Nicole Wells ('10), winner of the prestigious Fulbright U.S. Student Program English Teaching Assistantship, seeks challenges. As a first year student at Hastings College, she took Constitutional Law, in which she had to argue cases against better-honed juniors and seniors.
"She didn't ace [the course], but she persevered," Dr. Elizabeth Frombgen, Chair of the Political Science Department and Nicole's advisor, said.
Hastings College faculty and staff echo Dr. Frombgen's admiration for Nicole's intellectual curiosity and work ethic.
Dr. Rob Babcock, Professor of History, recalls his first conversation about studying abroad with Nicole, a History and Political Science major.
"I told her about HC's exchanges in Northern Ireland and in England. ‘No,' she said, ‘I have to have classes in English but I don't want to go to an "English" country. It wouldn't feel foreign enough,'" Dr. Babcock said.
"It is the kind of self-aware and very brave statement that I have come to expect from Nicole."
As one of only 1,600 U.S. Citizens serving as a Fulbright scholar, she will put her strengths to the test, teaching courses in American history and culture at Transylvania University in Brasov, Romania, and attempting to master Romanian.
"Going to a former communist country will be really difficult politically and spiritually," she said. "To see the country not just in my research but to be really faced with it will be challenging.
As far as the language goes, I am still sort of teaching myself."
"She worried that she'd never been ‘anywhere'."
The Seward, NE-native first became interested in international affairs while taking Comparative Politics with Dr. Frombgen. Already, she had a growing interest in feminism which would ultimately lead her to write her senior thesis on the role of women in emerging democracies. Then for comparative course, Nicole wrote a paper contrasting the responses to human trafficking in Ukraine to the reactions in Tajikistan.
"I knew at some point I wanted to study abroad and to broaden my horizons," Nicole said.
That led her to Dr. Babcock's office to discuss exchanges.
"She worried that she'd never been ‘anywhere'," Dr. Babcock said.
But Dr. Babcock and others at Hastings College from whom she sought advice and direction continued to allay her fears.
"She earned a lot of personal faculty attention she would never have received at a larger institution," Dr. Babcock said.
Ultimately, Nicole selected a program at the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands and spent a semester there taking history courses.
"I took a class called ‘Romania Returns to Europe' which was my first academic exposure to Romania," Nicole said.
Meeting Romanians in Amsterdam and giving swimming lessons to a Romanian family living in Hastings only strengthened Nicole's interest in the Eastern European country.
Currently, Nicole's long-term goals include attending graduate school in the Washington, DC, area and continuing to pursue her interests in women's issues and human trafficking. Expect her experiences overseas to influence her career's trajectory.
"Romania will be a big test for whether or not I want to teach," Nicole said.
The Fulbright U.S. Student Program
The Fulbright U.S. Student Program's namesake, the late U.S. Senator J. William Fulbright of Arkansas, foresaw the need for American scholars from all fields to interact with their counterparts around the globe. Through international educational exchanges, leaders might find solutions to shared problems.
Since 1946, the program's grants, which are administered by the U.S. Department of State, have emerged as highly competitive, prestigious awards, providing more than 300,000 students with the opportunity to teach and study overseas. Fulbright alumni fill leadership roles in academia, government and business, among many other sectors.
The Fulbright application assesses candidates' academic or professional achievement and their leadership potential. For Nicole, the application process took several months.
"I had to write two essays – one on why I want to go to Romania and one personal essay. Each essay could only be one page, single-spaced so I had to be very concise," Nicole said.
Although several college faculty and staff critiqued her application and even helped her load it into the cumbersome Fulbright website, they credit her with securing the grant.
"She has asked the questions she's needed to ask, and she has done this on her own drive," Dr. Frombgen said.
"This achievement is hers because she has wanted it."