Center for International Programs, Political Science, School of Liberal Arts

Valentina Doren '22, above left, has traveled abroad extensively, but her plans to visit the one spot on the globe that personally matters most had been thwarted by pandemic, war, and rotten luck. Not anymore. Valentina is one of two Saints to earn a 2023-2024 Fulbright award. 

Valentina obsessively studied post-Soviet states as a political science major primarily because of a personal connection she could always feel, but was too young to remember. She was born in Chelyabinsk, Russia, near the border of Kazakhstan, and given the name Valentina Sergeevna Kicilova. At just a few weeks old, she was abandoned on the steps of a hospital. Two years later, she was adopted by American parents living in New York.   

Valentina had plans to visit the former Soviet republic of Georgia, which borders Russia to the north, as part of a travel course as a sophomore. That 2020 trip was canceled because of COVID and so was the semester abroad planned for Russia a year later. Still undeterred, last year, Valentina applied for a Fulbright award that would allow her to teach English in Russia. She was named as a semifinalist, but before the finalists were chosen, Russia invaded Ukraine, and the program was suspended. Valentina graduated last May, and after three failed attempts, she gave up on the idea. That wasn't good enough for Matt Schiesel '15, associate director of study abroad and international programs.

"I honestly wanted to give up, take this as a sign that I am just not supposed to go. But it was Matt who convinced me to give Fulbright another shot. Because of this, I am so grateful for Matt and his constant support and guidance throughout the entire two-year process."

Valentina was recently named a Fulbright winner and will head to Georgia on an English Teaching Assistant grant. The competition is incredibly fierce and the application process is very intensive. Applicants typically begin the six-month process in the spring, fully aware that fewer than 20 percent of those applying will receive a grant. Valentina had faced longer odds before. 

"I am honored to act as a cultural ambassador to Georgia and learn more about the mountainous region. Especially after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Georgians have been reclaiming their culture and working towards efforts to democratize. It is a very mountainous country that has a deep history dating back to the first sign of religion, the fire gods. I cannot wait to explore and become engulfed by Georgia’s traditions and customs!"

Meanwhile, Emma Willette '23 (above right), received a Fulbright award that will fully fund a Master's degree in global security and borders at Queen's University Belfast. In fact, Emma is the first Saint to ever receive a study/research grant through Fulbright.

"It’s hard to say what I am most looking forward to, but I am definitely excited about getting an internship. I didn’t have the opportunity to do this when I studied abroad my junior year and am excited for the opportunity to really become a part of the community. Afterwards, I imagine myself doing more work with NGOs and non-profits, maybe doing policy advisement or leading more hands-on, community based projects for change and security."

In all, Siena now remarkably boasts 12 Fulbright winners since 2011.

"We are so incredibly proud of Emma and Valentina, as well as all of our Fulbright applicants, for the immense time and effort they put into the application. It took months of rewriting essays, interview preparation, and country-specific research, and to see Emma and Valentina be selected for awards is such a joy. Fulbright enables grantees great opportunities to expand their academic knowledge, build a professional network, and grow as a human being. We cannot wait to witness how their experiences abroad in the United Kingdom and Georgia continue to shape their very successful and promising futures!"

Matt Schiesel '15, associate director of study abroad and international fellowships