Samantha Birk has always been interested in traveling abroad. So when the junior learned about the U.S.-U.K. Fulbright Commission’s U.K. Summer Institute, she decided to take a chance and apply.
“The (Binghamton) area is familiar to me,” Birk said. “I’m away from home, but I do have family here. So I wanted to see other parts of the world.”
Birk, a double major in psychology and management who minors in theatre, made it through the arduous application and interview process and became one of 61 U.S. students invited to travel to the UK during the summer of 2013, to one of the nation’s top educational institutions. It was the second year in a row that a Binghamton University student was selected.
Birk was one of only four U.S. students to study at King’s College London Summer Institute (the other three were from Princeton, Kansas State and the University of Connecticut). The program – “Learning, Inventing, and Reinventing: The British City, Past and Present” – gave students the opportunity to learn about the history of British cities both in and out of the classroom.
“The course was hands-on,” Birk said. “A lot of time was spent outside exploring London and going to different areas, such as Manchester and Liverpool.”
While Birk praised the teachers and staff at King’s College London, she was equally impressed with her international graduate-student mentors who helped make the transition to British life easier.
“We had dinner with their families,” she said. “They took us to the best markets and gardens. It was nice to be with them. Those are the moments that stand out to me.”
Part of the Fulbright Commission’s criteria for choosing students for the program is academic excellence and a range of extracurricular and community activities. Birk certainly stands out in the latter categories, as she works in the Institute for Childhood Development; serves as a research assistant in Professor Brandon Gibb’s Mood Disorders Institute; is the promotions director for the Women in Business student group; is choreographer for Evolution Dance Company on campus; teaches dance in Vestal; was a 2012 SUNY Emerging Leader; and is a former member of the Johnson City Mentor Program.
Birk also has been a part of the Student Volunteer Center since her freshman year, when she helped during the area floods. In 2012, she planned a benefit for the victims of Hurricane Sandy and is now the group’s vice president and oversees event coordinators.
“I’ve always been involved in community service at home, so I looked for it as soon as I arrived on campus,” she said.
The Oceanside resident was aware of Binghamton University long before coming to campus, as her brother-in-law was a student in the Watson School who got a job at Lockheed Martin. Her sister, meanwhile, worked at the Institute for Child Development.
The mix of a strong psychology program and numerous extracurricular options appealed to Birk.
“I felt if I came here, I could pursue my career and my hobbies at the same time,” she said.
Birk said she hopes to pursue a doctorate in psychology, but may also look for jobs when she graduates. Binghamton University has prepared her well for the future, she added.
“I’m in two schools here, so I get to see a lot,” she said. “I can get stressed out with the coursework and managing everything. But overall, the professors are helpful, I’ve enjoyed my courses and there is a lot to do if you look for it.”
Birk’s first-time trip to London as part of the Fulbright program also proved to be beneficial.
“I really just go for things now,” she said. “I didn’t think I would (be accepted) to the program. It was competitive and it had a lot of applicants. … Now, even if I don’t expect to get something, I know that somebody else may see something in me. And that might open up a door.”