visit our main website for application information, deadlines, services provided by our office, and more details about all of our prestigious scholarships.**

This blog captures the experiences of our past scholarship recipients, as they embark on journeys around the world funded by grants and fellowships such as the Fulbright, Strauss, Rhodes, and others. Read about their exciting adventures below!

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in this blog site are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official position or views of the Scholarship Opportunities Program or UC Irvine.

Madeleine Hart – Fulbright – Germany

Madeleine Hart (’17, Major in Psychology and Minor in German Studies) has a background in urban education, which, along with her work in conflict analysis with the Olive Tree Initiative, inspired her to pursue one of Germany’s prestigious Diversity Placements, which she received. According to Fulbright, the twenty Fellows (out of 140 total) who receive Diversity Placements are assigned to schools with “significant numbers of students with minority or refugee backgrounds,” and, like all ETAs in Germany, Diversity Program participants must “have the capacity to negotiate cultural differences and respond to challenges” in these dynamic environments.

Found below are Madeleine’s personal stories and experiences during her Fulbright:

Hello everyone!

I am writing an update at the end of month six of my ten-month Fulbright ETA grant in Germany. Currently, it is 46 degrees Fahrenheit, but the sky is blue. Everyone here is hoping for an early spring!

I live in the city of Saarbrucken, which is located on the border of France about an hour south of Luxembourg. One of the biggest adjustments for me has been living in a small city – about 180,000 people – with no major metro area surrounding it.

I work in a Gemeinschaftsschule or “community school” which is meant to bridge the gap between the traditionally segregated college-bound Gymnasiem and trade school-bound Realschulen. The grade level at my school is 5th– 13th, but I mainly work with the 8th-10th graders. My placement in Fulbright Germany is considered a “diversity placement,” so my school has a very diverse population. About 85% of my students have a “migration background,” and I have a few classes where only one or two students in the class were actually born and raised in Germany. When students feel comfortable sharing personal details, it can be a really cool education environment where students learn about each other’s backgrounds and cultures. The challenging side of this, however, is that some students do not have a solid German language foundation, causing them to have some issues learning English in a German-to-English learning environment.

My day-to-day in the classroom usually consists of either team-teaching lessons with a teacher or taking small groups of students into the discussion rooms that are attached to the classrooms and reading English language readers together. I try to use as little German as possible, so I’ve taken to drawing out scenes of the book that they don’t understand. In some classes, we’re reading Frankenstein, which is a pretty gruesome story. It’s hilarious when I attempt to illustrate the more heinous details of the story in my hastily-drawn cartoons, and it breaks up the reading for the students so we can all have a laugh.

I think the thing that has made the single biggest impression on me are some of the social problems in Germany that I wasn’t privy to before my arrival. Because of Germany’s tragic history, there is an awkwardness around the topic of race. In fact, the word “race” in German is considered taboo to even say; the generally accepted attitude is one of “colorblindness.” Yet, racism is as much a problem here as it is in the United States. As previously mentioned, the majority of my students are not German, and many of them have confided in me experiences of racism or xenophobia they’ve experienced, and I have also personally witnessed it. While trying not to see race may be a well-intentioned attempt at inclusivity, in order to address the issue head-on we need the vocabulary to talk about it effectively. To measure and address issues like housing or job discrimination, for example, governments must first acknowledge there are people from various races living in the country.

This experience has reframed for me some of the social problems that the U.S. faces. Prior to my Fulbright grant, I was quick to criticize American values and laud what I perceived as being a progressive utopia in Germany. While I still feel that our system is broken, I now have more nuanced views of both countries and see so much more possibility for change and growth in the U.S. than I did before. We are working with a blueprint for identity that is fundamentally different from the one that is used in Germany and riding the current of anti-racism toward – hopefully – some solutions. I feel so excited to come back to the U.S. as a future attorney and join the movement toward a better, more inclusive country.

Below are some of the photos Madeleine shared with us during her Fulbright —

A very elegant group photo from Saarbrucken Christmas market.

The Saar River that runs through the city (Saarbrucken means “Saar bridges”).

This is what most of the city looks like.

Some houses in the more affluent part of town.

The border of Germany and France where I bike sometimes. It says “welcome” in French on one side and in German on the other.

Joyce Nguy – Fulbright Recipient – Taiwan Experience

Joyce Nguy (’19 Political Science, Education Sciences) was awarded the Fulbright Teaching Assistantship and is currently teaching English in Taiwan. Here are a few of the many moments Joyce experienced during her Fulbright year —

Taiwan 小朋友

“Little friends,” I translate affectionately over weekly calls home to loved ones. In Taiwan, students are widely referred to us 小朋友, literally “little friends,” (a.k.a the cutest term ever). More than halfway through my Fulbright grant, little joys continue to fuel my days on an island 1/13 the size of and thousands of miles away from my home state of California.

Graduating in June of 2019 and leaving a month and a half later for August training in Taiwan was a whirlwind! I had never left home for so long. A San Diegan through and through, and then a proud Anteater, I found the transition into living in Taiwan challenging, even though I had waited for so long to go on such a big adventure. My biggest tip is to maintain your support system at home, but also be present and in the moment. I found such a great support system in the 10 other ETAs that live in my county, and have continued to lean on them and explore with them throughout the whole year.

