NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Graduating following the conclusion of their athletic careers has not meant an end to educational opportunities for a pair of Vanderbilt swimmers. After going through a rigorous application process during their senior campaign, Hanako Batt and Abby Burke have received prestigious scholarship awards that will enable them to build on the degrees they earned from Vanderbilt in May.
For Batt, being named a Fulbright Scholar — one of a Vanderbilt-record 20 students to earn the recognition — has led to the chance to spend the next year abroad in the Canary Islands, while Burke will be using an NCAA Ethnic Minority and Women’s Enhancement Graduate Scholarship to begin a two-year master’s program at Texas.
“I’ve always sort of known the Fulbright name. It’s a pretty well-known scholarship and one of the biggest available nationally that college students can apply for,” Batt said. “But I didn’t know much about the details until I went to an informational session that Vanderbilt hosted. I come from a multicultural background with my parents being immigrants. I worked in a research lab with children about education strategies, so the opportunity to go to another country and continue working with kids and doing something in the educational setting really aligned with my academic interests and experiences as a psychology major as well as my long-term career goals.”
Although the grant runs from the end of this month until the middle of June 2023, the application process Batt went through began in May prior to the start of her senior campaign. Following an initial information session that month, the Natick, Massachusetts, resident was placed in a cohort with three other Vandy students, with the group attending bi-weekly workshops last summer to help develop different components of the application which included two essays and multiple short-answer questions. Each individual had to submit three drafts to the Vanderbilt Writing Studio, then the school’s committee looked at those and interviewed all applicants; those approved were forwarded to the national committee in October.
Batt didn’t hear any updates until January, when she received notification that she had been selected as a semifinalist which meant that she and the other candidates chosen then were placed under the consideration of committees of the countries they applied to. She eventually learned of her selection at the end of March.
The decision to pursue the program in Spain was based on both previous educational and athletic experiences.
“I was a Spanish minor, and my biggest consideration was that I wanted to be in a Spanish-speaking country,” Batt said. “I had taken some Spanish literature classes, and we talked a lot about authors and artists from the country, so I also had a specific cultural interest in Spain.”
“I picked the Canary Islands because they are on the water,” she said. “As a swimmer I’m really into water sports — I really like surfing — and there are a lot of opportunities for those. One of the requirements for the grant is to have a side project that helps you engage in the community. My proposal was to teach swim lessons and swim with people who are part of the community on the islands.”
The Fulbright committee’s assistance has not ended with the scholarship award. They also provide resources including how and where to find housing, how to find a roommate and other basic information to help award-winners in a completely new environment. Despite that assistance, Batt is honest in her assessment of how many of the details she has taken care of weeks before departing the country.
“Honestly, not enough,” she joked. “It’s a lot to be moving to a completely different country.”
The transition for Burke won’t be nearly as strenuous as she begins pursuit of her master of education degree in higher education leadership later this month in Austin. She opted for the University of Texas after also submitting postgraduate applications at Georgetown, George Washington and NYU.
“I chose UT because it aligned the closest with my goals in obtaining this degree, and I was born in Austin so I have a lot of connections and have visited a lot,” she explained. “I was able to connect with other staff and faculty and other students within the program and felt right at home. It seemed like a great fit.”
Burke came to Vandy from Winter Park, Florida, without a definitive plan of what academic path to pursue. But once she became immersed in the Commodore program and all the different options available in support of student-athletes, that vision began to take focus.
“When I came to Vanderbilt, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do so I chose to study well-rounded topics,” Burke said. “I majored in public policy and communications without a concrete goal, but upon coming to school and having these experiences with the athletic department — both the academic and student services side and the athletics administration, our staff and directors of operation — that made all these amazing opportunities possible for me. I knew that I wanted to do the same for student-athletes in the future.
“I also worked on campus with Project Safe, and that honestly played a big role in wanting to go to graduate school for higher education,” she added. “Working with higher education administrators inspired me and made me want to help people the same way.”
Burke first learned of potential scholarship opportunities when she was nominated for the SEC’s Brad Davis Community Service Scholarship. She was named to the 2021-22 SEC Swimming and Diving Community Service Team in February, then was selected by the league office to receive a scholarship award. In the meantime, Burke worked with Alison Wenzel — Vanderbilt’s Associate Athletic Director for Student-Athlete Development — to see what other scholarship opportunities were available.
“I knew I needed some sort of additional funding for my graduate school experience,” Burke said. “I had already been applying to schools so the application process wasn’t new. I just had to solidify connections, get letters of recommendation and write an essay.”
Once selected for the NCAA award, Burke has benefited not only from the financial assistance but from the ability to attend a special event hosted by the organization the first weekend of June, the Career in Sports Forum at the NCAA headquarters. “It was really eye-opening,” she said. “There were a lot of higher education athletics professionals and professional sports administrators there. It was a really cool experience. It was something that I wasn’t expecting to get from the scholarship but turned out to be an incredible bonus.”
After arriving at Vanderbilt unsure of what her long-term career goals were, she leaves Nashville with a clear vision in mind.
“I am super passionate about higher education — specifically intercollegiate athletics — and I definitely want to work in a collegiate athletic department one day,” Burke said. “Hopefully this degree will allow me to get some experience within the higher ed side of things as well as to see how athletic departments are run. I hope to not only gain just the all-around experience, but to make some great connections that can help me after I graduate in 2024.”
Following a year in Spain, continuing postgraduate studies is also a potential option for Batt thanks to the Fulbright Scholarship.
“It will help me if I apply to postgraduate programs in the future,” she said. “I definitely have an interest in potentially applying to some postgraduate psychology programs, specifically something within linguistics or education, so having this hands-on experience living in a foreign country and teaching a foreign language in a classroom setting will help give me insight as to whether that’s something I want to continue to pursue.”