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DU Student Fellowship Awards Span Teaching, Research, Critical Language Study and Civic Problem-Solving

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Steve Koppes


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Campus Scenic Summer

University of Denver students and alumni have landed nine major fellowship awards so far this year, including five Fulbrights. Those numbers are likely to continue to rise thanks to the efforts of DU’s Office of Scholar Development & Fellowship Advising, which opened last year.

“There are hundreds of nationally competitive awards out there,” says Lindsay Lawton, founding director of the office. “It’s exciting to be able to build out this new office at DU. I hope that we’ll be able to support more students and recent graduates applying for a broader range of awards as we grow.

“One of the big successes we have had this year is that more students are taking the initiative to compete for these awards, including DU’s second Schwarzman Scholar,” Lawton says. The scholarship, which  supports a one-year master’s degree program in global affairs at Tsinghua University in Beijing, was first awarded to Cameron Hickert in 2016. This year’s awardee, Melissa Shambach, is a 2020 graduate with a degree in international relations.

Melissa Shambach
Melissa Shambach

After learning of the scholarship, Shambach decided to apply because it combines her passions for international affairs and leadership studies. It will also enable her to learn more about how China approaches threats stemming from climate change.

“The U.S.-China relationship will undoubtedly continue to play a central role in shaping the global economy, security landscape and the fight against climate change,” Shambach says. “I knew that developing a more nuanced understanding of China would be crucial in my future career tackling nontraditional security threats in government.”

Shambach received internship grants from multiple DU departments that enabled her to pursue unpaid internships in Austria, Jordan and Washington, D.C. With the guidance of faculty mentors, she completed an ambitious research project on youth entrepreneurship in Jordan. And experiences in the Pioneer Leadership Program, Undergraduate Student Government and AIESEC helped hone her leadership skills.

“Schwarzman Scholars is a once-in-a-lifetime, expansive opportunity for me, both personally and professionally,” she says. “I’m excited to grow in this new environment and take these experiences and relationships into my future work building bridges across sectors and governments.”

Two of this year’s fellowship awards are for critical-need language studies.

Alice Blair
Alice Blair

Alice Blair, a graduate student in the Josef Korbel School of International Studies, is studying this summer in Okayama, Japan, with the support of a Critical Language Scholarship for Japanese. And Sylvia Morna Freitas, a masters’ student in international development, won a Boren Fellowship for Turkish language study in Azerbaijan.

DU’s Office of Internationalization coordinated the University’s U.S. Student Fulbright applications before Lawton’s arrival last year. “I am still partnering with them on Fulbright and together we expect to recruit more applications across the hundreds of different opportunities that Fulbright offers,” she says. “No one applies for Fulbright or any of these major awards on their own, and we are grateful for the many staff and faculty across campus who support this work.”

The five Fulbright grantees this cycle include Bianca Garcia, who completed her undergraduate degree in 2022 in international studies and sociolegal studies. She has a Fulbright Binational Business Program award to Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México (ITAM).

“This binational business program is a really unique type of Fulbright award,” Lawton says. “It supports coursework in international business at ITAM, and the grantees are also placed with cooperating Mexican and multinational businesses to do an internship as well.”

Of the four other Fulbright awards, two are for research and two are for teaching.

Kerent Benjumea, who received a masters’ degree in international studies, will conduct research in Jordan on the economic and diplomatic impact of the Abraham Accords. Audrey Mitchell, who received her undergraduate degree in biological sciences, will research plant chemistry at the University of Neuchâtel in Switzerland.

Danielle Ekstrand, who graduated in 2022 with a master’s in international studies, will teach in Italy. And Zach Harker, who completed his undergraduate degree in geography, French and francophone studies this past spring, will teach in France.

Daniela Chavez
Daniela Chavez

DU also has a 2023-24 Newman Civic Fellow: Daniela Chavez, a rising senior in psychology, sociology and Spanish and an undergraduate Scholar of the Center for Community Engagement to Advance Scholarship and Learning. The Newman Fellowship brings together student leaders from around the country to connect on public service and civic leadership issues.

During her time at DU, Chavez has advocated for the Latino community at every opportunity.

“Sometimes I was the bad guy in the room, being the devil’s advocate, because a lot of college courses are focused on the white European perspective,” she says. “Everyone is coming from a different place and a different cultural understanding in life. Not everyone will come to you with an open mind. But if you approach that conversation with an open mind, you will always learn a new perspective, whether they agree or disagree with you.”

She is especially interested in addressing urgent social issues such as domestic violence and intergenerational poverty. Chavez already has considerable experience as a community advocate, having worked as an ambassador for the Greenhouse Scholar Program, an intern with YouthRoots and as a youth organizing coach and mentor for DU’s Center for Community Engagement. She also has worked with a local foundation and neighborhood association to organize a community coat drive.

“If I had not been a part of the Center for Community Engagement, I would not have heard of this fellowship,” Chavez says. “It was the connection between the two offices that allows for this opportunity.”

Lawton, who has a doctorate in Germanic studies, previously taught English in Germany and researched third-language acquisition with Fulbright grant support. Before coming to DU, she served as senior associate director of fellowships and funding at Yale University.

“I enjoy the student connection and helping them figure out ways to work toward impact on issues they care about. I love to see the personal, professional and intellectual growth that comes with pursuing these awards,” she says.

The many student scholarships, fellowships and awards supported by Scholar Development & Fellowship Advising have various application deadlines. Interested applicants can learn more by visiting or by emailing with specific questions.