I was placed in Changhua County, an agricultural county in the middle of the west coast. Although I originally preferred to be located in a city like Kaohsiung or Taichung, living in a quiet small city/suburb of Yuanlin City has allowed me to see a slice of real Taiwanese life. While I have easy access to all the big cities via bus or train (Taiwan is SO convenient and interconnected!), I typically enjoy staying within my county and experiencing the local culture that is hard to find in the cities. Plus, many people in my county do not speak a lot of English, which mostly presents a welcome challenge if you want to practice your Mandarin Chinese, or learn Taiwanese from the grandpas at the shops!

I currently teach at 5 schools in Changhua. My main school is Fen Yuan Elementary School, located in rural Fen Yuan Township, known for its pineapple production. Every Monday, Tuesday and Friday morning a teacher picks me up from my apartment and makes the scenic drive through the mountains and pineapple farms to take me to school. My school is considered midsized with about 400 students total, and while I primarily teach English to 5th and 6th grade, I interact with all of the students at school (1st grade – 4th grade) through my storybook class, where I teach character education and English with the help of storybooks in our library. On Wednesday’s and Thursdays, our government sends us to other schools on a rotating schedule so that we can reach as many students as possible in our short time in the country. In a typical week, I teach 18 elementary school classes, each with their own unique personality!

One of my favorite things about living in Taiwan as an ETA was getting licensed to ride a scooter during August training. With scooter culture being huge in Taiwan, scooter training is essential and built into our orientation! After getting licensed, I bought a scooter (her name is Mantis) and have been scooting around ever since. People even use their scooters to pull up to tea shops or food stalls like a drive-thru, and I have since applied my scooter experience during travel. I have rented scooters at the beach in Kenting (southern Taiwan), and even rented a scooter in Thailand during winter vacation!

My Fulbright grant has provided me with the opportunity to live and work abroad, and become part of a community that has welcomed me with open arms. There’s the egg lady, who always adds an extra egg to my bag, insisting that I eat more. There’s the director that drives me home from school, who always takes small detours on our way back so that he can show me his favorite spots in town. And there’s my LET (local English teacher), who brought me to get chocolate on a particularly hard homesick day and brings soymilk for my coffee in the morning, even when I tell her not to. Love and care for others knows no borders and have no singular language. Even though some days are harder than others, every moment of discomfort has yielded life lessons and learning. When I return to the U.S. as a graduate student at UCLA, I will carry this year with me as one of the most impactful in my life.

Below are some of the photos Joyce took during her Fulbright year —

Kissing the Sea Cow

“Fulbright Taiwan makes sure you get an immersive cultural experience. The Changhua ETAs went on a field trip to Fangyuan township, which is famous for its oyster fishing and peanuts. While there, we got to ride a cart drawn by a ‘sea cow’ into the ocean to visit the oyster farms.”


“The day I bought my scooter with my roommate! The best investment I have ever made.”

School Culture

“I started to work with the counseling department at my school to help me with storytime! The counselor gives ‘talkbacks’ after my storytime to tie our stories into character education. For example, we used ‘The Paper Bag Princess’ to talk about gender inequality.”

Changhua Cohort

“11 ETAs live and work in Changhua county. We live together, train together, and teach together!”

Running Culture

“Taiwan is a country of runners and active aunties. The Tianzhong marathon, held in Taiwan’s ‘rice heaven,’ is a Changhua spectacle. I ran/walked the 10k to enjoy the food along the way (fried chicken, guavas, shrimp, pasta, and so much more)! One of our ETAs ran her very first half-marathon here and won first place, a Fila sponsorship, and a massage chair for her apartment.”


“My Local English Teacher(LET), Yinhsueh, and I in action in our school’s library.”


Alexander Alvara – Fulbright Recipient


Alexander Alvara (Fulbright 2017)

Alexander is a recent alumni who triple-majored in Mechanical, Aerospace, and Materials Science Engineering and minored in Biomedical Engineering and Business. His research includes development of a carbon fiber unmanned drone, a user-controlled prosthetic hand, a mobile phone compatible spectrometer, and an “exosuit” for shoulder and bicep rehabilitation. Alexander was a mentor for the Office of Access and Inclusion and is now a Ph.D. student at UC Berkeley in Mechanical Engineering researching condensed matter physics, high-energy nanotechnologies, and space systems. Alexander is also a recipient of the National GEM Consortium Ph.D. Fellowship, NSF CRFP Honorable Mention, and the Berkeley Chancellors Fellowship. In 2017, Alexander received a Fulbright U.S. Student Program award to research medical robotics and develop pediatric surgical robots for bone biopsy and neurosurgery applications at the University of Toronto in collaboration with The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) and Engineering Services Inc., a precision robotics company.

Recently, the SOP office conducted an interview with Alexander, and provided below are his responses about the application process and tips for future applicants:

What did you learn about yourself during the scholarship application process?

