Two spring 2017 graduates of the University of St. Thomas, law student Christina Espey-Sundt and senior Mitchell Sullivan, a triple major in German, international studies and political science, will begin their post-St. Thomas careers as Fulbright students. Both will spend the next year abroad developing their skills in their areas of study.
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.
Espey-Sundt, who was awarded an “open study/research” grant, handpicked the Netherlands as the perfect place to pursue an LL.M. degree in her longtime passion, international refugee and migration law, which she will study at Vrije University in Amsterdam. Her term runs from late August 2017 to September 2018.
In her Fulbright Statement of Purpose, she explained her choice. “The Netherlands is pre-eminently a place where the contemporary drama of refugees flows,” providing a fertile location to study “migration patterns and questions of inclusiveness,” raised, in part, through her experience working with clients held in immigration detention.
Espey-Sundt has been very involved in her chosen area of interest and credits the School of Law for providing a wealth of professional opportunities and support for shaping her into a serious contender for a Fulbright award. As a law student, she has worked in the School of Law’s immigration and elder law clinics, clerked for both The Advocates for Human Rights and Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services, and served as a legal intern for the United Nations Refugee Agency U.S. Protection Unit and the U.S. Department of Justice Executive Office for Immigration Review.
“The curriculum has been flexible enough to allow me to delve into many different opportunities and I have received consistent support and encouragement from faculty and staff to seek out new experiences,” she said. “The supportive community and mission-centered environment have provided opportunities to reflect on my place in the legal field and ultimately pursue a nontraditional route.”
Prior to law school, she interned for Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota in Refugee Services and worked as a program assistant in The Advocates for Human Rights Refugee and Immigrant Program. She earned a bachelor’s degree from St. Olaf College.
“Our nation needs Christina Espey-Sundt,” said St. Thomas School of Law professor Virgil Wiebe, who wrote a letter of recommendation for Espey-Sundt’s Fulbright application. “We need compassionate, smart people who have direct experience with the lives of individual refugees and their families; who have a depth and breadth of academic and legal experience; and who have the ability to examine and compare the complex situations that create refugee flows and the legal and social responses of recipient countries and regions. Christina will play a role in refugee policy for decades.”
Sullivan will travel to Germany under the Fulbright program’s English Teaching Assistantship. Sullivan’s term begins early September of this year and runs through late June 2018.
Dr. Susanne Wagner, a German professor in the Modern and Classical Languages Department who has had Sullivan in multiple classes and served as his adviser in 2015 for his Young Scholars Grant research, was not at all surprised by Sullivan’s acceptance into the Fulbright program.
“He’s very smart, and when he is interested in something he is persistent and driven … he turns into a topic detective,” she said. “He was my top choice to receive the Shelly A. Moorman Outstanding Student Award in German this year because he is the most promising academically and hands down is the best German speaker in our program.”
Wagner also commended his “natural way of presenting academic papers,” a talent she witnessed firsthand when he presented a paper the two wrote together.
“Our paper was published in a professional, peer-reviewed journal,” she said. “When the editor found out Mitch was an undergraduate, she was floored. He was the first undergraduate student to be published in that journal.”
Sullivan is awaiting his assistantship placement, which will be somewhere in the state of Nordrhein-Westfalen.
“I was particularly attracted to Fulbright because of how much they stress that grantees be involved in their host communities,” he said. “They expect that each grantee will be a representative of the U.S. in every capacity. Since Fulbright is a program of the U.S. Department of State, I’m hoping that my time in Germany will set me in the right direction for eventually joining the Foreign Service. Plus, I’m always looking for opportunities to use my German!”
Two study abroad opportunities through St. Thomas – J-Term in Berlin and the 2015-16 academic year in Salzburg, Austria – helped Sullivan excel in German. He also participated in Mock Trial, Model UN, Ballroom Dance and, of course, German Club.