UH grad named Fulbright scholarship winner
Recent UH graduate Kayla Stewart, who earned a bachelor’s degree in May 2015 from the Jack J. Valenti School of Communication, is now the recipient of a Fulbright Indonesia English Teaching Assistantship. The scholarship, administered by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, is sought-after by applicants nationwide. Stewart intends to pursue a master’s degree in international relations after her assistantship. The Cougar spoke with Stewart about her recent achievements and how UH shaped her future.
The Cougar: You earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism last year from the Jack J. Valenti School of Communication. How could you best describe your time there?
Stewart: I loved my time in the School of Communication. I met professors and friends that greatly influenced me, and the experience was incredibly transformative. I joined The Daily Cougar about eight months after transferring to UH, and I learned the true mechanics of journalism in a way that I’ll be forever grateful for.
TC: What empowered you to pursue journalism? Did you have any specific role models?
KS: My parents were born and raised around the time of the Civil Rights movement. I grew up on those stories, and I grew up wanting to tell those stories and more. When Hurricane Ike hit in 2008, I was visiting with a family member in Amarillo. This is when I first saw Soledad O’Brien’s Black in America documentary. For the first time, I saw modern America care about the issues of minorities on a large scale. It was something I looked up to—the reality that a black woman in media could get the nation to care about minorities.
TC: Although you weren’t in the Honors College, you worked within it quite often. What exactly were you involved with that included the Honors College?
KS: I wasn’t in the Honors College, but I was a member of AIESEC Houston, Phi Beta Delta, The Daily Cougar and the Ankh Maat Wedjau Honor Society in the African American Studies department.
TC: Did this aid in the pursuance of your future? How so?
KS: Absolutely. Through the AAS department, I studied abroad in Ghana. A career in media and international relations became more tangible. The next summer, I taught English in Italy through AIESEC, an experience I included on my Fulbright application. Aside from the incredible academic and work experience I got from those journeys, the inspiring people I met through the process, the learning experiences I went through and the opportunities that came with it are what ended up being true aids for my future.
TC: Your received a Fulbright Indonesia English Teaching Assistantship. How did you achieve this and how has it affected your life and career?
KS: When I transferred to UH, I was determined to work as hard as possible to get where I wanted to go. At the time, I wasn’t sure exactly where that would lead me, but I knew the direction I wanted to take. I worked with professors that nurtured me, I spent a lot of hours in the library and I joined organizations that I felt would assist me in my goals. Now, almost a year out of college, I work for Upworthy in New York, which is kind of a dream come true. With the Fulbright ETA, I know that when I come back to the U.S., I’ll be prepared to take on more advanced work roles.
TC: Did you know you were going to receive it? What was your reaction upon discovering you were the recipient?
KS: I had no idea. I found out I was a semi-finalist in January, but I didn’t want to get my hopes up so I tried to not think about it. Key word – tried. When I found out, I lost my breath for a bit and teared up, then I called my mom, who’s still in Houston. It felt like what I’d worked for somehow came together, and that’s a good feeling.
TC: What does it mean to you going forward and how will you utilize this assistantship?
KS: I definitely feel more confident in pursuing my career goals. I plan to use the assistantship to teach my students as much as possible and learn as much as I can from them as well. I plan to engage with a culture I’m new to and soak up as much knowledge as I can.
TC: You soon will be traveling to Indonesia to teach English and photojournalism. What inspired you to decide to do that? Why Indonesia?
KS: I love documenting the lives of different people, and Indonesia has always been a place of interest for me. When applying, I felt like as a journalist, I could have the most impact there because they’ve done a great job of increasing the role of media for citizens.
TC: You also plan to pursue a master’s degree in international relations with a focus on Southeast Asia. Who do you credit with inspiring you to achieve so much? Why international relations?
KS: I do want to pursue a master’s degree, but it will just be in international relations. I want to make sure I have a detailed, comprehensive knowledge of the world so I can be effective in my work to make it a better place.
TC: How did your time at UH influence your career and education?
KS: I am a better person because of the University of Houston. This school molded me into someone who could move to New York, couch surf, submit dozens of applications and end up exactly where I need to be. Before coming to UH, I wouldn’t do that. I learned how to withstand challenges, how to pick myself up when I fall and how to stay humble. Those are characteristics that have already helped and will push me forward in the future.
TC: What all have you achieved or experienced since your graduation?
KS: After graduation, I moved to New York to pursue journalism. I interned at a publication and then started working at a travel startup. I’m currently a research fellow at Upworthy, which has been a remarkable experience.
TC: What change do you hope to effect in others with the work you are doing and will do?
KS: Ultimately I hope that I’m able to share stories that challenge people to think outside of their comfort zones, and I hope to share the stories of people that typically go unheard. We’re going through a time in our nation where the unheard are raising their voices, and I want to help them do it. I also hope that people realize that if you work hard and embrace the journey, you will inevitably end up exactly where you need to be.