During the application process, I learned a lot about asking for help around the campus… I learned I didn’t know my campus as I thought I did. I had been around and I tried to make it my duty to really know what resources were available to me. But, obviously, I didn’t do that great of a job. Because the Scholarship Opportunities Program was a huge help to me and I just found out through chance by walking by one of their workshops. 

And the second most important thing that I learned was I may not be the best storyteller when it comes to myself. I can talk about research, I can talk about other things, but that was really a big hurdle for me, learning how to talk about myself during the application.

What are the biggest benefits of working with SOP?

So, the biggest benefit of working with the SOP, was that they had a lot of hands-on help. The fact that they offer so much help and so much feedback was actually a huge, huge factor for me. They helped me through at least 20 revisions and helped me whittle away the problem I mentioned earlier of not being able to talk about myself. They really helped me to grow and develop my writing style and had it not been without them, I am not sure that I would have gotten the scholarship. I went through like 20 revisions of my application, and the strongest ones were usually from, interestingly enough, the strongest revisions came from the non-technical side because it had to be readable for the general audience. For people that are policymakers and people who are administrators, so it wasn’t just about my research.

Do you have any advice for students who are considering applying for scholarships? 

My biggest advice would be to just apply. No matter what, apply.

You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take; it’s kind of a cheesy way of saying it.

There was no indication that I thought I was going to get the fellowship and I was already planning on doing something else during that whole time. To me if you don’t apply, you’re not going to get it.

Megan Braun – Rhodes Scholar

Megan Braun: Rhodes Scholar (2010)

Since completing her master’s in International Relations at Oxford with Rhodes funding, Megan Braun (’10 History) finished law school at Yale and is currently the one Supreme Court clerk assigned to accompany John Roberts to the impeachment trial of Donald Trump. UCI in the News, UC Irvine’s news website, highlights Megan’s achievements and current involvement in the impeachment process.

Please click here to visit UCI in the News, and view Megan’s profile article.

Joyce Nguy – Fulbright Recipient – Taiwan – Application Process

Joyce Nguy: Fulbright Recipient (2019)

Joyce Nguy (’19 Political Science, Education Sciences) is currently in Taiwan teaching English as a Fulbright Teaching Assistant. In her article “The Scholarship Opportunities Program” in UCI Unfiltered, a student-run blog aiming to give an authentic snapshot of what life is like at UCI, Joyce shares her experience of working through the Fulbright application and how the Scholarship Opportunities Program was able to provide her with helpful advising throughout the process.

Before pursuing a career as a research professor, Joyce plans to attain a Ph.D. in political science in order to focus on race, ethnicity, and identity politics, especially pertaining to Asian American communities.

Please click here to visit Unfiltered at UCI and view Joyce’s article about SOP services.

Daniela Estrada – Fulbright Winner – Colombia

Daniela Estrada: Truman Recipient (’15-’16) and Fulbright Recipient (’16-’17)

Read the rest of this entry »

Pauline Ho – NSF – Honorable Mention Recipient

    Ho with Vice Provost of Teaching and Learning, Michael Dennin

Pauline recently graduated cum laude from UC Irvine with a double major in Education Sciences and Social Policy & Public Service. She came to the United States ten years ago and did not speak any English and still considers her English language skills to not be proficient. At UCI, she worked in the Digital Learning Lab under the supervision of Dr. Mark Warschauer. As an undergraduate, she presented her independent research at different local and national conferences. She has achieved a variety of academic honors such as the AERA 2017 Undergraduate Fellow, 2017 Chancellor’s Award of Distinction and the School of Social Science’s Order of Merit. She applied for the 2016-2017 National Science Foundation Graduate Fellowship and received Honorable Mention as an undergraduate senior. Currently, she is pursuing her doctorate in Educational Psychology at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

How did I hear about the NSF fellowship?

I knew about the NSF Fellowship through my graduate student mentor. In the summer, my graduate student mentor met with me individually to discuss my future plans after UCI. At that time, I was struggling between whether I should pursue a Masters or a PhD. I was very passionate about doing research, but I was worried that I was not ready. At that time, I also didn’t know my research interests.  My main interest is to help English Language Learner (ELL) students like me do better in school. After a long conversation with my mentor, she told me about the NSF fellowship. At that moment, I thought “applying for a national fellowship – am I even qualified?”

I’m very thankful that I had the opportunity to work at the SOP office as a student intern during my undergraduate time. Through this position, I realized the application process can be overwhelming, but rewarding. I heard stories about students who went through the process and received awards and students who didn’t get the award but received acceptance to grad school. I know that it was not just about getting the award, it was also the process and the growth. Therefore, I decided to give it a try.

What resources have you used when preparing your application?

My mentor provided me with a variety of resources on campus – past winning applications, some books about Science Motivation, etc. From my experience working at SOP, I know that applying for competitive scholarships can be overwhelming. So I actively reached out for more resources and guidance.

As I was working closely with my mentors, I reached out to Michelle and Courtney to get their advice on my NSF application. They read through my application essays carefully and provided many helpful comments. Their expertise in helping students apply for national scholarships gave me a realistic perspective on my qualifications and applications. By the time I submitted my application, I was on the ninth draft of both essays.

