GSE Alumna First in Rutgers History to Receive Prestigious Fellowship

GSE alumna Alyea Pierce, a 2017 graduate, is the first Rutgers student, alum, or employee to receive the Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellowship. This fellowship is a component of the Fulbright U.S. Student Program which provides opportunities for selected Fulbright U.S. student grantees to participate in an academic year of storytelling on a globally significant theme. The Fellowship is made possible through a partnership between the U.S. Department of State and the National Geographic Society. Utilizing a variety of storytelling tools—including, but not limited to text, photography, video, audio/podcasts, public speaking, maps, and graphic illustrations—Storytellers have the opportunity to share their stories, and the stories of those they meet, through National Geographic and social media platforms.

“It was absolutely shocking to hear that I am the first Rutgers University student, alum, or employee to receive the Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellowship,” Pierce shares. The surprise mainly coming from the long journey it took to get to this point. “To be candid, because I think it is not only important to hear one’s successes, but also their setbacks, I applied for the Fulbright U.S Student-Open Study/Research Award in the Arts/Creative Writing category 3 years in a row and never made it through.  As I sent in my application and began the waiting game for the third time, I received notification that I was a semi-finalist.  A few weeks after, I received another email saying that the 2019 Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellowship competition is now open exclusively to semi-finalists for the Fulbright open study/research and arts awards for consideration for one of the five highly competitive global awards.  I was stunned by the fact that I may have another chance to potentially pursue this research, so I took the chance and it paid off!” Pierce states.

Pierce’s journey to the GSE came through an opportunity working with Senior Director of Strategic Alliances and Online Programs, Dr. Darren Clarke. “After completing my undergraduate degree, I had the opportunity to work with Dr. Darren Clarke, in which I worked specifically with the South Africa Initiative (SAI) Program. Throughout my time in that office, I realized the breadth of options in Education, including, Counseling & Support, Study Abroad Initiatives, Urban Education, Elementary Education, College Student Affairs, and more. After my first few months working in the office, I knew I wanted to be in some form of education and being a Rutgers alumna was the little step I needed to help make my decision of becoming a two-time alumna of Rutgers University,” Pierce reflects.

Pierce will be sent to Trinidad & Tobago to complete her grant. For her Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling project, she will examine the revitalization of oral storytelling and folktale traditions in Trinidad and Tobago through present-day spoken word & rhythm poetry.  While studying contemporary Afro-Trinidadian literature, Pierce plans to document the memory, history, and experiences of people.  “As a child of immigrants, I greatly value the sound, power, and rhythm of language. It is like music to me. I will be exploring the intricacies of Trinidad and Tobago’s Carnival, which is greatly influenced by its legacy of slavery and colonialism, and how steel pan, calypso, and design became a new form of storytelling for those on the island.  I will use performance and digital media, specifically photography and videography to capture the sights and sounds of Trinidad & Tobago to create a manuscript of poetry and fictional short stories that I will perform on the island,” she states. Pierce will be conducting researching at the University of the West Indies, St. Augustine’s, Department of Literary, Cultural, and Communication Studies.  She will also be volunteering at the Bocas Literary Festival, the largest Literary Festival in the anglophone Caribbean, throughout the year with planning the festival and engaging with young learners in Trinidad and Tobago.

Pierce credits some of her success to the village of people behind her at the GSE. “Dr. Darren Clarke, Dr. Saundra Tomlinson-Clarke, and so many other faculty and staff throughout the university were amazing support systems during this process.  The College Student Affairs staff and my colleagues in the Office of Leadership & Experiential Learning have motivated me since the beginning as well.  Additionally, my College Student Affairs cohort consistently supported my dream of becoming a Fulbright grantee, and I cannot explain how much that meant to me as an artist who is also an educator. It really takes a village.” Some others Pierce credits includes professors from TCNJ as well as Teresa M. Delcorso Ellmann, Assistant Dean in the School of Graduate Studies and founding director of GradFund. “When I emailed her late in the evening numerous times for the past 3 years, she always replied.  When I needed difficult critique, while also showing me the way with such generosity, Teresa was there.  Thank you for never giving up on me.”

Upon her return, Pierce plans to spend the next 18 months completing her manuscript, which is a combination of genres pulling mantles of poetry, autobiography, and fiction.  “I explore acts of uprooting and re-rooting, and where history, heritage and identity converge for people on the island celebrating Trinidad and Tobago’s Carnival, and their children in America. I plan to finish putting its material together to further contribute to the academy and continue to encourage the study of Trinidad and Tobago literature in the United States through the youth development organizations I volunteer. My vision upon my return is to plan additional poetry readings, artist talks, and workshops to share the experiences from Trinidad and Tobago with those in the United States,” Pierce shares.

Pierce shares her excitement for the upcoming journey: “I would have never been able to do this without the amazing people I listed above, in addition to various others.  Although it is easy to say that because I am a child of immigrants from the West Indies (Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago), that I would automatically be passionate about this work, that would be false.  I have always loved my culture and have been surrounded by it since I was a little girl, but those things often become second nature. I am excited to explore the nuances of something that I’ve grown so accustomed to and able to share my knowledge with any and all who are interested in learning more about it. I am just so grateful for the opportunity and I hope to make every single person who helped me get to this point proud.”