When Valerie Brukhis got the email while sitting in class, she had to step out into the hall for a couple minutes and realize what had just happened. It’s hard to blame her: Brukhis had just found out she was named a Fulbright Scholar.
Every year, finalists are selected for the award by the presidentially appointed 12-member J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board. The prestigious Fulbright program aims to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries.
“I sincerely am in disbelief,” Brukhis said. “It’s unbelievable. I’m so grateful and couldn’t have imagined this in my wildest dreams.”
After graduating in May, Brukhis will hold an internship with the United States Mission to the United Nations in New York, and will then leave in October for Tel Aviv, Israel. There her Fulbright scholarship will fund her earning over one year an accelerated master's degree in security and diplomacy. Brukhis will specifically study cybersecurity and military intelligence, building on a huge range of experiences she has put together over four years at St. Thomas.
“In my field it’s really rare to have a funded master's [degree]. … Sitting there with my parents and receiving the award letter, understanding this is paid for and is merit-based, that’s incredible,” she said. “Israel for personal and religious and professional reasons, it’s the pinnacle. It’s the best place I could be for all those things in terms of development.”
Brukhis worked extensively on the application process with history assistant professor Michael Blaakman, himself a Fulbright Scholar, in another in a long line of her collaborating with faculty.
“The students and faculty, we have this total bond,” Brukhis said. “[Political science associate professor] Dr. [Renee] Buhr was the second person I texted after I found out; that says it all. They’re like family to us. When something like this happens they’re just as pumped as us. We’re a team; we get sincerely excited about each other’s successes.”
This is the second straight year St. Thomas students have been named Fulbright Scholars: Law student Christina Espey-Sundt and senior Mitchell Sullivan, a triple major in German, international studies and political science, are studying in the Netherlands and Germany, respectively.
"We are thrilled to see St. Thomas students representing their university and the U.S. abroad through Fulbright two years in a row," said St. Thomas Fulbright advisers Laura Bru and Judith Dorin. "This program seeks students with a strong history of leadership, scholarship, and global engagement, and I have no doubt that Valerie will be an exemplary cultural ambassador in the spirit of the Fulbright program and the mission of St. Thomas."