What did you learn or gain from the process?

Throughout the process of revising my research proposal, I also figured out my plan for after graduation – I want to pursue a doctoral degree and conduct research. As I was working on my application, I was challenged to think about the intellectual merit and broader impacts of my research. I realized that I can contribute to the literature as well as make an impact in society. That’s exactly what I want to do with my life. Therefore, I went on and submitted my applications for several PhD programs. I used my NSF personal statement and revised it for my graduate school applications.

After spending over four months working on my application, I was honored to receive Honorable Mention. Even though I’m not getting the financial support from NSF, the skills that I gained from the application process are very useful. I was accepted into the number one ranked PhD program in Educational Psychology at the University of Wisconsin, Madison and recieved full-funding.

Tips for students who are interested in applying for the NSF.

If you have the research experience, give it a try! It doesn’t hurt to try, and you will grow a lot throughout the process. Given that it is very similar to graduate school applications, it is not too time-consuming because you don’t need to write a completely different essay. Instead, if you are serious about graduate school, start on your NSF application in the summer. Get a lot of help from your advisor and the SOP staff. Then, by the time you submit for grad school, you will have a strong application. If you are not sure about grad school yet, still give it a try in the summer. NSF really challenges you to think deeply about your research and what you want to do as a researcher. The intellectual merit and broader impacts criteria will make you think more seriously about your research interests. The amount of work to prepare a strong NSF application is very similar to the level of work that you should be doing in grad school as well. So if you can manage the process or learn to manage the process early, you are more ready for grad school.

Sunny Liu – Fulbright Winner – Nigeria

Sunny graduated from UCI in 2015 as a magna cum laude graduate having triple majored in Public Health, International Studies, and Anthropology. Sunny was a recipient of the Chancellor’s Award of Distinction and awarded the School of Sciences’ Order of Merit Award. Sunny was awarded the Fulbright Scholar Program in 2015-16 to conduct public health research in Nigeria. Additionally, she served in the Peace Corps for the Community and Youth Empowerment Project in Fiji. Her research interests include immunology, epidemiology, disaster medicine, and the emergency response to Ebola. She plans to earn a doctorate in Global Health as well.


Nigeria seems like an odd choice for those applying for a Fulbright Scholarship. The statistics says it all. The majority of Fulbright applicants choose their destination in the Western Hemisphere or in emerging economic powerhouses in the East. Additionally, Nigeria’s international reputation is tainted by news stories that reduces the country to a few keywords: Boko Haram, abductions, political instability, economic recession, and corruptions.

To have the words “Nigeria” and “good” in the same sentence is highly unusual. Therefore, I was not surprised to find many puzzled faces when I announced my departure to Nigeria in late March to embark on a journey of curious discoveries.

In my previous trips to Africa, I ventured on a life-changing journey to Kenya. Then, as a naive teenager, I was stunned by the beauty of Kenya and its people. Like many Americans and people from other parts of the world, I assumed that the word “Africa” is synonymous with disease, poverty, and suffering. My experience in Kenya was a life changing one where I found my passion and direction in life undergoing a paradigm shift. I longed to return to Africa with greater humility, knowledge, and skills.

My first impression of Nigeria came from Nigerian authors such as Uzodina Iweala and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. These author’s work challenged the West’s stagnant and biased view of Nigeria as the most populated country on the African continent.Iweala and Adichie told the true story of Nigeria through shedding light on the richness of Nigerian history, portraying the diversity within their culture, and highlighting the complexity of their social issues.

Following the 2014 Ebola outbreak in Lagos (a metropolitan center with a population of over 22 million), Nigeria became the poster child of the international public health community overnight. I arrived in Lagos with little expectations and much hope to learn about a country as culturally diverse as Nigeria. However, there were many obstacles awaiting me. Despite these obstacles, my Fulbright experience has become an opportunity for self-reflection, discovery, and character building.

Brittany Schick -George Mitchell Scholarship Winner


Brittany Schick In a C-130 during an ROTC fieldtrip.

Brittany graduated from UCI in 2005 having double majored in Political Science and International Studies with a focus on Western Europe. A graduate of the UCLA ROTC program, she commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force in 2005 as well but delayed her military service one year so she could study for her M.A. in International Security and Conflict Studies at Dublin City University as a George J. Mitchell scholar. Following her year in Ireland, Brittany returned to the U.S. for a year of training as an intelligence analyst in the Air Force; she subsequently used those skills in an eight year Air Force career, with postings in Korea and Belgium, as well as deployments to Afghanistan and Africa. In 2014, Brittany joined the Foreign Service and has been posted to Haiti and Brunei. Along with her husband and daughter, Brittany is currently serving as the Deputy Political, Economic and Consular Chief at the U.S. Embassy in Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei, where she works on an array of issues, including human rights, religious freedom, and international trade.


