Academics People and Community

U.S. Fulbright awards enable students to explore passions abroad

Two recent University of Miami alumni have been granted U.S. Fulbright awards that will take one to Bulgaria, the other to Dominica.
Fulbright scholars Julia Lynch and Ezra Remer
U.S. Fulbright scholars Julia Lynch and Ezra Remer both graduated from the University of Miami in spring 2020.

Alumna Julia Lynch cringes to recall the first few times she had to speak in front of an audience. Her face often flushed and she would stammer because of her uneasiness.

But during her junior year of high school, Lynch joined the debate team, and her anxiety began to wane each time she entered a competition. It continued in college as Lynch fortified her skills on the University of Miami Debate team and eventually became its president. Although she graduated with a degree in finance and legal studies in spring 2020, Lynch now continues to volunteer with the Urban Debate League in Washington, D.C. Through the organization, Lynch volunteers on weekends and some evenings to help underrepresented high schoolers, and those whose native language is not English, to hone their speaking skills.

“The way that people are able to develop their language skills when they are talking about something they are interested and passionate about is incredible,” she said. 

Lynch’s fervor for helping others stood out, and she was just awarded a U.S. Fulbright scholarship to teach English and debate to students in Bulgaria.

She is one of just two recent University of Miami alumni who received a U.S. Fulbright award this spring.

Another 2020 alumnus, Ezra Remer, who majored in communications with a focus on documentary production, also received a U.S. Fulbright award that will allow him to spend 10 months working on the nonprofit he founded in 2017. The Dominica Coffee Revitalization Initiative will help revitalize the island’s economy, which has struggled since Hurricane Maria hit earlier that year.

“I’m excited to hit the pavement and put the words to work,” said Remer, a former Stamps Scholar and manager of the Billy Goat coffee kiosk on the Coral Gables Campus, who is now working as communications director for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Haiti Initiative and doing digital communications for World Coffee Research. “Knowing that I can devote 10 months to just this project is relieving and necessary to reach the goals we set forward,” he said.

Both students received the awards after their second application cycle. April Dobbins, director of the University’s Office of Prestigious Awards and Fellowships in the Office of Academic Enhancement, said their perseverance was inspiring. In addition to Remer and Lynch, the University had nine semifinalists for U.S. Fulbright awards this year, as well as an alternate recipient, David Cooper, who is the backup if the awardee is unable to go to the Polynesian island of Samoa.

“We were really excited about the pool of applicants,” Dobbins said.

Students or recent graduates who apply for U.S. Fulbright awards can pursue a research track or an English teaching assistant path. A U.S. committee chooses a pool of finalists, and those students’ applications are sent on to their country of choice. A committee within the country then selects the final awardees, Dobbins noted. At the University, a team of faculty and staff members, some of whom are Fulbright alumni, work with students and recent alumni to polish their applications.

“We applaud all of these students’ dedication,” said Erika Green, program manager for the Office of Prestigious Awards and Fellowships. “Applying for a U.S. Fulbright award is a great way for students to challenge themselves and to learn to put themselves out there going forward.”

Lynch plans to leave for Bulgaria in the fall and to spend the academic year there, perhaps longer. In the future, she hopes to go on to law school. But at the moment, she is simply excited about the opportunity to venture into a whole different culture and to share her passion for discussion and debate about topics like climate change, foreign relations, and health care policy.

“Speech and debate are great ways to help kids develop confidence and to find a way for them to talk about what they want and to worry less about their lack of knowledge, or how new they are to the language,” she said. “Knowing that I can provide kids with that opportunity is something I see myself doing in the long term.”  

Working with local farmers, Remer is looking forward to starting four pilot coffee farms in Dominica, which has a great climate for growing coffee, but moved away from the practice in the mid-1800s because of coffee blight.

“We are going to start a test-plot program to see what varieties of coffee grow best and under what shade and elevation they will grow most efficiently,” said Remer, who is also an avid gardener. “If it works well, we can increase our capacity and then create a living example of how to do it.”

Students interested in applying for a U.S. Fulbright award should review the campus submission information on the website for the Office of Prestigious Awards and Fellowships and notify the office of their intent to apply at The campus submission deadline is Aug. 17.