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


Julian Reyes is a climate scientist who’s dedicated to making an impact.

His knowledge and experience equip him to communicate data and facts to national and foreign policymakers and stakeholders daily. This goes a distance to promote understanding of environmental and climate issues at international, federal, regional, and local levels. His routine contacts include, for example, government agencies, extension agents at land-grant universities, farmers, and ranchers.

reyes portraitJulian J. Reyes (WSM staff illustration)

As Reyes (’10, ’18 PhD Civ. Eng.), the National Climate Hubs coordinator in the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Office of Energy and Environmental Policy based in Washington, DC, Reyes sees himself as a science “cheerleader and connector, doing whatever’s needed and possible to help people network and engage with each other to discuss and learn and find new opportunities (to advance initiatives).”

His most-used tool in his quest to bridge gaps between scientists and policymakers: his ears. He uses them to listen and learn. But he also delivers presentations and attends conferences in person and leads virtual meetings on a variety of topics across multiple time zones.

While he once thought of becoming a university professor and educator, his Fulbright U.S. Student award proved invaluable in a different, but related, professional future. His Fulbright took him to the University of Bonn, Germany, where he researched the empirical modeling of nitrogen in grasslands with scientists at the Institute for Crop Sciences.

That experience, he says, “was instrumental in confirming to me that environmental problems need to be addressed quantitatively as well as through communications on all scales.

“It also impressed upon me the imperative for international collaboration. Wicked problems don’t follow political boundaries.” It led him to use his many research and interpersonal skills to focus more specifically on science communications, rather than becoming a professor.

His other professional jobs and assignments contributed to his skills. He served as a research hydrologist and climate hub fellow for the USDA Southwest Climate Hub in New Mexico. He was also a science and technology policy fellow for the US Department of State’s Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs Office of Global Change.

As to the future of the world’s environment, he says he’s hopeful.

“There are solutions, but I have come to believe they should be local, place-based, and people-centered. We have to work together to find solutions.

“I hope to be someone who can move the dial even just a little.”