 Brittany Schick, UCI’s first Mitchell Scholarship winner, received her bachelor’s degrees from UCI in Political Science and International Studies in 2005. She pursued a Master’s degree in International Security and Conflict Studies at Dublin City University through the Mitchell. Her long-term goal was and has been to work in the intelligence community.

The US-Ireland Alliance is a non-partisan, non-profit organization dedicated to consolidating existing relations between the United States and Ireland. Brittany knew she wanted to study for her Master’s overseas and she was really interested in using the N. Ireland conflict as a model for other conflicts in the world, so this was a major factor in pursuing the Mitchell and Ireland.

“Mitchell scholars leave a footprint and have a lifelong impact on Ireland, “states Schick.

“Having an understanding of the culture and the history of conflict there has been helpful for my work, not only in my work with other Europeans in organizations like NATO, but also in my work now as a diplomat.”

How did the Mitchell opportunity prepare you to make an impact, not only in Ireland, but in the world and in your own career path?

Brittany Prior to Graduating from UCI

“Academically, I think being part of a security and conflict program that was so multi-national, i.e. included the perspectives of many diverse nations, has been really helpful in my work with NATO and now as a diplomat. Personally, I really must credit the Mitchell with providing some of my closest friendships and professional contacts, which is of course a huge part of daily lives and cannot be underestimated.”

During my Mitchell Year, with all the other female Mitchell Scholars, 2005

You have been the only Mitchell recipient at UCI. What was your major at UCI and how did learn about the Mitchell? What inspired you to apply?

I was majoring in political science and international studies with a focus on Western Europe. I was part of the Campuswide Honors Program and they had a program to help students apply for prestigious scholarships, like the Fulbright, the Truman and so forth. I actually applied for a few of them, but the Mitchell is the one I received and in retrospect it really was the best fit for me. I was working with Audrey DeVore and Rebecca Harris back when they worked there in the Campuswide Honors office.

Why the Mitchell? Why study in Ireland?

I was focusing on Western Europe in my studies and the summer between my junior and senior year I was part of a study abroad program, the first cohort to go do an exchange with the University of Lund in Sweden. And now, more than 10 years later, that exchange continues. Students from all the UCs went to the University of Lund; we took classes with Lund students and we had both UC professors and University of Lund professors. It was different from most international exchanges because the focus was more on politics, rather than on language or culture.. Our focus was mostly on the politics of Europe and the European Union. During the program we took a trip to Brussels and, among other places, got to visit EU headquarters and NATO headquarters.

Brittany at NATO

We also went to Stockholm and met with members of the Swedish government. So, it was a really interesting program and was the first time that I got to spend a significant amount of time in Europe, which helped solidify my desire to come back and do my Masters in Europe. So this experience led me to apply for the Fulbright in the UK, as well as the Mitchell to study in Ireland or Northern Ireland and it ended up working out for the Mitchell.

How did you sell your point in your personal statement? What do you think made you stand out?

The program was still relatively young. 2001 was the first graduating class of Mitchells.

The U.S.-Ireland alliance administers the Mitchell program, which allows American leaders to pursue a year of graduate study in Ireland and Northern Ireland. The goal is to provide future leaders with an understanding and interest in Ireland. The Alliance was created by Trina Vargo in 1998. She had worked with Senator Mitchell to create a program that would deepen that U.S.-Ireland alliance. So, basically, the scholarship was the main place holder in that alliance.

Being a young program back when I was applying in 2005 (2001 was the first graduating class of Mitchells), they hadn’t had a lot of candidates with military background, service academy experience, or anyone who was part of an ROTC program.

I was one of the first females accepted into the program who was also pursuing a future  in the military. I think my ambition to combine my academic study with a military career, specifically serving overseas within the intelligence field, was part of what made me a relatively unique candidate for the scholarship.

Meeting Senator Mitchell with some of the Scholars while in N Ireland, 2006

Tell me about your military background and UCI? What came first?

During my four years  at UCI, I was also a cadet in  the Air Force reserve officer training corps (ROTC) program up at UCLA. ROTC is basically, one of three ways someone can earn a commission and become an  officer in the U.S. military. So when I graduated from college, I commissioned the same week, became an officer, and was granted an administrative delay from the Air Force, which essentially allowed me to take advantage of the Mitchell scholarship.

I served in the Air Force for eight year after graduate school and am currently in the inactive ready reserves, which means I maintain my commission as an officer but am not actively serving in the military.

How did you juggle ROTC duties with UCI demands?

It was really hard. That’s the reason that I got a “C” in honors micro-bio. I remember I was in the Campuswide Honors Program and had to do ROTC every Friday, so I was gone from Irvine and forced to miss classes every Friday. I was lucky enough that I was able to schedule  most of my classes Tuesday/Thursdays or Mondays and Wednesdays, but there was this one required micro-bio class that was M/W/F and I found it impossible, having missed 1/3 of the classes, to do well.

UCI is so intensive. It almost requires a full-time commitment to the space.

Yes, it definitely does. Being first to register for classes because of being in the CHP program gave me that edge to accommodate a crazy schedule. It was hard. I double-majored, and technically, could have triple-majored because I was taking classes up at UCLA, like Aerospace studies, history and classes that were specific to ROTC affairs. I ended up graduating with so many units that it was enough for a triple-major.

