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.
MATT JONES—2016 Fulbright
Matt Jones was so interested in dung beetles that he followed the famous decomposers to and all around the north and south islands of New Zealand.
The then-doctoral student received a Fulbright Research Fellowship to gather data on dung beetle introductions in New Zealand.
Matt Jones (WSM staff illustration)
“My dissertation research at WSU focused on how dung beetles and soil microbes suppress human pathogens in agriculture,” says Jones (’18 PhD Entom.), who remains interested in agroecology, biodiversity, biocontrol, and regenerative agriculture. One of his key areas of concern: biologically based farm management of pest and pathogens.
“I really like getting to know farmers and learning about the challenges and barriers to sustainability they are trying to figure out. That’s what motivates me,” says Jones, founder and ecologist of Cascade Agroecology. He started the consulting company in 2020 and was recently awarded a contract to lead regenerative agriculture research for the World Wildlife Fund.
“Farmers have this immense responsibility to grow our food, and they’re always being told to do better by non-farmers. A lot of people in academics and policy don’t really understand the nuances of implementing sustainability measures on a farm, and I like to be that middleman that helps provide really rigorous science to specific sustainable agriculture issues,” Jones says.
He studied at Washington State University from 2013 to 2018 and spent 2016 in New Zealand studying dung beetle introductions. Like Australia six decades earlier, New Zealand was experiencing “too much poop” in its cattle pastures, says Jones. New Zealand was in the earliest years of introducing dung beetles to help manage this “poop problem.” In New Zealand, there is a long history of introduced organisms going haywire and causing unintended consequences. Jones wanted to provide baseline data on dung beetles and soil characteristics, so this introduced species could be monitored.
Jones worked in the lab of ecology professor Jason Tylianakis at the University of Canterbury for his Fulbright year. “I took a couple of giant road trips to collect samples, focusing on the original release sites of these beetles, and was based on Christchurch for the rest of year.”
In all, he says, “I spent about two months on the road traveling from the tip of the north island to the bottom of the south island.”
On another fun note, Jones says, “I’m a surfer and was able to surf around 200 times while down there that year, a major added bonus!”
The research he did during his Fulbright “definitely ties into what I do now, which is helping provide high quality science to better understand complex and sometimes controversial agroecology questions.”
Jones, now based in the Wenatchee Valley, was born in North Carolina and raised in Georgia, graduating from Gardner-Webb University with a bachelor’s degree in biology. He earned a master’s degree in insect ecology from the University of Maine and garnered more than a $1 million in grants, fellowships, and other awards during graduate school for his research.
“I did not grow up farming, but I get a whole lot out of working closely with farmers, and I’d like to continue to do that,” says Jones, who meets with farmers every chance he gets. “I always come away with different perspectives that I’m thankful for and really do feel like growers deeply inform my approach to helping generate quality data to better understand problems, particularly when it comes to implementing sustainable practices.
“One of the things I came away with from both my PhD and my time in New Zealand was how important it is to understand site-specific management decisions of farmers and provide science that can address the knowledge gaps within the grower’s context.”
During the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, Jones volunteered two terms as a technical support consultant for USAID’s Farmer-to-Farmer Program, working remotely “to help folks in Guyana and Kenya address some very specific needs. It was so gratifying for me to be able to work with other farmers and scientists to use their limited resources to come up with biological-based management solutions.”
In Guyana in 2020, that meant helping design biological controls for an experiment at the National Agriculture Research and Extension Institute to combat oil palm beetles. In Kenya in 2021, that meant troubleshooting climate-smart solutions for subsistence farmers in the wake of a desert locust outbreak.
“I wish everyone could do a Fulbright, and I think every grad student should apply to the program,” Jones says. “For me, it was absolutely one of the best years of my life. I would love to do it again in a bunch of years and re-sample those field sites and see if there’s been any change.”
— Adriana Janovich