NAU grad student awarded Fulbright to teach in Colombia

Fulbright Scholar Stephanie Paul

This summer, Northern Arizona University graduate student Stephanie Paul will head to South America in July for a year as a recipient of the Fulbright English Teaching Assistant Award.

Paul is in the Master of Arts in the Teaching Spanish program and has been a teaching assistant for undergraduate Spanish courses. After commencement, she heads to Colombia, where she will teach English at a university for 10 months while carrying out a secondary project.

“I chose Colombia because I am drawn to its language, rugged history, varied geography and love of coffee,” Paul said. “I have spent a great deal of time in various regions of Latin America, and I keep coming back because I am drawn to how distinct and full of life the culture is in each region.”

The goal of her project is to educate others about how individual action can add up to large-scale action in the prevention of environmental degradation, the promotion of climate change adaptation and the importance of developing an action plan for preventative climate policy. Paul says Colombia is an ideal place to carry out her project because it is at high risk from the adverse effects of climate change. The country already is experiencing rising sea levels, water shortages and land instability.

Working in Colombia will allow Paul to learn different teaching methods and education systems.

“Colombia has recently made great strides in higher education, acquiring global competitiveness. It will allow me to practice and learn more about education in the context of cultural diplomacy, all while supporting the mission of fostering intercultural understanding.”

Picking Colombia was the easy part. Paul started her application for the Fulbright U.S Student Program in June.  This program serves as the largest U.S. exchange program and provides students and young professionals the opportunity to pursue individually designed international graduate studies, advanced research, university teaching, creative projects or English teaching assistantships worldwide, so the process was rigorous and the competition steep.

The first step of the process required several recommendation letters and written essays. The commission looks for academic and professional achievements as well as a record of service and leadership potential.

“I had to write and rewrite my essays several times until they were perfect,” she said.

In September, Paul interviewed with the NAU Fulbright Commission and in February she interviewed again with the Colombia Fulbright Commission. She was notified in March that she received a grant.

“I am very excited to immerse myself in the Colombian culture and represent the United States abroad,” Paul said. “Above all, I am excited for all the experiences and interactions I will have there.”

After Paul completes her Fulbright, she plans to become an officer in the Air Force and join the Foreign Service.

The Fulbright Program was created in 1946 after President Harry S. Truman signed a bill from Congress posed by Sen. J. William Fulbright. The bill called for the “use of surplus war property to fund the ‘promotion of international good will through the exchange of students in the fields of education, culture and science.’” The mission of the Fulbright program is to foster international partnerships between the U.S and other countries. Citizens and governments work together with the U.S. to evaluate priorities and shape the program to meet everyone’s needs. Since its inception, more than 390,000 students from the United States and other counties have participated in the program.

Today a network of over 1,650 volunteer Fulbright Program advisers exist on campuses nationwide to help recruit and advise applicants. Holly Wheeler, interim Fulbright campus representative and Center for International Education abroad adviser, and Angelina Palumbo, director of education abroad, facilitated the 2020 Fulbright external deadline process in the fall and served as mentors to Paul.

Applications for the 2021-22 year are due Oct. 13. Interested applicants should visit the Fulbright U.S. Student Program website to learn more about the process and eligibility requirements. Students and alumni interested in applying for a Fulbright grant next year or in the future should email

Paul remains in communication with the Fulbright team and the Colombian Consulate regarding concerns around COVID-19.