It would suffice to say that through my college years, I didn’t work during the school year; there just wasn’t enough time.

Brittany Traveling with the SACEUR while posted to SHAPE in Europe, 2010

What ended up being your double-majors at UCI?

Political Science and International studies.

I didn’t get a degree from UCLA, I just completed my ROTC requirements there. ROTC detachments are located all over the United States and allow cadets to come to that university, even if they’re not a full-time student there, just to fulfill their ROTC obligations in order to earn their commission, which means taking  military studies classes and otherwise participating in the  ROTC program. The degree, at UCLA, in my case, was getting a commission in the United States Airforce and becoming an officer upon graduation.

And, since I get this question a lot, in order to an officer in the U.S. military, yes, you must have a bachelor’s degree.

Brittany-Deployed to Afghanistan, 2012

Why did you choose UCI?

I grew up outside Chicago and when I started looking at universities I was drawn to ones far away from home. I think, like a lot of teenagers, I wanted to have a different experience. My aunt and uncle lived in Yorba Linda and we used to come out on vacation, so I knew I loved the area. I knew that the University of California was the #1 public school system in the country, so I went out there and looked at a few of the UCs in that area. I remember coming onto the Irvine campus and walking out to Aldrich Park and it was so calm and peaceful that I just knew I’d be at home there.

Once UCI endorsed you for the Mitchell, where did you go for the interview?

I went to Washington DC.

Tell me a little bit about that process. What kind of questions did they ask you?

Back then, they were still doing semi-finalist interviews in person. I understand they have now changed that. So I flew out for that. A couple of days later, I found out that I was going to be a finalist and then I had to fly out a week later for the final interview. Literally the day after the final interview I found out that I had received the scholarship.

The semi-finalist interview was just an interview. There were just two people I met with.  When I did the finalist interview, the whole process started the night before the actual interview. There is a reception, usually at the Irish Embassy in Washington D.C,. And you are there with all of the other finalists and with the people who will be part of your panel the next day, but you don’t know who they are.

It’s all part of the process. The Irish Ambassador is usually there, so it’s formal but not an intimidating event. The Mitchell interview process is meant to be an opportunity to let you talk in a more natural atmosphere and see if you are the type of person who can handle this type of situation because they look at you as essentially being an ambassador of the U.S. abroad.

The next day they do the finalist interviews. They had a panel of interviewers, about 9 to 12 people on the panel; it was a huge panel. You walk in and you are like, “Wow! This is a lot of people.” But it’s not an aggressive interview. They are not trying to trip you up. You still need to know your stuff. Everyone takes turns asking you questions. It’s a thorough interview, but it is also fast-paced, about 20 minutes.

Brittany-Engagement Photo in Seoul

What do you mean by, they will expect you to know your stuff?

They will ask you questions about your experiences and details in your application. They will ask you, why the Mitchell? Why Ireland? To get to this point in the application process you need to have identified the what, why and where in Ireland. They will ask you about that.

The reason for these specific questions is that  lots of people will want to say that they got this prestigious scholarship, but the question for the committee is, has this applicant really thought it through?  Interviewers are trying to gauge whether the candidate is really interested in the U.S.-Ireland relationship or just looking for opportunities to study abroad.

Are you just chasing the accolade, or do you have a really good reason for why you want to pursue this specific opportunity?

Brittany-Hiking in Haiti with my daughter on my back, winter 2015

What did you tell them?

I was interested in the Northern Ireland conflict; specifically, how they resolved that conflict. I ended up doing my dissertation on a comparison between the IRA in Northern Ireland and Hamas in the Palestinian Territories and Israel. I was interested in comparing how the populations supporting both of those groups influenced their tactics.

It sounds like you wowed them with your knowledge of the political climate and the contemporary issues.

I think they appreciated that I had done my research on Ireland and why I wanted to study there. Also, generally speaking, they appreciate candidates who are well-rounded. They are not just looking for a 4.0 GPA and candidates who just have a stellar academic record. They want you to have community service, and leadership experience, and a certain type of personality – someone who can speak comfortably and be articulate. Not just someone who is book-smart.  I believe they would be willing to accept a 3.5 or 3.6 GPA if a candidate had the other qualities.

Brittany-Giving a radio interview while posted to Haiti as a Foreign Service Officer, 2015

What was your experience like when you got to Ireland? What was a day in your life like?

Once the Mitchells are awarded, the program can send up to two Mitchell’s to any university in Ireland. You could have Mitchells in Northern Ireland and in the Republic of Ireland. Generally they’ll have two students at each of the best known universities,  like Queens in Belfast and Trinity in Dublin. But there are universities all over the island. I went to Dublin City University (DCU), which is about 20 minutes north of Dublin. Depending on where you go, you will have a different experience. You’ll be in a different city, a different campus and naturally you are going to study different subjects, but you have an opportunity to influence all that in your application.

