Senior spotlight: Thomas Elliott, Fulbright Scholarship recipient reveals ambitions

Nicole Buehlmaier's picture

dynamic, Issue 24, Nicole Buehlmaier, Features - By Nicole Buehlmaier on Thursday, April 7, 2011 - 00:28

Thomas Elliott, you have been picked for this week’s Senior Spotlight.  What, in your opinion, are some of the reasons you qualify for this?

“I’ve worked hard the last four years in all aspects of my life as a student.  Most of all, I’ve tried to be an example to others by putting out a lot of effort academically, getting involved and trying to have a positive impact on the community, getting to know as many people as possible, all the while also knowing how to have a good time.”

Why did you decide to come to Whittier College?

“The honest answer is that I was rejected everywhere else I applied.  I was actually certain that I was going to transfer after my freshman year; however, by the middle of spring semester I had grown incredibly attached to my friends, my professors and Whittier College itself. 
While I don’t have a great reason for why I came, I chose to stay because the Whittier community ended up providing me with more opportunities for personal growth than I could ever imagine receiving elsewhere.”

What is your major?

“I am a Spanish and Political Science major.”

What has been your motivation to get involved and excel here at Whittier?

“I was always overly involved in high school, which naturally led me to jump right into getting involved as soon as I started here at Whittier.  I immediately joined the QC staff, program board and even ended up as the media council representative on COR (Senate’s precursor). 
I guess the main motivation I’ve really had, especially here at Whittier, is that we all have the opportunity to work to better our community; we can all work to engage our passions and abilities to enrich not only our own experiences here at Whittier but also those of other students as well as other members of the Whittier College Community and beyond. 

Have you studied abroad during your time here?  If so, where did you go and what kind of experience did you have while there?

“I studied abroad in South America during the second half of my junior year. 
First, I went to Argentina on my own for Janterm and then to Bolivia for my study abroad program in the spring semester.  I studied with the School for International Training, which provided a much more independent experience than some programs do. 

The best part was that the entire last month of the program was set up as an independent study that I could conduct anywhere I wanted in the country.  This gave me the opportunity to work in a rural Aymara/Quechua community where I researched traditional justice systems and Andean cosmovision. 

Additionally, thanks to Whittier, I received a grant and was able to stay and continue my research for another four months, which turned out to be the most amazing experience of my life.” 

What would you consider your defining moment here at Whittier College?

“I came back to Whittier for my senior year after studying abroad and, from the moment I stepped on campus, felt the warmth and closeness of the community that I had left nine months earlier. 

For me, it was amazing to have been gone and out of contact for so long and yet still feel the same connection as if I hadn’t left in the first place.” 

What do you believe is your legacy at Whittier?

“While it is by no means my legacy alone, the Sachsen Society and any part I played in its perpetuation will be my proudest and, hopefully, most lasting impact on the school.” 

What are your plans after graduation?

“I just received a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship to teach in Brazil and will be moving there next spring. 

In addition to teaching English, I’m also planning on running a documentary photography class for teenagers in the community where I will be placed.”

That sounds like a really great opportunity. What made you want to apply for that?

“When I went to Bolivia on a fellowship from Whittier to do research I had an incredible time. I spent my last five days in Rio. When I got back, I decided I wanted to go back to Brazil.
I applied to teach English. You only have to work 20 hours a week so I had to propose a side project, so I proposed to teach documentary photography to a group of teenagers.

As part of my English teaching program I proposed an experimental methodology using visual images of film and photos.

This involves analyzing images to create a cultural discussion in a way that would allow students to gain a culturally competent English language vocabulary. So basically you could look at images of Brazil and discuss those in English in a way where the kids develop a vocabulary that expresses their cultural reality in English.

You then also look at American and English speaking images and culture and discuss that and allow them to develop a knowledge of language and culture of America and other English speaking countries.

The program this year in Brazil was created to help revamp the English teaching program in preparation for the Olympics and the World Cup.”

That seems like it will be a lot of fun. Was the application process really competitive?

“Yes, definitely. You had to make it to the final round. There were hundreds of people who applied for various positions. As far as I know five people from Whittier made it to the final round and so far two of us got the scholarship while two of us are still waiting.”

Do you have any advice for other Whittier College students?

“My best advice is to find a comfortable balance between academics, extracurricular activities, as well as the normal and necessary college fun.”

Picture by Ryan Inouye