Anna Holmquist's post-graduation plans received a welcome complication last week. The senior, who's already enrolled in a University of Pittsburgh master's program that begins in August, found out she'll be heading to Brazil on a Fulbright in February.
It didn’t take long for Dr. Steven Hyland to realize that Anna Holmquist was Fulbright material. In the fall of 2017, the history professor assigned Holmquist, a junior at the time, to read a book on the role women played in the Cuban Revolution and then write a paper on it.
What she turned in floored him.
“I don’t normally give 100s, especially to first-time paper-writers for me, but I think I did give it for this,” he says. “It was a really, really outstanding paper.”
Holmquist continued to impress throughout the semester, and a year ago Hyland, a two-time Fulbrighter himself, approached her about applying for a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship. The Lincoln, Nebraska, native enthusiastically latched onto the idea, and on Friday she found out that she had been accepted. In February she’ll leave for 10 months in Brazil, where she’ll work as an English teaching assistant at a university.
Along with the Rhodes and Marshall scholarships, the Fulbright is one of the more prestigious postgraduate study opportunities. Established in 1946, the program was created by Sen. William J. Fulbright to promote “soft diplomacy” abroad.
In the past four years, four former Bulldogs have won Fulbrights, teaching in Turkey, Malaysia (twice) and Brazil. Last year, Tyrone Fleurizard became the first Wingate student to be selected while still an an undergraduate student; the 2018 Wingate graduate is currently teaching in Malaysia. Now, Holmquist joins him in earning a Fulbright before receiving her Wingate diploma.
Holmquist, a senior in the University's honors program who graduates on May 11 with a degree in political science, found out that she’d be going to Brazil while she was exiting the campus bookstore at the University of Pittsburgh, where she was at an event previewing the master’s in international development program she’s beginning in August. She was immediately overwhelmed with emotion and logistical concerns.
“I was completely in shock,” she says. “We had plans to walk around campus and explore a little bit, and I couldn’t pay attention to my surroundings at all.”
A quick e-mail exchange with the program administrators assured Holmquist that she could take a leave of absence for two semesters, and with good reason: It will benefit her in her studies at Pitt. A year abroad will give Holmquist a different perspective on the world and what development means globally.
“I feel like there’s no better way to get some experience with that than living in a different country and just kind of throwing yourself to the wolves a bit,” she says.
Holmquist didn’t start out as a political science major. Coming to Wingate on a volleyball scholarship, she thought she’d like to be a journalist.
Then, as a first-semester freshman, she took Political Ideologies, a 200-level course taught by Dr. Joseph Ellis.
“For a nonmajor it was kind of weird for me to be in it,” she says. “But I loved it. And once I declared [as a political science major], I realized that I should have known that that’s what I should be doing, because it just makes sense.”
Holmquist comes by her political-science chops honestly. Her grandfather was a four-term state senator in Nebraska, her father was a lobbyist for many years, and her mother has been a legislative aide in Nebraska for four decades.
Dr. Jacob Wobig, a political science professor for whom Holmquist serves as a research assistant, says she’s a natural. As a freshman, Holmquist took his Introduction to International Relations class, and the work the reserved, unassuming young student turned in astounded him.
“The first year she was kind of quiet, but her test answers and especially her research paper just blew me away,” he says.
"She puts together arguments at a level I could not have at that age."
That paper, on the Euromaidan Revolution in Ukraine, was far beyond the average term paper turned in by a freshman. “Sometimes reading term papers from freshmen is tricky, because my classes are not designed for freshmen,” he says. “Hers was like a senior thesis.”
It wasn’t long before Holmquist blossomed into a class leader, and now, as a senior, she is something akin to a “player-coach” in the classroom, Wobig says.
“She does this thing where she will let the class discuss a while, because she knows if she weighs in, the rest of the class, especially those who are unsure, are going to go to her position,” he says. “She’s smart enough and patient enough and generous enough that she will let the class have this discussion, and only if things are getting a little too far afield will she pull it back to the central point.”
The player-coach analogy is apt for a volleyball player who has been both an All-American on the court and an Academic All-American off it. Last fall, she helped lead the Bulldogs to the best record in NCAA Division II and to a spot in the quarterfinals of the national tournament. In her four years at Wingate, Holmquist, a middle blocker, led the Bulldogs to three regular-season SAC titles, a pair of SAC Tournament championships, an NCAA region title and a 116-17 overall record. She is No. 2 in school history in hitting percentage,
Off the court, Holmquist has a 3.94 GPA and has earned a spot on the SAC Commissioner's Honor Roll every year. Holmquist has also been on Wingate's President's List every semester of her college career and earned the Outstanding Student in Political Science Award in the spring of 2018.
Doing work beyond her years
Holmquist and Wobig are currently researching the effect the erosion of democracy and the rise of authoritarianism are having on women around the world. “He does the quantitative stuff – making a model – and I do a lot of the reading and then help more with the literature review,” she says. “It’s a lot of work, but I can’t complain. It’s good to have something to do.”
Wobig thinks the resulting research could ultimately find a home in an upper-tier journal, thanks in large part to Holmquist’s diligence and ingenuity.
“With a student like Anna, you don’t really have to guide them; you just have to give them a direction and get out of the way,” Wobig says. “She can come up with stuff I never would have thought of. She puts together arguments at a level I could not have at that age.”
All of that was on display during an internship Holmquist served over the summer after her sophomore year, in 2017. While working for ACLU Nebraska, she was given the task of researching the problem of prison overcrowding in her home state.
Holmquist characterizes the Nebraska prison system as “a mess” and says the ACLU is suing the state because of the crowded conditions. Holmquist spent weeks poring over documents before writing “The State House to Prison Pipeline: A Review of Criminal Justice Policy in the Nebraska Legislature 2006-2016.” The report lives on the ACLU Nebraska website.
The report is clearly written, well researched and not what you’d expect out of a college sophomore.
“Being around her is a little bit humbling,” Wobig says. “As we’re going through articles, she’s coming up with insights that I came up with and that I was like, ‘I feel pretty good that I came up with this,’ and then this 21-year-old walks in with the same notes on her paper.
“But that’s a great feeling as a teacher. She has made a lot of progress. I talk about how great she was coming in, but she’s 10 times stronger now.”
The feeling of respect and admiration Holmquist’s professors have for her is reciprocal. She’s especially thankful that Hyland pegged her as a Fulbright candidate.
“It was really special to have a professor approach me and say, ‘You need to do this, because you’ve done this, this and this,’” she says. “It was really inspiring that he saw that stuff in me.
“There’s no way if I wasn’t at Wingate that I would have gotten to the point where I would have applied or have gotten it (the Fulbright),” she says. “It’s just an accumulation of everything, different people here and being here. It’s a great feeling to have your last couple of weeks of college to think about just how important this place has been.”
April 10, 2019