I was fortunate. The year I got there was the first year they had a program in International Security and Conflict  Studies. When I interviewed I was going to go into a general IR program because that’s all the country had. But when I found out they’d be adding the security/conflict degree I asked for permission to go into that instead and they approved it.

DCU ended up attracting students from all over the world for this particular program and it was wonderful. There was one student from Nigeria; there were a couple other classmates from the United States; there was a classmate from Spain. I thought it was a great program because you didn’t just have the Irish perspective. When you talk about a topic like international conflict it is always great to have people from several perspectives and different continents share their views. I’m actually still friends with one of the great Irish girls who was in the same program.

The most enduring relationships that I created were with my fellow Mitchells. Several of us have stayed in touch. We’ve gone on vacations together, our kids play together, one of them was even in our wedding party! . In fact, I’m going over to one of their homes for brunch tomorrow!  More than 10 years later, we are still very close.

This was really the best period of my life for developing genuine relationships with truly kind people who also have great careers and are really going somewhere.  It was never networking in the sense of using one another to claw your way to the top. It was more like drinking beer together, talking about our classes, and catching up. We traveled all over Europe together and beyond. We had all these great, organic experiences together. And over time, since graduation, that has developed into a network of great friends who I call for everything from parenting advice to help prepping for an important interview. Most of them have gone on to get additional advanced degrees from some very prestigious universities like Yale and Harvard. They’ve lived all over: Timor Leste, Germany, Sri Lanka… They’ve traveled to some incredible places, and they’re doing everything from groundbreaking research to fighting to reduce poverty.

Given that you are our only recipient at Uci so far, where do you suggest that we recruit students who might be a great fit?

The great thing about the Mitchell, unlike many other programs, is that they take people from any field of study. You can have a dancer or a musician. We even had a guy in our class who was a firefighter. If they can articulate why they want to study in Ireland, any major is eligible for this program. It’s not just political science or international studies. I’m not sure where it’s ranked now, but I know when I went to UCI the dance program was 2nd in the nation and I’d be surprised if students in the fine arts realize that opportunities like the Mitchell are available to them. I would say you can also definitely recruit through the campuswide honors program because you’ll find students there with strong academic backgrounds, which of course is a must for a scholarship like this. Students who are strong academically, diverse, articulate, well-rounded and leaders will be solid candidates.

In the application there is a space for the candidate to identify the top three universities and programs they’re interested in. It would be good for applicants to do their research on both because if theyget to the interview point, they’ll need to be able to articulate that.

In looking up your biography, you’ve lived in Haiti and Korea. Can you tell me about that?

Currently, I am a Foreign Service officer with the State Department. I lived in Haiti for two years where I worked as a Counselor Officer. I worked in the immigrant, and non-immigrant visa units, as well as American Citizen Services. I interviewed applicants for visas, whether it was for leisure, business, or study. I also conducted interviews for those who were in the process of legally immigrating to the United States.Working in American Citizen Services was a bit different – probably the most interesting part of the job! It wasn’t just helping Americans who had lost their passport, it was everything from prison visits to helping U.S. Citizen parents transmit citizenship to their foreign-born children.  I’m proud to say that I now speak Haitian-Creole very well.

My husband and our daughter and I have just arrived in Brunei in Southeast Asia, where we will be for the next two years. It’s a small embassy here so I will sort of be in a ‘jack of all trades’ position working on political, economic, and consular issues.

Tell me about your Korean experience.

I lived in Korea back when I was in the Air Force. I loved living there; really, I love Asia in general, which is largely why we’re back in Asia now. My husband and I actually met when we were both posted in Korea. We loved the culture and the people. We lived outside of Seoul, and we found that area to be so vibrant; an incredible juxtaposition of modern technology and traditional lifestyles and architecture. Six years after we met he took me back to Korea to propose and surprised me with engagement photos at one of our favorite locations up in Seoul!

What was living in Belgium like? What did you do for NATO?

I was also posted to Belgium, where I worked as an intelligence analyst at Supreme Headquarters Allied Power Europe (SHAPE), which in simple terms is NATO military headquarters

Following that, I was deployed multiple times while working for Air Force Special Operations Command. I had a deployment to Afghanistan and another based out of Stuttgart, Germany, which was focused primarily on work related to Africa. As you would expect, being deployed isn’t easy; you’re working 12+ hour days every day the whole time, so it’s a pretty grueling pace. I guess it was good training for becoming a mom, haha.  

Timeline of Brittany’s Journey:

  1. UCI/UCLA/ROTC – graduated and commissioned in June 2015
  2. Mitchell year in Ireland, 2005-2006
  3. 2006-2010, active duty officer in the Air Force (training, Korea, Belgium/NATO)
  4. 2010-2013, reservist in the Air Force (multiple deployments), I was also working for Booz Allen Hamilton in DC during this time, but we didn’t really talk about that.
  5. 2014-current, Foreign Service Officer (diplomat) with the State Department (training, Haiti, Brunei)


Now we have a one year old. She’s our sweetie.

What dreams do you have for her? What do you hope for her?

