by Julie Lineback

University of West Georgia graduate student Hailey Hughes has received a Fulbright U.S. Student Program award to Ireland in Creative Writing from the U.S. Department of State and the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board. Hughes will study creative writing at University College Cork as part of a project to study creative nonfiction and create a transatlantic storytelling group for able-bodied and disabled communities.

Hailey HughesHughes has spent most of her educational years ensuring the disabled community has a voice.

From the time she was a high school student in Parkersburg, West Virginia, until she graduated Marshall University, the current UWG English graduate student had been involved in an online forum for cerebral palsy. She and a friend were even invited to Washington, D.C., to discuss how they cultivated the group through social media.

From that point on, she has known she’s wanted to do something similar on a broader scale.

In August, thanks to the Fulbright Program, Hughes will take her mission internationally when she begins the one-year project at University College Cork in Cork, Ireland.

“My goal is to create transatlantic storytelling group for people with disabilities,” she shared. “Able-bodied people will be invited as well to increase awareness of the lives of people with disabilities and explore ways in which we can create mutual awareness of the disability rights movement.”

Hughes is one of more than 1,900 U.S. citizens who will study, conduct research and teach abroad for the 2018-2019 academic year through the Fulbright U.S. Student Program. Recipients of Fulbright awards are selected on the basis of academic and professional achievement as well as record of service and leadership potential in their respective fields.

To receive a Fulbright award is no small feat. In fact, Hughes applied for the same scholarship last year and made it to the semifinals. Around the same time, she was trying to decide on her post-undergraduate plans.

“I really wanted to expand my horizons and diversify my education,” she recalled. “It was important for me to leave because I needed that independence and to know what it’s like to live on my own.”

Coincidentally, the chair of the English department at Marshall, Dr. Jane Hill, previously served as the chair of UWG’s English department and put in a good word for both Hughes and West Georgia.

And the coincidences don’t stop there.

“At Marshall we have a visiting writers series, and one featured two authors from UWG — Dr. Alison Umminger and Dr. Maggie Mitchell,” Hughes said. “I went to their readings and met them. Everything just kind of fell together.”

Once settled in Carrollton, Hughes began the process of tightening the materials needed to reapply for the Fulbright Program. With her support system left behind at Marshall, she began searching for a UWG mentor. She found one in English professor Dr. Emily Hipchen.

“I had little doubt, looking at her materials, that she’d win,” Hipchen reflected. “Hailey is a remarkable student with ambition, courage, curiosity, humor and a whole lot of momentum. I look forward to watching her conquer the world.”

Hipchen, one of six Fulbright scholars teaching at UWG, reiterated the challenges a Fulbright application can bring and applauded how Hughes faced them with energy, perseverance and stamina.

“It needs to be noted that Hailey completed the process during the course of her first semester in graduate school in a new place — not small adjustments — while taking a full load of graduate courses and working with three professors as a research assistant,” Hipchen said. “There are many Fulbrighters on the UWG faculty, and I'm so delighted she'll be among us.”

The Fulbright Program is the flagship international educational exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government and is designed to build lasting connections between the people of the U.S. and the people of other countries. The Fulbright Program is funded through an annual appropriation made by the U.S. Congress to the U.S. Department of State. Participating governments and host institutions, corporations and foundations around the world also provide direct and indirect support to the program, which operates in more than 160 countries worldwide.

Since its inception in 1946, the Fulbright Program has provided more than 380,000 participants — chosen for their academic merit and leadership potential — with the opportunity to exchange ideas and contribute to finding solutions to shared international concerns. Over 1,900 U.S. students, artists and early career professionals in more than 100 different fields of study are offered Fulbright Program grants to study, teach English and conduct research annually in over 140 countries throughout the world.

Fulbrighters address critical global challenges in all disciplines, while building relationships, knowledge and leadership in support of the long-term interests of the U.S. Fulbright alumni have achieved distinction in many fields, including 59 who have been awarded the Nobel Prize, 82 who have received Pulitzer Prizes and 37 who have served as a head of state or government.

Hughes was drawn to the Emerald Isle after talking with disability rights organizations, including Arts and Disability Ireland, that celebrate and feature disabled artists. She said it will allow her to carry on the mission of Fulbright, which is to create a mutual understanding and grow a lasting peace.

“I believe in the mission and love creative writing,” she concluded. “The idea that underpins this all is that it’s not about cultivating a voice. It’s about amplifying a voice that’s already there. The larger implication is that this can allow people with disabilities to develop self-advocacy and life skills.”

For further information about the Fulbright Program, visit http://eca.state.gov/fulbright.

Posted on June 21, 2018