Emily McTyre and Kelsey Keith are the first Middle Tennessee State University Honors College students to travel to the United Kingdom as part of the four-week UK Summer Fulbright Institute.
MTSU students have received 9- and 12-month Fulbright Awards through the years, but this marks the first time to crack the summer program barrier.
The Fulbright Award offers undergraduate and graduate students the opportunity to travel abroad and participate in research, study and teaching.
However, the UK Summer Fulbright Institute is more competitive as any student nationwide with a 3.75 or higher GPA may apply. In 2017, only 59 students were offered awards.
Competitive candidates must complete essays, provide recommendation letters and test grades and be involved in extracurricular activities.
Keith just returned from her stint at the University of Bristol. McTyre completes her summer Fulbright at the University of Birmingham Aug. 4.
"My time (there) ... was such a privilege, being so educationally, culturally and socially expansive," said Keith, 19, a rising sophomore and Murfreesboro resident. "... I became an even more informed global citizen, but the incredible thing about this program is that it was not only educational but catalytic. I left with the tools (knowledge, connections, strategies and more) to create change."
Keith's program focused on arts, activism and social justice, "so, as an artist myself, I saw it as my responsibility to learn how to use my artistry properly moving forward."
A sentiment expressed by someone during a poetry panel made a lasting impression: "Speak your truth and know that tomorrow you could have a different truth. Don't be afraid to admit that you've changed your mind."
"I find this especially important in regard to creating change here at home," she said. "There are many people who were perhaps brought up to think a certain way, a sort of passive ignorance where they know no different and know no better, and their beliefs could be very close-minded to a group of people."
The program reminded Keith, an English major, of the importance of listening -- "to the world, to its people, to yourself. Listening is acknowledging the merit of what someone has to say, and in a world full of borders and divisiveness I think everyone could use reminders to listen.
"... I now have a greater understanding of my country and I recognize how much I grew as a person because I spent a month learning from (the group of nine other college students from different backgrounds) and educators we met in Bristol."
McTyre, 19, a rising sophomore from Maryville, Tennessee, just reached England July 12, so the full impact has not been felt. The video film production major finds the trip personal.
"My family has roots in Scotland and England," she said. I've grown up in the Presbyterian church -- my father (the Rev. James McTyre) is pastor of Lake Hills Presbyterian Church in Knoxville, Tennessee -- so throughout my childhood we've had very close ties with those cultural roots. To go and see that will be very exciting."
Emily McTyre credits Adam Ford, Maryville High School associate band director, Maryville High art teacher Raquel Roy, Laura Clippard in the Honors College Undergraduate Fellowship Office and Dean John Vile for writing recommendation letters and assisting with her obtaining the award.
Penny Egan, executive director of the US-UK Fulbright Commission, said the organization "is so proud of what our programs have achieved, the number of Americans and Brits who have benefitted from educational exchange and of the 'special relationship' we continue to renew and strengthen."
"The Summer Institutes provide students with a great opportunity to experience the UK higher education system, immerse themselves in British culture and further develop intercultural understanding between our two countries," Egan added.
To learn more about the Undergraduate Fellowship Office, call 615-898-5464 or email Laura.Clippard@mtsu.edu. To learn more about the Honors College, call 615-898-2152.
MTSU has more than 240 combined undergraduate and graduate programs.