Everyone hopes that their child grows up with more opportunities that they had. My dad passed away when I was a kid. As simple as it sounds, l hope our daughter grows up with both of her parents. My husband and I have been actively trying to give her the gift of language because neither of us grew up bilingual. Her first language was actually Creole.

If I were to ask you now for final words of advice for students contemplating the Mitchell what would you say to them?

I would say, just apply. I applied for many scholarships that I did not receive. But I would say that going through these experiences prepared me for the next opportunities. I think many times we are afraid of risking failure. But life, ultimately, is experiences. Everything is meant to prepare you for the next thing and to make you a stronger person. Even if you don’t make it all the way, do it for the experience. I just don’t think you can go wrong with applying for a prestigious scholarship. You’ll always have that experience to draw from in the future.



Sara Arellano, Fulbright Winner, Blog Post #3: Research findings and reflections

Trigger warning: This post contains summaries of research findings on sensitive topics such as forced displacement and domestic violence.

In my prior blog I shared the sense of community between family, friends, and neighbors, and the willingness of a majority of the public to assist each other with directions when they are lost, and the common practice of businesses and people sharing food with those whom are less fortunate. Medellín rests within a valley surrounded by beautiful mountains. These are the qualities of Medellín that I absolutely love.

Sara’s friend Bladimir serves lunch with 5 different dishes

As beautiful as Medellín is, the topic of my Fulbright Scholarship U.S. Student Program Fellowship is violence against women. Violence against women is not a problem unique to Colombia, but rather a global problem that international and nongovernmental organizations have grappled with for decades. Another component of my investigation focused on how does race and ethnicity impact a woman’s access to resources, which was a challenge, because the entities in Medellín that collect data on victims of violence do not code race and/or ethnicity.

My research was conducted within the context of the Colombian internal armed conflict, where close to 8 million Colombians have been directly affected (Red Nacional de Información, October 26, 2016). Although a peace accord between the Colombian Government and the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia–Ejército del Pueblo was passed by Colombian Congress in December of 2016, forced displacement continues, as some demobilized armed actors have reformed, and/or joined criminal gangs (referred to as BACRIM for bandas criminals by the Colombian Government).

Conference with various womens’ organizations, including Ruta Pacifica de las Mujeres

I have interviewed Afro-descendant, indigenous, and mestiza women whom were victims of intra-familial violence, and also experienced forced displacement, and/or had relatives assassinated by armed groups. During my research I realized the revised 1991 Constitution of Colombia impacts the security of indigenous women, as Article 246 specifies indigenous communities have the right to self-govern. A consequence of protecting indigenous culture and tradition has resulted in confusion, as to when Colombian ordinary law supersedes indigenous internal law. Thus, laws designed to protect women from intra-familial, non-partner, or sexual violence often exempts crimes that were committed within indigenous communities (Escobar, Maria Roldån 2015, “In the backyard of indigenous justice-Weakness of communities” El Tiempo).

Comments from interviews I conducted with indigenous women organization leaders suggest indigenous community authorities (whom are usually men) do not resolve the issues of violence against women with consistency, or to the satisfaction of the victim.

Hilda Liria Domicó Bailarín from the indigenous community Embera Eyábida

Within the Afro-descendant population there is a strong culture of silence, which is similar to the indigenous culture. I was advised by several Afro-descendants that they do not speak about intra-familial or sexual violence with “outsiders” or those who do not share their same skin tone. Based on my research, I believe this is due to the exclusion of, and discrimination against generations of Afro-descendants, which has resulted in distrust of “outsiders”; furthermore, there does not appear to be equal employment of Afro-descendants in the entities that provide resources for victims, which may further exacerbate their unwillingness to use available resources.

I propose race and ethnicity does impact a woman’s access to resources. Race and ethnicity have a historical context in the social and political structure of each subpopulation, which has an affect on their decision to reach out to available resources after an assault. Based on participant responses, Afro-descendants and indigenous women do not encounter blatant discrimination when reaching out to resources within the Municipality of Medellín; however, my research involved a limited sample size (30 participants).

CERFAMI (Centro de Recursos Integrales para la Familía​) social workers

Providing statistics on race and ethnicity would provide important demographic data for research groups and organizations interested in understanding the scope and dimensions of victimization for a specific subpopulation. Disregarding this information underscores the ideology of “mestizaje”, where all Colombians are considered one mixed race (Wade, Peter 2005, “Rethinking Mestizaje: Ideology and Lived Experience”; Dulitzky, Ariel E. 2001, “A Region in Denial: Racial Discrimination and Racism in Latin America”).

Multiple dynamics exist within Colombian civil society that exacerbates the vulnerability of women. The intersectionality of the internal armed conflict, culture, socioeconomic status, and the politics of law compounds the realization for women to reach equality, equity, and a life free from violence.

The author, Sara Arellano, and her friend, the late poet Jhony Arenas

My Fulbright experience has impressed upon me the magnitude of the internal armed conflict, however, I have also witnessed the strength, resilience, and hospitality of the people of Medellín, Colombia. The friends I have made, and my positive international experience has enhanced my professional and academic development, for which I will always be eternally grateful to all who supported me (UCI professors & SOP, and friends & family).