Student Achievement

Alyssa Nichols ’20 and Louis Higuera ’20 Awarded Fulbright U.S. Student Grants

Julia Fishman

They will head to Bolivia/Peru and Lithuania in 2021.

May 15, 2020—Joining 27 of their fellow Marist College alumni, Alyssa Nichols ’20 and Louis Higuera ’20 have been selected for Fulbright U.S. Student Grants.

Nichols received a Fulbright multi-country research grant which will take her to Bolivia and Peru. She is from East Northport, New York, and is a dual major in Spanish and mathematics. Higuera was awarded a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship and will head to Lithuania. He is from Pittsfield, Massachusetts, and is majoring in political science and philosophy. Both are members of the Deans’ Circle at Marist.

Sponsored by the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, the Fulbright Program is designed to build lasting connections between Americans and people of other nations. The program operates in more than 160 countries worldwide. Marist was named a Top-Producing Fulbright Institution earlier this year.

“One of the rewards of working with Fulbright applicants is that they are all remarkably different from one another. They apply to different countries, propose distinctive projects, bring to bear a wide range of past experiences, and possess diverse long-term goals,” said Pat Taylor, Graduate School and Fellowship Advisor. “What Alyssa and Louis share is a very obvious commitment to wider communities. Their common investment in humanity resonates throughout all of their previous commitments and was quite evident in their Fulbright proposals.”

Nichols does indeed have a strong and abiding commitment to helping the underserved. She is particularly interested in issues of domestic violence and how societal means of dealing with that challenge vary across countries—and that was the focus of her Fulbright grant proposal to Bolivia and Peru. Bolivia restricts U.S. visa holders to three months in that country and, for this reason, all Fulbright grants there must incorporate an additional six months of related work in another country. Because of this, Nichols proposed a project that will have her working with grassroots organizations that work directly with female victims of violence in both Peru and Bolivia.

Because of COVID-19, Nichols’ travel, which was originally scheduled for fall 2020, will begin on January 1. “I’ll first travel to Cochabamba, Bolivia for three months. There I will observe the gender-based violence programs run by the organizations Infante and Habitat Para La Mujer,” she explained. “This experience will give me the opportunity to familiarize myself with the causes of gender-based violence, as well as compare two different organizations working to combat the same issue.”

In Peru, Nichols will work with the Lower Napo River community through educational programs, safe spaces, workshops and advocacy programs; then she will spend time in the city of Iquitos. “This opportunity will allow me to understand the difference between urban Bolivia and rural Peru, before comparing gender-based violence on a wider scale.”

Although Nichols’ long-term aspiration is for a career in astrophysics, the process of applying for the Fulbright showed her what’s possible in the world of nonprofit advocacy. “While I still have an interest in physics, connecting with different organizations in South America has taught me the ways in which I can turn this passion into a career. I hope that working with these nonprofits for a year will give me even more insight on how I can start my own movements, creating positive change in my community, and even around the world,” said Nichols. “Since I've submitted my Fulbright application, I have even become involved with a new nonprofit organization serving impoverished families in Uganda. I am working to promote this organization in the United States, and hope to apply my Fulbright experience toward growing this organization even further upon my return. While I am not yet fully versed on how I can do so, I also hope that this experience will show me how I can apply both of my interests to my work.”

On campus, Nichols has served as tutor and proofreader in the Academic Learning Center for nearly her entire Marist undergraduate career. She also worked on the Marist Student Programming Council for two years, and acted as Treasurer to the Red Ink Club for the past three years. She has also been part of the music program, playing both violin and piano.

What is she most looking forward to? “I am excited to put myself out of my comfort zone by embracing new cultures and languages, as well as creating connections that I am sure will last a lifetime. It has always been a dream of mine to travel so South America, so I am thrilled to have the opportunity to experience the area from the perspective of a local. I also hope to explore more of South America at the end of my grant by hiking to Machu Picchu and visiting friends in Brazil.”

Higuera is a perfect fit for the English Teaching Assistantship (ETA). In 2018 he participated in the Washington Semester Program at American University. During that semester in DC, Higuera worked as an academic enrichment intern with SOUL Programs, helping to initiate a new literacy program in elementary schools and created a curriculum for college readiness. He also designed and administered school-based surveys of teachers and students. As a student in the College’s Tarver Summer Internship Program in 2019, he worked at Literacy Connections of the Hudson Valley in Poughkeepsie, an experience he feels dovetails well with the ETA opportunity.

“I felt my work with Literacy Connections complemented the application for English teaching quite nicely,” he explained. “It was also the case that a previous Tarver intern at Literacy Connections received a Fulbright grant, which made me more confident in applying.” His onsite advisor at that internship, Laura Lane, also encouraged him to apply.

Drawn to Eastern Europe because of family history and personal connections (he spent summers working at a restaurant with Lithuanians in the U.S. on work visa programs), Higuera is looking forward to this next adventure. “During my freshman year in Italy as part of the Freshman Florence Experience, our First Year Seminar class was called ‘The Art of Pilgrimage’ with Dr. Leah Graham. We all had to take a personal pilgrimage and write about our experiences,” Higuera recalled. “Originally, I wanted to go to Eastern Europe to explore my Jewish heritage. Instead, I made a trip to the port city of Trieste in Northern Italy where many Jews escaped Europe during World War II, and to Venice, where the first Jewish ghetto was. I see Lithuania as an extension of that pilgrimage not just for personal reasons, but also to bring me closer to my professional goals as a fighter for economic, political, and social justice.”

Higuera has also been very active during his time at Marist. He is a member of the Pi Sigma Alpha Political Science Honor Society, and has been involved with the Poughkeepsie nonprofit, Rural and Migrant Ministry. As a volunteer there, he organized and hosted a panel on justice for New York State farm workers. He is a member of Marist’s Global Affairs Club and Democrats Club, and is a staff writer for The Circle. He also received the 2020 Baccalaureate Award for the Political Science Department.

Higuera’s travel date has been pushed back to January 1 as well, but that has not dampened his enthusiasm. “I am most excited to have another European adventure like I had freshman year in Florence, Italy, and to see my friends from Lithuania who I have developed lasting relationships with over the years,” he said. “But I am really thrilled to be a part of such a prestigious international educational exchange program while representing the country as a cultural ambassador.”


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