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.
MELANIE KIRBY—2019 Fulbright–National Geographic Storytelling Fellowship
JULIAN J. REYES—2011 Fulbright
JUSTIN NIEDERMEYER—2016 Fulbright
DAPHNE WEBER—2022 Fulbright-Hays Scholarship
The windows of bee specialist Melanie Kirby’s office in Santa Fe, New Mexico, look out over the foothills rolling up to the southern Rocky Mountains. Outside her building and just below her windows is a tiered garden and orchard where food and medicinal plants grow and artist-decorated beehives sit tucked under juniper bushes.
As the extension educator of land-grant programs at the Institute of American Indian Arts, the location—and the job—suit her perfectly.
Melanie Kirby (WSM staff illustration)
“Being here is a blessing as this position promotes the Indigenous experience through artistry, scholarship, and leadership, and it is a great place for me to engage with my Native American heritage and history.
“Even though IAIA is a land-grant tribal college, we can’t have large livestock here—but we can keep bees, which suits me perfectly!”
Kirby (’21 MS Entom.) credits aspects of her Fulbright-National Geographic Storytelling Fellowship with leading her to the tribal college two years ago.
A long-time beekeeper and queen honeybee breeder, she pursued a Fulbright to complement her master’s degree. A Peace Corps assignment in Paraguay in the late 1990s spurred an interest in insects, which led to several bee-related field jobs in Hawaii, Florida, and Michigan, and then a bee business in northern New Mexico.
She came to WSU to learn research design, become a translator between beekeepers and scientists, and advocate for sustainable beekeeping environmental practices, including breeding programs and bee germplasm conservation.
Kirby’s Fulbright to Spain in 2019 allowed her to compare mating habits of American hybridized honeybees to endemic ones living on the Iberian Peninsula. She was also chosen to be a National Geographic storyteller, sharing her experience through blogs, photography, video, podcasts, and presentations.
After just a few months, the COVID-19 pandemic closed international borders and she returned to the United States, leaving behind her equipment and personal belongings with a fellow Spanish beekeeper.
She hopes to return to Spain to complete the cultural and artistic aspects of her project with Iberian beekeepers, and to share her and Iberian beekeepers’ journeys as they adapt to shifting climate, markets, and stewardship practices.
The pandemic lockdown did add a delay, but she successfully defended her WSU master’s thesis virtually.
“The Fulbright experience reinforced my independence and motivation, and validated my resolve about apiculture,” she says. “It also helped me to recognize that I can share my skills and enthusiasm for STEAM representation with Indigenous students and communities, and that led me to the Institute of American Indian Arts.
“As an extension educator, I help students as they learn both ancestral as well as contemporary methods to grow and create things. WSU and my Fulbright prepared me for these professional roles, and I hope they will continue to play into my future.
“As a person with a mixed Indigenous, Iberian, and Caribbean heritage, I feel I can serve as a representation of marginalized peoples and am committed to help broaden the narrative of what is means to be scientist, an artist, and an educator.”
Articles by Melanie Kirby or about her work
Agriculture by Design (Native Science Report, April 2022)—At the Institute of American Indian Arts, gardening is both an art and a science.
Nectar Nomad in the Land of Enchantment (Yes! Magazine, Spring 2022, by Kirby)
Video of Nectar Nomad (by Kirby)
It Takes a Community: The Importance of Place, Power, & Purpose in Landscape & Pollinator Conservation (Kirby)
IAIA’s Beekeeping Journey (May 27, 2021)
Bees As Seeds (by Kirby, June 7, 2020)