One wants to save the bees. Another desires restorative justice for at-risk high school students. These two and many other Washington State University alumni benefited from distinguished scholarships, such as Fulbrights, that gave them a global perspective.

The first distinguished scholarship at Washington State College, a Rhodes Scholarship, took Spokane native and future leader in the US Bureau of Foreign and Domestic Commerce Shirl Hyde Blalock to the University of Oxford in 1907. Since his pioneering achievement, 345 Washington State students have been recognized as distinguished scholars.

While the Rhodes is hailed as the oldest international postgraduate award, additional prestigious and highly competitive scholarships have emerged⁠—such as the Fulbright, Goldwater, Udall, Marshall, Truman, Schwarzman, and Gilman⁠—to meet distinct US and global priorities. The Goldwater addresses the need for highly qualified professionals in STEM fields, the Fulbright expands perspectives through academic advancement and cross-cultural dialogue, and the Udall fosters education in Native American health care, tribal policy, and the environment.

WSU helps students apply for the awards through the Distinguished Scholarships Program. Since its establishment within the Division of Academic Engagement and Student Achievement in 2011, students have honed their applications with staff help. Program director April Seehafer (’93 English) works with applicants to understand their goals, the paths to accomplish them, and how those goals benefit the state, nation, and world.

The program has significantly elevated the number of WSU’s distinguished scholarships. After the first Fulbright recipient in 1949, one-third of all Fulbrights awarded at WSU have come since the Distinguished Scholarships Program began. There were five WSU Fulbright recipients in 2022, the largest number in a single year for the university.


KATE ZUMSTEG—2022 Fulbright

MELANIE KIRBY—2019 Fulbright–National Geographic Storytelling Fellowship

JULIAN J. REYES—2011 Fulbright


MATT JONES—2016 Fulbright

DAPHNE WEBER—2022 Fulbright-Hays Scholarship


Buddhism first intrigued Daphne Weber as a teen growing up in the Midwest because “it felt like the opposite of Christianity,” she says. “As a kid from Nebraska, I just didn’t know much about the outside world and other people, cultures, and religions.”

But it wasn’t until she took an undergraduate course on Asian religions that she started studying the religion seriously. Sid Brown’s 2001 book The Journey of One Buddhist Nun: Even Against the Wind especially captivated her, detailing the story of a young woman who left her village at 17 to become a Buddhist nun in a country where—according to the book—“religious men are honored and religious women are scorned.”

Weber portraitDaphne Weber (WSM staff illustration)

It made Weber (’19 MA Anthro.) even more interested in female renunciants in Thailand. “I wanted to know more about the female monastics. In particular, why do they do it? This has been an ongoing research topic for me,” says Weber, who came to Washington State University in 2017 after earning two bachelor’s degrees from Kansas State University—in history and anthropology, respectively.

Weber started her research on Thai Theravada bhikkhuni, or female monastics, for her master’s thesis in anthropology at WSU in 2018. Now a doctoral student at WSU, she’s returned to the same temple, living with and understanding Thai bhikkhunis on a Fulbright-Hays Award.

She’s been in Thailand since June 2022 and plans to return to the States in summer 2023 after one full year of participatory research. Weber helps with gardening, yard work, cleaning, cooking, the care and feeding of the temple’s dogs, and biweekly alms rounds with the bhikkhuni. “In a monastic environment, there’s no way you can’t be involved,” she says. “It’s nice to be a part of the community and be relied on. I do whatever needs to be done in the moment.”

At this point in her stay, “I’m more than a volunteer but I’m not quite a monastic,” Weber says, noting her plans to take temporary ordination as a novice monk. Temporary ordination allows women “to get a sense of monastic life.” Like the bhikkhuni, “I’ll shave my head and wear the saffron robes.”

Mornings start at 5:30 a.m. with chanting and meditation—“much later than other (monasteries) in Thailand,” Weber notes—followed by breakfast at 7 a.m. The only other meal is lunch at 11:30 a.m., after which leftover food is redistributed to the community. Outside of meal and chanting times, everyone has chores to carry out in the temple. Evening chanting and meditation starts at 7 p.m., and it’s lights out by 9 p.m.

This is Weber’s third—and longest—stay at the temple. Her first stay in 2018 was six weeks. She returned a year later to offer her partially translated master’s thesis to the community as a gift. “I wanted to show them the product of our time together and make sure they knew their involvement,” she says.

She planned to return to Thailand in 2020 but the trip was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic. She returned for three months in early 2022 on another scholarship, received the Fulbright-Hays Award that spring, and was back in country three months later. “This time, I came to get into the heart of my research—living with these women, helping them, getting to know them personally,” she says.

Weber served on WSU’s Anthropology Graduate Organization from 2018 to 2020, first as secretary then as president. She’s studied Thai since 2018 and considers herself an advanced speaker, reader, and writer.

She hopes to graduate with her doctorate in anthropology in 2024. Meantime, she’s applying for other fellowships and grants. “I’m hoping to be a visiting scholar at another university that has a library dedicated to Southeast Asian studies while I’m working on my dissertation,” titled, “Gender, Faith, and Healing: An Analysis of Thai Women’s Experiences as Monks.”

The modern Thai bhikkhuni movement dates to 2001 when Chatsumarn Kabilsingh started the four-year ordination process. Now known as Venerable Dhammananda, she has spearheaded the movement for Theravada bhikkhuni in Thailand.

Female monks are not officially recognized by Southeast Asian Buddhist institutions, which hold the belief that women’s ability to receive ordination died out around 1,000 years ago. Historic attempts to restart female monkhood led to forced disrobings, beatings, even jail time. With more recent constitutional protections, some women have successfully received bhikkhuni ordination, notably in Sri Lanka and Thailand.

“It’s only been around for about 20 years. It’s still growing. It’s still forming,” Weber says. “They’re doing something that’s so radical but they’re doing so in the name of tradition. They don’t see themselves as rebels. In their eyes, they are doing what Buddha taught them to do.”

Adriana Janovich