4 Rollins Students Earn Fulbright Scholarships

May 25, 2023

By Laura J. Cole ’04 ’08MLS

Sarah Skala, Socorro Torres Lopez, Capri Gutierrez, and Sarah Bennefield.
From top left: Sarah Skala ’23, Socorro Torres Lopez ’23, Capri Gutierrez ’23, and Sarah Bennefield ’23.Photo by Scott Cook.

Four Tars have received the distinguished Fulbright Scholarship, including two teaching assignments and two awards to pursue graduate school and research opportunities.

Sarah Bennefield ’23, Capri Gutierrez ’23, Sarah Skala ’23, and Socorro Torres Lopez ’23 have each earned 2023-24 Fulbright Scholarships to participate in the U.S. government’s premier international educational exchange program, joining Rollins' storied history of Fulbright Students that spans seven decades.

Gutierrez, one of this year’s valedictorians, will continue research on the child victims of war in Uganda while Torres Lopez will study perceptions of Mexican emigration as part of a master’s program. Bennefield and Skala—also a 2023 valedictorian—will teach English in Bulgaria and Germany, respectively.

Launched after World War II, the Fulbright program supports research and study across 140 countries. Its past scholars have gone on to become Nobel Prize winners, heads of state, authors, artists, and business leaders.

Nearly 100 Tars have been named Fulbright recipients since the first Rollins student received the prestigious award over 70 years ago. Bennefield, Gutierrez, Skala, and Torres Lopez became the 62nd, 63rd, 64th, and 65th students to claim the honor since 2006. In a testament to Rollins’ emphasis on global citizenship as a tenet of its signature brand of liberal arts education, the College has been named a top producer of U.S. Fulbright Students 10 times.

The quartet of global ambassadors share how Rollins prepared them for this esteemed scholarship and look forward to the next steps in their meaningful lives and productive careers.

Sarah Bennefield
Photo by Scott Cook.

Sarah Bennefield ’23

  • Major: English
  • Fulbright assignment: Teaching English in Bulgaria

How Rollins prepared her: “Rollins really helped me prepare for the Fulbright by connecting me with Hope CommUnity Center, which is a nonprofit not far from campus that helps empower the immigrant and underserved communities in Central Florida. I taught ESOL [English to speakers of other languages] courses there over the summer, which allowed me to see how an ELL [English language learners] classroom is run as well as the content that would be taught. I also received so much guidance from [English professor] Jana Mathews, who has been my advisor since my first semester and really helped make sure I’d be prepared for life post-graduation. She is the reason I became familiar with and applied for the Fulbright program, even helping me prepare for my interview and conducting multiple mock interviews with me.”

Post-Fulbright plans: “I plan on pursuing my master’s degree and eventually a doctorate in English literature as well as teaching ESOL courses at the collegiate level. Ultimately, I want to become a professor of English literature, which has been my dream job since I was little. I’m so passionate about reading and writing, and this goal seems to blend both the academic and creative craft of the English language.”

Capri Gutierrez ’23
Photo by Scott Cook.

Capri Gutierrez ’23

  • Major: International relations
  • Fulbright assignment: Research on child victims of war in Uganda with the Justice and Reconciliation Project

How Rollins prepared her: “Being named a Fulbright Student is truly the culmination of all my Rollins experiences. As a freshman, I first learned about the concept of global development through my virtual fellowship with the Global Livingston Institute, an NGO that works to educate students from East Africa and the U.S. I learned more about this topic in the class Politics of Global Poverty with [political science professor] Dan Chong and through research for a book I co-authored with him as part of the Student Faculty Collaborative Scholarship Program. I then reconnected with East Africa by spending a semester abroad in Uganda, where I studied global development and met former child soldiers of the Northern Ugandan War. This experience ignited my passion for the research I’ll be conducting as a Fulbright. Rollins’ Office of External Fellowships & Scholarships has supported me on this journey since day one.”

Post-Fulbright plans: “I plan to apply for graduate school in public policy or international development. My dream is to be part of the solution to end extreme global poverty, whether that be through supporting grassroots work or through the United Nations.”

Sarah Skala ’23
Photo by Scott Cook.

Sarah Skala ’23

  • Major: Education
  • Fulbright assignment: Teaching English in Germany

How Rollins prepared her: “At the very center of a Rollins education is learning how to be a global citizen. This might mean listening to others, looking at perspectives different from your own, or even going abroad to experience it for yourself. I love learning new things and was always interested in listening to what others had to impart in my classes. My education professor, Dr. Jie Yu, knew that German has always been one of my favorite subjects and that I studied it at Rollins for two years. She encouraged me to pursue it firsthand through the Fulbright program. Rollins puts such an emphasis on experiencing things for yourself while considering the point of view of others that I believe it has prepared me well for this new experience.”

Post-Fulbright plans: “I’d like to become a school counselor. I have a love for helping others that extends beyond the classroom, and it’s my goal to help others find ways to be successful and discover their passions the same way I have found mine.”

Socorro Torres Lopez
Photo by Scott Cook.

Socorro Torres Lopez ’23

  • Majors: International relations and sociology
  • Fulbright assignment: Studying the perception of Mexican immigration to the U.S. as a part of the master’s in Mexico-United States studies program at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Mexico

How Rollins prepared her: “I chose Rollins because of its focus on creating global citizens, and I can wholeheartedly say that my education has allowed me to become one. From my classes on international human rights and the politics of Latin America to my semester abroad in France, where I studied the Muslim presence in Europe, I was able to grow not only as a person but also as an academic to better understand the world and my role in it. I benefited from many faculty mentors such as [political science professor] Joan Davison, who was my advisor from my first day until she retired. She was the first professor to suggest graduate school as an option for me and helped me get into the classes that would expose me to the topics I was most interested in. I truly couldn’t have achieved this without the support of my professors.”

Post-Fulbright plans: “I plan to return to the U.S. and start the journey of becoming a foreign service officer for the U.S. government. While I work toward that goal, I’d like to work with a nonprofit organization focusing on immigration and border issues. Ultimately, I want to foster mutual understanding in Latin American-U.S. relations, specifically in terms of the Mexico-U.S. border.”

A student wearing a cap and gown walking on campus.

Persistently Prestigious

Kimberly Dennis in Rollins’ Office of External Fellowships & Scholarships dedicates every day to preparing Rollins students to pursue the world’s most esteemed scholarships. A visit to her office is the first step on your own prestigious path.

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