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Three Recent Graduates Earn Fulbright Fellowships

Recent graduates Mendel Jimenez ’20, Sarah Rivers ’20, and Samuel O’Keefe ’20 have been awarded Fulbright Fellowships for the 2020–2021 academic year.

Once travel restrictions triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic are lifted, Jimenez plans to conduct research on the history of drama in France, Rivers will study the use of theater as a means of social change in India, and O’Keefe will teach English in Cambodia while learning more about Cambodian culture.

Fulbright Fellowship winners (left to right) Mendel Jimenez, Sarah Rivers and Sam O’Keefe.

Jimenez plans to enroll in a master’s degree program at École Normale Supérieure in Lyon, France, where he will study the influence of the ancient Greek playwright Euripides on later French playwrights. “Euripides’s plays have inspired questions about religion and its role in society and life since they were first performed in ancient Athens,” Jimenez said. “My study will have implications for the intellectual roots of French secularism by tracing the flow of thought between Euripides and French playwrights during the Enlightenment.”

Rivers said her year of study in India will focus on the research of sociologist Sarah Thornton, who has studied the theater’s role in social change. “I plan to explore the extent to which (Thornton’s research) applies to current theater work in India,” she said. “I am also interested in what the outcomes of the theatre are. India is a compelling place to study these questions because of its rich history of theater for the masses and because the nation’s religious and cultural diversity has proved fertile ground for conflict resolution through creative means.” 

O’Keefe said he planned to use his experience teaching in Cambodia to delve more deeply into the country’s culture. “I would contribute to the education sector in a hands-on way, and importantly promote access to the country’s development and opportunities to students, while developing in them some of the tools and motivation they can use to become leaders, and potentially educators, in their own communities and society,” he said.

Vassar has consistently been rated a “top producer” of Fulbright scholars. The Fulbright Program was created to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries. The primary source of funding for the Fulbright Program is an annual appropriation made by the U.S. Congress to the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA). Over 2,200 U.S. Students and over 900 U.S. college and university faculty and administrators are awarded Fulbright grants annually. In addition, some 4,000 Fulbright Foreign Students and Visiting Scholars come to the United States annually to study, lecture, conduct research, or teach their native language.

Since its inception in 1946, the Fulbright Program has given over 390,000 passionate and accomplished students, scholars, teachers, artists, and professionals of all backgrounds and fields the opportunity to study, teach and conduct research, exchange ideas, and contribute to finding solutions to important international problems. The global network of Fulbright scholars fosters mutual understanding between the United States and partner nations, advances knowledge across communities, and improves lives around the globe. 

Fulbright is active in more than 160 countries worldwide and partners with participating governments, host institutions, corporations, and foundations in foreign countries and in the United States. Many of these organizations also provide direct and indirect support. ECA sponsors the Fulbright program, and several non-profit, cooperative partners implement and support the program on the Bureau’s behalf. For more information about the Fulbright Program, visit