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Fulbright Scholar Ryan Corrigan

Ryan Corrigan is a talented photographer, but the shot that may have earned him a Fulbright Scholarship is the one he didn’t take.

As a sophomore, Ryan traveled to India through Doane’s interterm program. For someone who had dreamt of becoming a National Geographic photographer since age eight, the first three days in India were a dream. Vibrant colors filled his viewfinder. He saw stories, emotions, beauties and struggles everywhere he pointed his lens. But on Day 4, in a temple where pictures were not allowed, he had to come out from behind the camera.  A little girl walked up and tugged at his shorts. Her eyes – big, brown, innocent – met his, and a powerful moment passed.

“There were beggars all over the city, but this one little girl stood out. Our eyes locked and time seemed to stop. Her gaze cut straight to my heart, and something changed in me. To this day, I don’t really know what she was wanted to tell me.”

He sat on his hotel balcony that night after the temple visit and looked at his pictures, and slowly started to see the peripheral images develop, the suffering in the background.

“I thought: ‘I’m almost stealing these people’s culture. I’m taking pictures to entertain people halfway across the world.’ I put down my camera for the rest of the trip and started learning people’s stories instead. It inspired me to do development work.”

He still sees that little girl from time to time in his dreams. She’s part of the reason he came home and threw himself into even more service projects for Doane College, Crete and beyond.  And Ryan’s intelligence, passion and tireless attempts to better as many corners of the world as he can helped earn him the esteemed title of 2013 Fulbright Scholar.

Doane students have been awarded this competitive scholarship 60 times since the program's inception in 1946. The Fulbright program is the flagship international educational exchange program sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, designed to "increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries."

Ryan, who came to Doane from Millard North, will graduate this month with bachelor’s degrees in environmental science and Spanish, with a minor in biology. His Fulbright journey begins in June, the start of 10 months teaching English in a secondary school – possibly in New Delhi or Calcutta.

Ryan was cooking a dinner with other Alternative Spring Break volunteers when the Fulbright notice popped into his email inbox. He soon sent his own email out – to his “support system” – the faculty and staff who helped him through the formidable application process. He thanked them for their grammatical overhauls and draft-20 edits; their nudging reminders of deadlines and their unrelenting encouragement. “My successes are not of my own efforts, but a culmination of the efforts of all the professors and staff around me,” he wrote.

Ryan became a student leader at Doane almost as soon as he got his acceptance letter from the School of Arts and Sciences in Crete. His resumé filled quickly, with titles including Student Congress Senator, Vice Chair of Doane’s Green Committee, a National Youth Fellow for the Jane Goodall Institute, Honors Program scholar, campus photographer, President of Doane Roots and Shoots, Alternative Spring Break volunteer and leader in Doane’s Photography, Pre-law and Sertoma Service clubs.

He became a part of almost every recent environmental movement, from an initiative to install energy efficient showerheads in residence halls, to joining a research team working to produce cheap methods of algae growth that can be applied globally for food and fuel. He studied abroad in Costa Rica, became a Global Ambassador at International Studies Abroad and was founder/coordinator of Crete Community Gardens.

The people closest to him on campus would gently remind him to slow down a bit when his perpetually full-plate threatened to spill. Actually, Ryan said, that’s one of two things he is most looking forward to when he arrives in India.

Number 1? Focus. Being able to pour his energy into one project. He had so many projects underway at one time as an undergraduate. (“That’s the beauty of the liberal arts education,” he says as an aside, “the exposure to as many learning opportunities as you can find.")

The second thing he can’t wait to do? Teach English.

Becoming an English Teaching Assistant at Crete Public Schools turned out to be one of the best experiences of college. He had no idea he would love teaching English. “It’s an incredible opportunity to volunteer there . It really gives you a place to give back to the community and experience the classroom. I would recommend it to any student who aspires to apply for a Fulbright in the future.”

He will teach English 20 hours a week in India. Because old habits die hard, he will likely find plenty to fill his remaining time.

He plans to roam, to explore, to sit down by people on the street and ask to hear their stories. He wants to take the resources he gained at Doane and help wherever he can. But he also wants to show people the India he fell in love with.

“When we think of the developing world, we often get caught associating it with suffering and that is a part of it. But that’s not the whole developing world. Most people are proud of what they do and are just trying to make a living.” He recalls two men unloading a truck during his first trip to India. They came up and asked him to take their picture. “The look on their faces got to me. They were entrepreneurs so proud to make their living. I feel that’s something people need to understand, too.”

ryancorrigannews.jpgDuring his Fulbright experience, Ryan will be maintaining a blog with the intention of helping others understand the culture more fully through the lives of the people he meets. Those wishing to keep track can visit his site at Corrigan Culture Scapes.

When his Fulbright ends, Ryan plans to return to the states and attend law school, with the end goal of working in the developmental world.

 

Nate Knobel '15