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SCU grad wins Fulbright award, heads to Peru

Santa Clara, Calif. -- May 30, 2006.  When Catherine Kilbane leaves in August on a Fulbright grant to monitor debt-for-nature transactions in Peru, she will be living out her dream.  But that dream may never have reached fruition without the helpful prodding of some of her Santa Clara University professors, particularly Leslie Gray, assistant professor in environmental studies and political science, and Jane L. Curry, professor of political science.

Although Kilbane, who graduated from SCU in 2005, dreamed of working in conservation in Latin America for over a decade, she never even imagined applying for a distinguished award to make that goal a reality. Despite her success in the University Honors Program and her mastery of material in her double major in environmental studies and Spanish studies, she notes that “I never even would have considered applying for a Fulbright had Dr. Gray not first brought it up and then pushed me to go for it.” Dr. Curry’s help in crafting the application was also invaluable, she says.

The prestigious Fulbright Program for U.S. Students awards approximately 1200 grants annually (from a pool of over 5600 applications this year) to enable recipients to undertake research projects, advanced study, or teaching opportunities for an academic year in over 140 countries worldwide.  Established in 1946 and administered by the U.S. Department of State, the Fulbright Program aims to foster international goodwill through cross-cultural interaction and education.

Kilbane’s is one of just 10 grants awarded for study in Peru this year. The debt-for-nature swap program on which she will focus has become an increasingly popular conservation tool. A creditor country (such as the U.S.) reduces the debt of a country (such as Peru) in exchange for the debtor country’s commitment to funding tropical forest conservation programs within its own borders.  Ideally, it’s a win-win situation, Kilbane explains, but very little documentation exists on how effective the swaps are in attaining conservation goals.

With her grant, she plans to work with the World Wildlife Foundation—Peru to gauge that efficacy “by conducting on-site evaluations as I interview park rangers, local non-governmental organization employees, and members of the communities bordering the reserves.” The comprehensive report she plans on compiling with her findings will be a good contribution to the scant pool of knowledge surrounding the conservation impact of these transactions.

The project builds on a paper she wrote senior year for Gray’s Global Environmental Politics class, which led to a combined effort between professor and student on a paper for publication on debt-for-nature swaps. Although Gray certainly encouraged Kilbane’s efforts and admits to being the driving force behind her student’s pursuit of a Fulbright, “I don’t want the credit to go to me at all,” Gray insists. “She had the idea for this project. What I saw in her student paper was somebody who was an incredible go-getter, who was incredibly enthused by this project.”

That recognition on the part of faculty is critical for student success, notes Richard H. Osberg, professor of English language and literature, and director of both the University Honors Program and the Office of Student Fellowships.  “All successful fellowship applications have behind them a strong student-faculty relationship,” he says. “To be competitive at this level for these kinds of grants, a student has to have a fairly well-articulated program of independent research.”

But even just the name “Fulbright” can be intimidating to students, he admits, so you also “need the faculty member there persuading the student that they are indeed competitive at this level.”

Kilbane contends that the boost in confidence garnered by faculty support was just what she needed.  “Dr. Gray commented that if she knew how easy it was to push a student to go through with applying for a Fulbright, then she’d start pushing more students,” Kilbane says.

That may need to wait until Gray returns from working on her own Fulbright project researching cotton, poverty, and the environment in West Africa. She leaves for Burkina Faso in January.

About Santa Clara University

Santa Clara University, a comprehensive Jesuit, Catholic university located in California’s Silicon Valley, offers its 8,397 students rigorous undergraduate curricula in arts and sciences, business, and engineering, plus master’s and law degrees. Distinguished nationally by the third-highest graduation rate among all U.S. master’s universities, California’s oldest higher-education institution demonstrates faith-inspired values of ethics and social justice. More information is online at



<p>Catherine Kilbane hiking the Inca Trail near Machu Picchu, Peru, fall 2005.</p>

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