Fulbright Scholar Marisa Rudolph
Marisa Rudolph ’18 is an environmental science and political science double major from Fort Collins, Colo., who will conduct research in Ghana into how private agricultural extension fosters the public good, especially for women.
When was your “aha moment” when you realized you could be a Fulbright candidate?
It’s definitely an idea that I tossed around since sophomore year but I was really on the fence about it until I went to Ghana. I absolutely loved being in Ghana because it opened up this whole realm of social enterprise that is really, really interesting to me in how it addresses systemic issues. Having that experience of going through the fellowship, doing research abroad, and honing in on my interests really led me to want to apply for a Fulbright. I saw a Fulbright as a good opportunity to deep dive into something that matters to me, but also give me time to clarify how I’m gonna apply this to the future.
What sort of “high impact” experiences did you have at SCU and how did they prepare you for being a Fulbright?
I’ve been involved in a lot of things on campus. And I think the two most clarifying outside of GSBF, have been SCCAP, which I got involved with late in my freshman year, because they really gave me the language to look at social justice and to express what systemic issues were. It’s something that I feel I was intuitively aware of, but I didn’t really receive in my high school education. Being surrounded by all of these people who really care about those types of things is a different way of keeping energy going and thinking about it larger scale.
I also could not be anywhere I am now without my cross country team because they’re the most hardworking and supportive group of women ever. So many hours I’ve spent in the library have been with my teammates. Being surrounded by people who are constantly pushing themselves really affects how we all strive and do well on campus, because we have that community to lift ourselves up.
And then also my coaches, they’re being flexible and letting me go to Ghana when I’m supposed to be somewhere training, and not getting upset about that.
Where did you observe SCU’s values most in this process?
Before being accepted into GSBF, we watch a video about charity work and service trips, which challenges the concept of someone from the Western world going into these spaces. So the fellowship focuses on action research that is a two-way street. It’s very much a give and take relationship, and it’s always emphasized that you’re not the expert. You’re here to ask questions, you’re here to learn. And then reciprocally help each other.
I think that whole idea of educating yourself to be a human for others is something that’s really lived out through the fellowship, so when you can write your personal statement for the Fulbright and talk about how you care about these issues and how you’re gonna pair that with your skills and with your own experiences, I think being able to articulate that is something that a lot of other places don't teach you how to do.
A lot of the GSBF class, especially in the fall when you come back, is vocational discernment. It’s really helpful, because it’s hard to go and live in Ghana for two months and have all these connections with these people and come back and Santa Clara’s very different. Reverse culture shock is way harder than initial culture shock. And so they really, really make sure that you can contextualize your experience and figure out a way that you can keep your energy going and not get overwhelmed when you come back.
How would you describe the responsibility you were given as an undergrad at SCU?
Kind of crazy. For the GSBF class, we come up with a 40-page research plan. It was honestly kind of fun. We had to do Zoom calls with our partners, and then they basically, buy us a plane ticket there, get us a hotel room for the night we land, and a hotel room for the night we leave, and make sure we have a plane ticket to leave, and they’re like, “Alright! There you go! Figure it out!”
It sounds scary when you first start the class but they give you so much prep time. And you have to be prepared for changes. Even the 40-page research plan, it absolutely changed. We did not create what we thought we were going to create; we did not end up conducting interviews the way we had structured them, the way that we approached it; the form the case studies took. We added an extra deliverable. But because we had these 40 pages of meticulous information about the Ghanaian agriculture realm, how social enterprise plays into that, it really, really prepared us to be able to be flexible and create these projects how we saw best. I think that’s one thing that really helps GSBF’ers be really good candidates for the Fulbright is to be able to say, ‘I have done this project in the field where I changed my project a billion times and I was still able to deliver a quality deliverable’ because the nature of social science research, especially in somewhere that you’re not as culturally familiar, is that it’s guaranteed to change and it’s guaranteed to be different.
