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Three Alumni Earn Fulbright Awards

Three Westmont alumni, Kenna Brase ’22 of Foothill Ranch, Simeon Michelson ’24 of Nashville, Tennessee, and Elizabeth Potter ’22 of Cheney, Washington, have won prestigious Fulbright Scholarships to teach English outside the United States. Brase will serve in Turkey, Michelson in Azerbaijan and Potter in Thailand.

Kenna Brase
Kenna Brase

For Brase, the trip to Turkey is coming to fruition after a more than a four-year delay due to the pandemic. She was studying on Westmont in Cairo, which was supposed to include a stop in Istanbul, but was canceled two months and four countries sooner than expected due to COVID in March 2020. “Since then, I’ve had a curiosity about Turkey, and a longing to complete my travels there someday,” Brase says. “In addition, as a country that bridges Europe, Africa and Asia, Turkey’s history carries a wealth of diversity. There are layers of history everywhere — cities have changed names, rulers and religious affiliations. I've always been fascinated by Turkey's unique position as a country, and am excited to learn more about it.”

Brase, who graduated with a degree in communication studies and a minor in global studies, has been working as a Westmont admissions counselor. “Westmont's global aspect of education, particularly the study abroad trips offered, was what initially ignited my interest in cross-cultural engagement,” she says. “Having the opportunity to travel abroad with part of my Westmont community was a formative experience in which I learned how to engage and enter into other cultures with humility. In addition, being in classes with professors who encouraged me to think critically about the world has enabled me to maintain a global perspective even after I graduated.

“Lastly, the support of my community here as they have cheered me on in my passions and interests is what initially gave me the push to seek out an opportunity like Fulbright.”

Simeon Michelson
Simeon Michelson

Michelson, who earned a bachelor’s in international history and won that department’s Outstanding Graduate Award in May, also received the Department of State’s Critical Language Scholarship to study Arabic in Morocco this summer. The Nashville resident will then serve in Azerbaijan from September 2024 to June 2025.

After teaching and studying in Azerbaijan, he plans to pursue graduate studies in Middle Eastern history. “There is a gap in historical research on Eurasian countries,” he says. “Even though the Turkic language family is among the world’s 10 largest language groups, American media and researchers tend to focus more on Arab-speaking nations. As a result, Azerbaijani culture and history are underrepresented in American scholarship.”

Many Americans have heard of Azerbaijan because Baku has hosted Eurovision, Formula 1 or the UEFA football championships, but Michelson says they don’t understand Azerbaijan’s significance as an economic and cultural hub at the intersection of Europe and Asia. “As our multipolar world develops, Americans need to appreciate and understand Azerbaijan’s pivotal global role in Eurasia, and I hope that the Fulbright will be the next step on my ongoing journey of furthering American-Azerbaijani understanding,” he says.

Michelson, Westmont’s 5,000-meter walk record holder, also speaks German which helped him make friends with members of the German National Track and Field team when they trained at Westmont before the 2022 World Championships “I served as their driver and guide around Santa Barbara,” he says. “As I learned about the athletes’ experiences representing their country, they inspired me to become a global ambassador too.”

Potter was born in Chiang Mai, Thailand, and lived there on and off for eight years until she was 12 years old. “I wanted to move back and invest specifically in the language, culture and people of the place that gave so much to me as a kid,” she says. “Though Thailand is geographically relatively small, there are so many distinct cultures, languages and landscapes within the country, and unique challenges that each people group faces. I'm really excited to experience life in a new part of Thailand and to receive fresh perspectives, even as I give my time teaching.”

She says she is most looking forward to having a whole year to get to know students and learn about their passions. “Uncertainty can be quite unsettling, but I also love it because I think it's an open invitation for God to enter that space of our lives, move in it, and surprise us,” she says.

Elizabeth Potter
Elizabeth Potter

Potter, who played the French horn in orchestra, won the David K. Winter Servant Leadership Award in 2021. “Westmont allowed me to pursue many of my passions at once and my well-rounded skill set was encouraged and strengthened,” she says. “Being a part of Intercultural Programs (ICP) at Westmont helped me to see how injustices in Thailand are related to those in the U.S. and the rest of the world.”

Though she didn’t start studying Spanish until college, she spent a semester in Queretaro, Mexico. “Westmont in Mexico gave me the confidence to pursue the humbling experience of learning other languages even when starting from a low level,” she says. “You just need people who are down to teach and speak with you, a desire to learn, and the willingness to be made fun of.”

The Fulbright program is the U.S. government’s flagship international educational exchange program supported by the people of the United States and partner countries around the world. Since 1946, the Fulbright Program has provided more than 400,000 participants from over 160 countries the opportunity to study, teach and conduct research, exchange ideas, and contribute to finding solutions to shared international concerns.