New College: World's Big Thinkers Pick Small College In Sarasota

New College of Florida, the state's public honors college located in Sarasota, may be a small school, but do not be fooled by its modest undergraduate enrollment:  There's nothing "small" about the achievements of New College's immensely talented students.

One of the school's most notable qualities is its uncanny knack for producing recipients of the prestigious Fulbright Scholarship.

Indeed, New College regularly ranks among the top 10 schools in the country, with more Fulbright Scholars per capita than Ivy League universities such as Harvard, Yale, and Stanford.

The Fulbright Program, established in 1949 by U.S. Sen. William J. Fulbright, is one of the most prestigious awards programs worldwide. Its goal is to promote understanding between citizens of the United States and the people of other countries through educational exchange.

"Every day I learn more about Ukraine, but just as importantly and maybe more surprisingly, every day I also come to understand American culture in ways I never could have only living within my native country's borders,'' says Fulbright Scholar Melissa Jacobowitz of New College.  "As I discover more every day about what it means to be a Ukrainian, I also discover more and more about what it can mean to be an American."

Jacobowitz, one of the school's eight recipients of the 2009-2010 Fulbright Scholarship, is currently conducting her research on 20th century Jewish-Russian-Soviet writer Isaac Babel, while she lives in Ukraine.

Like many other students, Jacobowitz was heavily involved in school activities during her time at New College:  She served as the president of a Jewish student organization, held two leadership positions in student government, and also worked as a student writing assistant at New College's Writing Resource Center.

Jacobowitz is emphatic in her assertion that New College provided her with several of the tools that have helped her receive her Fulbright grant and efficiently carry out her research.

"My experiences inside New College's unique academic system, with its emphasis on critical thinking, scholarly responsibility, and independent work gave me the skills to design and implement an independent research project straight out of college,'' Jacobowitz says. "I could not have possibly been ready to do academic work in Ukraine without working closely with professors in rigorous small classes, tutorials, on independent research projects, and on my senior thesis, as I did at New College."

Jacobowitz is a Florida native who moved from West Palm Beach to Sarasota in 2005 in order to attend New College.

A Wealth Of Diversity

Although the student body is comprised heavily of Floridians, New College enrolls students with highly diverse backgrounds.  

Junmei Kashnig, another 2009-2010 Fulbright Scholar, grew up traveling throughout the Midwest, and later spent a year as an exchange student in Germany before choosing to settle in Sarasota so that she could attend New College, where she would major in Anthropology.

With her Fulbright grant, Kashnig is now in Switzerland, where she is studying the country's recently arrived Tibetan immigrants.

Adele Fournet, yet another one of last year's Fulbright Fellows, also migrated to Florida to attend New College.

"I chose New College out of many of the liberal arts colleges in the country because of its highly innovative approach to learning, which matched my desire to 'learn for the sake of learning' and not for the sake of accumulating institutional status or prestige," Fournet says.

Fournet is now in Peru studying female rock instrumentalists and the influence of women in shaping the popular music scene imported to the country from the West since the 1960s.

All three young women credit their education at New College for allowing them the opportunity and academic skills necessary to engage in these international research projects.

Leaping from the small, albeit highly competitive and academically challenging pond of New College and into a foreign country may seem daunting to some, as Fournet can attest. Although she admits that the transition was difficult at times, she also stresses that New College's emphasis on practicing independent study is what has allowed her to thrive in her current research project in Peru. Just as Senator Fulbright intended when he created the scholarship program in 1949, these students earned an invaluable opportunity to immerse themselves in the cultures of foreign countries and learn lessons that extend far beyond their academic research.

Years Of Proper Preparation

The Fulbright Scholarship provides the funding for each of its recipients to study, teach, conduct research, and exchange ideas in a foreign country for one year. A student must be talented, disciplined, self-motivated, and confident in his or her ability to work independently in order be considered for the honor of becoming a Fulbright Fellow.

At New College, students are groomed to possess the qualities necessary to become Fulbright Scholars. In order to graduate, an honors student at New College is required to complete a three-month-long, in-depth independent study project, as well as a year-long senior thesis. Furthermore, nearly 25 percent of New College's 800 students engage in an off-campus study experience, while roughly 50 percent of the student body is involved in volunteer work throughout the community or in student government-related activities.

The intimate student-to-faculty ratio at New College is also an undeniably important asset to students, as they are provided the opportunity to work closely with their professors and advisers and receive the thorough feedback on their research that is sometimes difficult to access in larger schools. New College also starts the Fulbright preparation process early in its students' education.

Information sessions on the Fulbright program are offered frequently, and students are encouraged to attend these sessions as early as their freshman year. The school often begins picking its most viable candidates during their sophomore year, and faculty and staff work closely to advise and assist Fulbright hopefuls throughout the entire course of the application process.

Jessi Smith is a Sarasota-based freelance writer working from the dark corner tables in various local coffee houses and bars. Working, that is, during the occasional lapses in time when she isn't strolling through art galleries with a finely honed look of feigned intellectualism or digging her toes deep into the perfectly powdered sand on Siesta Key. Comments? Contact 83 Degrees.

Read more articles by Jessi Smith.

 Jessi Smith is a feature writer for 83 Degrees Media in the Tampa Bay region of Florida.
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