To do this you have to be really passionate. They’re looking for interdisciplinary teams, they’re looking for people who think totally different. Me and my partners were the most diametrically opposite people you could ever put together. You have to have an intrinsically lit fire to do it. Because they are expecting so much out of you.
What sort of support did you get along the way?
There were so many, so many people that got me on this road. I think the first professor to do that for me was Chris Bacon, who was the one who kind of initially got me interested in food justice. I came from a family of farmers and I had always thought that was antiquated and not interesting. He’s the one who kind of opened me up to the nuances and the complexity of the food systems and how much looking at these systems and looking at how people act within those value chains can be hugely impactful.
The people at the Miller Center are absolutely amazing. Both Thane Kreiner and Keith Warner who teach the class are just probably the two greatest human beings I have ever met in my entire life. They dedicate so, so, so much time into making sure that all of us are being pushed to our absolute limits, but also in the best way possible. They really teach you how to hone in energy and passion for things and turn it into something that’s productive and hopeful and efficient and they really walk you through this vocational discernment.
And I honestly probably would not have applied for the Fulbright without Keith. There were multiple times I was losing steam and I’m like, “Keith, my ideas are awful.” And he would tell me, “Marisa, I'm driving from Santa Fe to Taos, you’re gonna call me and we’re gonna figure this out.” Santa Clara professors are amazing. After I got it, I had almost 25 e-mails from professors saying, “Marisa we’re so proud of you! Let me know if you need any help!” People are just so, so excited and so, so helpful. Getting a Fulbright is not something I would ever, ever, ever have been able to do by myself. And Dr. Miller, Leilani, is queen of everything. We would not have as many fellowship winners without her.
Yeah. So I think the one really clarifying experience that got me thinking about what led into my research proposal was when we were out in the field one day. Usually we would go to small farmer meetings and, our business partner Farmerline would do their pitch. And then after that we would help them gather their data and then they would help us in translation and conducting interviews.
So we went to this one, where there’s this giant church, and it turned into this massive community meeting where it wasn’t just Farmerline putting their little gig together, there were multiple chiefs from different surrounding tribes, there were Cocoa Board members, there were extension officers, and one of the extension officers was a woman. And one of the chiefs stood up. This was all translated to me by one of the women in Farmerline. But the chief stood up and thanked the woman for being an example to the girls in the village because they were having huge issues with teen pregnancy and they really wanted someone to give an example of what women could be doing. And that was the first time gender really explicitly came up in the research we were doing.
And so that was the first time it explicitly came up and then I was in the taxi ride home with Lily and she was talking to me about this. And she’s like, ‘we(Farmerline) have so much power in the villages, why aren’t we doing something about this?’ And I was like, ‘why aren't we doing something about this?’ So I made my partners work on our project for the next two days and I came up with a pitch for the CEO about how we were gonna make sure that women are having equal access to the next pilot that they’re putting forward. And that was just really energizing, and I think that’s when I was like this is what I want to do. Not only do I want to be working in this development sphere, in agriculture, but I want to be doing it specifically empowering women because oftentimes women aren't being paid for the work that they’re doing. There’s all kinds of time parity issues.
All of my family came over in the early 1900s and started homesteading in North Dakota. And so that’s something I hadn’t really connected with before, but also in my more recent family everyone has service jobs, either in healthcare or social services and things like that. And so I feel like I always had this connection of wanting to do something where I get to contribute to improving the livelihoods of the people around me. But I never figured out a way to do that and I think GSBF really taught, kind of gave me this avenue of doing that in a way that I could use the academic background that I got here. And use that opportunity and the privilege that I’ve been given here to take that to a new level to work in international development.
I guess it (GSBF) helped me really clarify what my purpose was, and I think with that comes with a lot of responsibility and I do have to ask myself a lot of questions of like why am I going to Ghana for nine months rather than staying here. You know there are a lot of broken agricultural systems here, there area lot of women’s issues here, and so I think there's definitely responsibility coming with that.