Gentry Doane ’14 was faced with a major life decision—one that he couldn’t have fathomed had it not been for a high school Spanish class—and held his breath.
No matter his next choice, he had already had his sigh of relief. He knew he would find himself in Europe teaching English at summer’s end; he was already accepted into two respected but two different programs.
But he couldn't finally exhale until he picked one.
It came down to these two options and four days of contemplation, fueled by years of study, from the pivotal Spanish class at Ansley Public Schools to an entire undergraduate year of study split between the University of Málaga in Spain and the Goethe Institut in Germany.
Now it was Austria or Germany.
But after talking with advisors and professors, Gentry found his breath, his answer to what lay ahead after graduation: a grant from the Fulbright Program to Germany.
He accepted the offer in April and will teach English in a high school in Baden-Württemberg—the state in southwestern Germany where he spent half of his undergraduate study abroad—starting this September and ending in June 2015. Gentry continued Doane College’s tradition of Fulbright scholars dating back to 1952, just six years after the award was established. He is the 61st Doane student to receive one of the admired grants and the college has now had a Fulbright award recipient for nine straight years.
“It’s a humbling experience to be a part of that (legacy),” he said. “I’m very grateful because when I came to Doane, I knew I wanted to make an impact or really use the advantages that Doane gave me to go out and be successful in the world. To be a part of Doane’s history in that aspect is and will be a great honor.”
Before his acceptance into the Fulbright Program, the Austrian-American Educational Commission (AAEC) contacted the aptly named senior to offer him one of the Austrian Ministry of Education’s Teaching Assistantships.
It threw him for a loop. It was an honor, sure, but the German Fulbright awards, which are more prestigious, are usually announced before other international programs each spring. When Austria came calling, he and others close to him were shocked that he might hear he was not a Fulbright scholar.
“Those awards come out like clockwork every year,” said Jan Willems, Doane’s director of International Programs. “We were waiting and waiting (to hear).”
Instead, four days after his offer from the AAEC, he was notified of his Fulbright grant. And then there was a decision to make, which he discussed with Willems; his advisor, Assistant Professor of Modern Language Kristen Hetrick; and Dr. Peter Reinkordt, the modern language professor who recruited him to Doane’s School of Arts and Sciences in Crete.
“I was actually torn between which one I should take because Austria had already given me my placement and the pay was actually better,” Gentry said. “But when talking with my advisor and Dr. Reinkordt and Jan Willems, they made it just sound very clear that the German one was the one to take for opportunities it would provide for the future.”
The Ansley native has been passionate about international study since he was convinced to take a foreign language class in high school by an international student—“my Belgian brother”—who lived with his family.
“That’s where I fell in love with the idea,” Gentry said. “Seeing how families were connecting with families, seeing the lives they led in their countries. It really spurred me to looking into the international affairs route.”
That’s why a Doane education resonated with him. The liberal arts and sciences model begs students to be inquisitive and think beyond borders, and Gentry embraced that. He will graduate in May with bachelor’s degrees in German and Spanish and a minor in communication.
“One of the things that really pulled me to Doane was the international program and the emphasis they placed on having their students explore the world and learn new things and challenge their old perspectives,” Gentry said. “Doane really fostered my interest in that and helped it grow.”
By the time he enrolled in Crete, others could see he wore his passions on his sleeve—and that it would lead to moments like extending the college’s Fulbright legacy.
“I told him when he was a freshman that he needed to apply for a Fulbright because those students (like him) only come around every few years,” Willems said. “He’s just exceptional. We get wonderful students all the time, but he really is unique.”
The superlatives about Gentry roll effortlessly off Willems’ tongue. (“Curious.” “Confident.” “Quiet strength.”) She had seen these traits before he studied abroad for the 2012-13 academic year, but saw him bring back a different attitude. Students who study abroad, Willems said, are just a little different when they come back.
“You could tell that he’d been somewhere,” Willems said. “There’s a certain something that a student will have, not just in what they wear, but how they carry themselves. … It’s palpable.”
The superlatives are only equaled by the number of activities he is involved in, all of the things that set him apart as a Fulbright applicant.
German tutor. Orientation leader. Delta Kappa Pi Fraternity member. Doane Choir vocalist. Relay For Life co-chairman. English Language Learning teacher for Blue Valley Community Action Partnership. Doane ambassador.
And therein laid one of his biggest challenges: finding a way to document his involvement in a limited space on the Fulbright application.
“It’s rather intense and the hardest part is they expect you to put a lot of your life story and grab their attention in not a lot of space,” Gentry said. “If you’re a writer, there’s not a lot of room for a fancy, flowery transitions.”
But what his application lacked in brevity was made up for with the quality. His passion, involvement and experience spoke volumes, said Maureen Franklin, Doane’s Fulbright advisor.
“I think Gentry really epitomizes the kind of person that Fulbright is seeking … but even that does not guarantee an award, because competition is very stiff,” Franklin said. “It just shows what a superior person he is. He’s recognized by two countries and two competitive awards.”
Now he’s headed back to Germany, maybe even the city of Freiburg, where he spent part of his spring 2013 semester. Gentry said he plans on making the most of teaching English even though he doesn't see his future in teaching. He is curious about diplomacy or international business, and said he would look into those routes as well as graduate schools while abroad.
If history repeats itself, he will have options. And the most difficult part—being accepted by international program experts both in the states and in foreign countries—is over.
“You’re being judged both by the U.S. experts and experts in Germany, so those are tough hurdles,” Franklin said of the Fulbright process. “So we’re very proud of Gentry for having been successful in the award process. He’ll be a great Fulbrighter.”
He’s already proven that what makes him different sets him apart. Now he can breathe.