Ulrike Figueroa Vilchis (ARAD 2020) is a Fulbright-García Robles and Conacyt-Finba grantee. She earned her BA in Art History from Universidad Iberoamericana in Mexico City. She began her career in the arts as Intern Coordinator in the Education Department of the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, collaborating closely with the Registrar, Conservation, Special Events and Development departments. At the PGC, Ulrike led over 380 international interns. Upon her return to Mexico, Ulrike joined the Ministry of Culture where she was commissioned to the Technical Cabinet of the Presidency to work on special projects curating temporary exhibitions, researching archives and developing content for publications. Her passion for the arts has led Ulrike to diversify her experience organizing experimental dining events with Kitchen Theory, launching an art and lifestyle magazine, a Mexican culture blog, leading tours and educational workshops. Her ambition lies in strengthening and expanding the Mexican arts and culture sector through strategy, and advocating for favorable public policies to encourage social development through the arts.
During her time in ARAD, Ulrike interned at Art in General and MoMA, was Programming Co-Chair of Student Advocates for the Arts, received a TC Student Leadership Grant and ARAD microgrant for professional development.
How did Fulbright allow you to pursue your education/career at Teachers College?
To this day I cannot find the words to describe the extent of the support Fulbright gave me to pursue my Masters degree in Arts Administration. Fulbright truly made my dream possible.
I had long dreamt of obtaining a Masters degree in the States. In 2012, with a background in Art History, working at an art museum and eager to learn more, I researched “best arts management programs in the US.” The moment I found the Arts Administration program at Teachers College, Columbia University my dream grew bigger in many ways. After all my excitement about the program and the city, the natural question was: “how am I supposed to pay for this?” I began crunching numbers, so I knew very well that in order to attend an Ivy League in New York City I would need financial aid. So, I did a bit more research and discovered the Fulbright Program. Fulbright offered support that truly accompanies a student through the whole process to study a program in the States. Before joining ARAD, Fulbright assisted with the application process to the programs of my choice, visa sponsorship, and orientation sessions for my time in the States. To support my education at ARAD, Fulbright helped negotiate a scholarship with Teachers College’s Office of International Students & Scholars, provided a yearly stipend for any academic or personal expenses, and health insurance. Another great thing about the Fulbright program is the access to a network of talented, intelligent, and kind people from diverse backgrounds and nationalities, many of whom I am honored to call friends.
What was the Fulbright application like? How did it come about?
In order to attend this program I knew that I needed to create a pool of resources. Fulbright was the top choice for me because of the span of support it offered. The grant is highly selective, so the application process is thorough and quite tough.
In order to apply for a Fulbright grant, I had to first meet a minimum score to send in the application. The requirements to submit an application is a minimum of 152 in both GRE sections, minimum of 80 in the TOEFL exam, and a minimum average of 8 (on a scale of 10) in your prior degree. This meant that I had to study hard to make sure I would obtain a good score in the GRE and the TOEFL to meet Fulbright’s requirements.
Once I had that covered, I was able to proceed with the preparation of all the application materials including: personal statement, study objectives, three recommendation letters, transcripts, CV and diploma of my previous degree. The application itself is online where other personal, and professional data need to be input and all digitized documents uploaded. This process is only the first step.
After that, if selected, you are invited to an interview with a panel of experts who then recommend you for the grant. In this interview, you are asked more in detail about your reasons for choosing each program, the school, any particular professors you would like to study with, your future professional plans, the benefit to US-Mexico relations, and more. After sweating your way through the interview, you are either selected for the grant, rejected or shortlisted.
There are few spots and many applicants. Each country within the Fulbright program has a different amount of resources available for grantees. The Mexican 2018 generation, which I’m proud to belong to, is made of 52 grantees. Luckily, the grants are distributed among a variety of disciplines. In Mexico it is rare that important grants are given for arts and culture. So, for me getting the grant is a double privilege. I feel truly honored to be a part of the Fulbright community.
Tell us about your experience as a student in ARAD and at TC and how the Fulbright fellowship made it possible.
Fulbright was a crucial part of my experience in ARAD, TC, and Columbia. As an international student, I knew that I had to make the most of my short stay in NYC. As a Fulbrighter, I knew that I had to learn as much as I could to take with me to address pressing issues I observe in my country to make it a better place for all.
So, while I took on as many activities, attended conferences and sat in as many classes as I could, I really tried to focus on learning from the people around me. I believe this is a big part of my wonderful ARAD experience. This program would not have been the same without the group of people I was honored to study with. I remember at orientation when Dr. Lena mentioned that each of us had been selected to be part of the 2020 cohort for a particular reason. I was curious about that, and I tried to get to know each person in the cohort as much as I could. Understanding their strengths and previous experiences showed me each particular perspective they had and taught me valuable lessons about the arts, what culture can be, where we can have an impact as arts administrators, about the United States, about social justice and about me. We all had something to teach each other. One of the biggest lessons, and a difficult one to practice, was to be humble and listen.
Learning to listen across different cultures and life experiences exponentially grew with my experience as a student at TC and Columbia. As an arts administration graduate student I wanted to diversify the sources of my education, so I took classes in Art History, Non-Profit Management, Education Policy, Organization and Leadership, Law School and Art Education. I particularly enjoyed being a part of the Theater of Change, a Law School course led by Susan Sturm that uses artistry to engage in social change, particularly the social justice system in the US. I used this course to learn mostly about how to structure a constructive dialogue between arts, culture, law and policy, disciplines that seem unrelated at first, but that have a lot to do for each other.
I believe that studying in the ARAD program at TC as a Fulbrighter meant that I had to participate and absorb as much as I could to become a more effective arts professional in my country. Being a part of Fulbright also allowed me to talk to people in different fields and learn from their perspectives on arts and culture, and how vital they consider them to be in our world. I believe this inspired me to look outside my program and interests to explore and push the boundaries of my mind.
Was it the Fulbright fellowship that allowed you to move to New York? How has it been living here during this time?
Definitely! Without Fulbright I would not have been able to fund my life in New York nor the program.
Fulbright opened the doors to NYC and always enriched my experience of the city and the US through the programming they put together for us. New York City brings so many people together that it was always exhilarating to participate in Fulbright programs. Through this I was able to hear from incredible executives at Thomson Reuters, UBS and Credit Suisse, country singers, music entrepreneurs, former Fulbrighters, PhD and Masters students from all over the world.
Living in New York has been incredible. I truly consider the city a big part of my learning process in the ARAD program, and personal growth.
What advice do you have for future applicants?
Start early; research all the possible programs you might be interested in and the professors; and create a budget that takes into account at least three years of inflation. Read a lot on the Fulbright program, learn their values and honestly approach them from your own personal experience and what you would like to learn. I would also suggest having two or three other funding options.
Lastly, remember this is not a quick process. It is long and it will be exhausting at times but it’s worth every second spent on it.
6. Anything additional you would like to add/share?
I would really like to thank the Fulbright program for supporting me and offering such breadth of experiences. Additionally, Conacyt-Finba who was also crucial to my ability to be part of this program, and the Office of International Students & Scholars for helping me with a TC scholarship.
I am also grateful to my 2020 ARAD cohort, the professors, and administrative staff for their lessons and support throughout the two years in this program.