Entrance Torch

Defining Moments: Fulbright recipient Sterling Summerville ’13 embraces opportunities for cultural exchange

Sterling Summerville ’13 is a busy man. Take his time at Valparaiso University: He studied international service and gender studies, played running back on the football team, volunteered with a local organization that supports teens, participated in at least four student organizations, and worked in the Multicultural Programs office.

But he’s not busy for busy’s sake. He says he was creating those “defining moments and stellar memories” that make life so fulfilling.

He took that same approach after he graduated from Valpo, was awarded a Fulbright grant, and moved to Poland to teach English. The long list of activities in which he participated in Poland — including giving speeches about higher education in America and coaching a professional Polish–American football league team — was partly inspired by his time at Valpo.

“While at Valpo, I was encouraged to embrace all of my different interests and not pigeon-hole myself,” Sterling says. “Valpo allowed me to just be and let myself flow in the moments of each day. And I truly appreciated the campus and community for being a nurturing environment like that.”

And what he loves most about his alma mater is the relationships he formed with his favorite professors. He calls Valpo’s faculty “hands down some of the greatest motivators and role models I have ever met. They instilled in me a sense of hunger, curiosity, and confidence that has taken me to places I would have never imagined without them. I was inspired on a daily basis by my teachers and administrators.”

One of his mentors and his Fulbright Fellowship advisor, Chuck Schaefer, Ph.D., professor of history, says the same about him. He describes Sterling as a man who exemplifies “openness, sensitivity, and leadership. In our initial conversations, I was persuaded by Sterling’s genuine desire to serve humanity, especially the disadvantaged and disenfranchised.”

A high school mission trip to South Africa broadened Sterling’s understanding of the global reach of discrimination, underemployment, and lack of development.

“The international service major was tailor made for Sterling,” Professor Schaefer says, “and he was tailor made to take advantage of all that international service could offer. He basically asked the crucial question: What can Valpo do for me?  He took advantage of all those opportunities: a semester abroad to Namibia, a summer internship in Georgia (the country), a Gilman Scholarship, and a Fulbright Fellowship.”

The Fulbright Fellowship took Sterling to Poland where he completed an English Teaching Assistantship and, perhaps more importantly, immersed himself in a culture that was foreign to him. Indeed, Sterling chose Poland because it was a country he had never visited, and the cultural differences would both challenge and inspire him.

“Cultural differences are bound to exist any and everywhere and it is often those ‘identity’ differences that hold the potential and power to bring people together,” he says. “For me, it is important to lean into both comfort and discomfort to seek out these opportunities and use them as moments for exchange and growth.”

And just as his busy schedule allows for creating those “defining moments and stellar memories” he so loves, so does sharing and exchanging information with people of different cultures.

“This was my greatest joy. Promoting informative cultural exchange peacefully is what travel, in general, and programs like the Fulbright are all about in my opinion,” he says.

Sterling, a native of Indianapolis, now lives in Los Angeles and works as a College Access Program Advisor for the Fulfillment Fund, an educational advocacy organization.