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


Kate Zumsteg (’05 English, ’06 MEd) has been an educator for 15 years, and the chance to improve her effectiveness as a teacher of at-risk youth prompted her to apply for a Fulbright US Student award. She is conducting research at Katholieke Universiteit Leuven in Belgium with a professor who is renowned for restorative justice studies. The concept calls for a focus on mediation and agreement rather than punishment to settle interpersonal disagreements in education.

Six years ago, after teaching for a decade in public schools, Zumsteg joined Rosemary Anderson High School East, a nonprofit alternative school in Portland, Oregon, that serves at-risk students who have been expelled from or dropped out of public high schools. Many students are without homes and many are adjudicated.

zumsteg portraitKate Zumsteg (WSM staff illustration)

“The chance to help create a positive learning and living environment with these youth, some of whom everyone else had given up on, made me decide to pursue a career (at that school),” she says. Zumsteg and her teaching peers have been specially trained and use meditation, peace rooms, counseling, yoga, and restorative justice techniques to help students.

But she was alarmed when she saw the decline in effectiveness during the COVID-19 pandemic when students were not at the school. Determined to learn how to better help them, Zumsteg discovered that Belgium has the best juvenile justice system in the world and that the use of restorative justice is a large part of its success.

In addition to her studies, she is visiting local schools, collaborating with law enforcement officials, working with judges and counselors, and volunteering with an organization that offers restorative justice services to students.

When she returns to Oregon, Zumsteg will share her knowledge and work to make programmatic changes based on what she is learning in Belgium. She will also reach out to community professionals such as probation officers “so that youth are given the best opportunities available to be rehabilitated.” Her ultimate goal is to implement practices and processes that can be used throughout all Oregon schools.

Early this summer, to prepare for what she expected to be rigorous research and experiences in Leuven, Zumsteg traveled to Europe several weeks before her Fulbright began to “learn more about myself.” She traveled—often solo—and made friends in Portugal, the south of France, Croatia, and Italy. She also hiked for 112 kilometers through Spain on the famous Camino de Santiago “mostly lost in my thoughts.”

Zumsteg says, “I was completely out of my comfort zone most of the time, but I learned firsthand what physical and emotional strength and perseverance it can take to achieve hard goals.” Good lessons, she says, to apply to her future work with her Oregon students and communities.