This August, just two months after she will graduate from Santa Clara University in northern California, Xavier Prep alumna and recent Fulbright Scholarship winner Samantha Bennett will travel to Bangalore, India. She will research ways in which women can be empowered to participate in entrepreneurship and environmentally-minded innovation. As a student interested both in psychology and environmental issues, much of Bennett’s work has been focused on the many intersections of the two fields.
The summer following her sophomore year at Santa Clara, Bennett traveled to Bolivia where she studied people’s intentions for seeking out “green spaces,” or urban areas with grass and/or trees.
Bennett found the results of her survey so captivating that she expanded the project into Santa Clara and turned it into her senior thesis.
“I wanted to see if there were differences between cultures and why people seek green space and what they gain from it,” Bennett said.
Her most interesting result thus far has been finding that although Santa Clara residents rank environmental issues as more important than their Bolivian counterparts, they actually engage in less sustainable activities in their day-to-day lives.
During her college career, Bennett also spent a semester studying abroad in Copenhagen, Denmark.
“It was fascinating to be in a country that is both the happiest in the world and the most sustainable in the world. Sustainability is the norm for them, it’s really different than how it is here. That gave me a lot of hope,” Bennett said.
Back in California, Bennett is part of a team who developed an app to combat food waste on campus. The app, which launched in May, allows campus food vendors to post photos and locations of leftovers for students to come grab on a first-come, first-served basis.
On top of it all, Bennett has found time to participate in student government, co-found a mindfulness group and serve as the leader for the College of Adaptive Arts Program, an arts college for adults with special needs.
“I think the arts have a really big role to play in how we view climate change and how we choose to adapt to that and understand that,” Bennett said.
Her future research will find Bennett in India, where she will spend nine months focusing on the intersection of clean energy, technology, entrepreneurship and women’s empowerment.
Bennett is particularly interested in the ways women are perceived across India and the barriers that prevent them from participating in grassroots entrepreneurship. She believes this entrepreneurship is key in building strong communities in countries across the globe.
Traveling to different countries and working directly with people to address their concerns is what led to the creation of the Fulbright Program in 1964.
Shortly after the end of WWII, U.S. Senator William Fulbright proposed a law that would establish a program to allocate funds raised from surplus war assets toward the “promotion of international goodwill through the exchange of students in the fields of education, culture and science.”
The Fulbright provides a stipend for living, traveling and conducting research abroad.
Since its debut, the program has had wide-ranging impact. According to its website, the Fulbright Program awards approximately 8,000 grants annually, divided between 1,600 U.S. students, 4,000 foreign students, 1,200 U.S. scholars and 900 visiting scholars. Approximately 370,000 people have participated in the program since it started.
“I’ve always known about the Fulbright and it was always kind of in the back of my mind throughout college,” Bennett said. “It was really shocking to hear I won. I was unbelievably excited and I couldn’t believe I had achieved it.”
Bennett doesn’t have a clear idea of what her future holds, but she is sure of one thing: “I hope to be a force for positive change in this world.”