Three Mills Alums Receive 2019 Fulbright Awards

Oakland, CA—July 22, 2019

The Fulbright Program was established in 1946 by US congressman and foreign policy leader J. William Fulbright as a means of fostering cultural exchange and mutual understanding between the United States and other countries. Each year the program awards thousands of grants to support students and scholars in their studies abroad. This year, three Mills alumni can count themselves among those grant recipients, and their studies will take them to new and far distant horizons.

Coco Kennedy

Coco Kennedy ’18

Coco Kennedy ’18

Graduating last year with a double major in Spanish & Spanish American Studies and Politics, Economics, Policy & Law, Coco Kennedy is bound for Bogotá, the capital city of Colombia, where she will serve as an English Teaching Assistant by night and work with beekeepers by day.

“I applied [to the Fulbright Program] knowing I wanted to be in Colombia because of its diversity and quantity of native bees,” says Kennedy, who started the apiary on the Mills Community Farm during her time as a student. 

Applying for grants to start the Mills apiary helped prepare her for the Fulbright application process, says Kennedy, for whom one big takeaway from her time at the College was realizing how to put a vision, like starting the apiary, into action: “There are so many opportunities at Mills along with supportive faculty members that if you have a project or a goal, you should articulate it and make it happen!”

In addition to her co-curricular work on campus, Kennedy’s academic experience also proved invaluable in preparing her for her next chapter abroad. As a Spanish major, she was able to not only improve her language skills but also to serve as a teaching assistant and tutor, which gave her hands-on experience as a language instructor.

After completing an orientation, Kennedy will be Bogotá-bound in late July, and her excitement is mounting as the trip draws nearer. “I think I will learn a lot about myself,” says Kennedy, “and I am excited to do that in a completely new context.”

Robert Lopez MFA '13

Robert Lopez MFA '13

Robert Lopez MFA ’13

For his Fulbright experience, Robert Lopez, who graduated with an MFA in Music Performance and Literature from Mills in 2013, will be going to Brazil to study Candomblé drumming—a type of percussion music that accompanies rituals central to the Afro-Brazilian religion of Candomblé.

Lopez had been studying various styles of West African and African diasporic music when he first encountered Candomblé drumming during a trip to Bahia and was instantly drawn in.

“I knew this was the music and culture that I wanted to study deeply,” says Lopez, who went on to study with a master Candomblé drummer in Oakland for three years with support from the Alliance for California Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program. 

Though his apprenticeship has been an invaluable experience, Lopez looks forward to immersing himself in the musical cultures of Bahia, Rio de Janeiro, and Salvador—the birthplace of Candomblé—where his Fulbright grant will support his studies with other master drummers. 

“The teachers with whom I plan to study come from different ‘nations’ or ethnic groups that reach back to Central and West Africa,” says Lopez, providing him with a diverse set of instructors from whom he hopes to explore the nuances within the Candomblé tradition.

“The music is very challenging to play, some of the most difficult music I have ever encountered,” says Lopez. “It is imperative to not just know what the rhythms are but to have a deeper sense of why each rhythm is the way it is, and how it fits within a cultural context.”

Challenging as the music may be, Lopez feels well prepared for his studies, owing in great part to his musical instruction at Mills; “My unique experience with the music faculty there, primarily with percussionist William Winant, broadened my perspective far beyond playing a piece correctly and went deeper into the dynamics, feel, intention, and commitment one needs to convincingly play a piece of music.”

Cory Gray MFA ’15

Cory Gray MFA ’15

Cory Gray MFA ’15

Cory Gray, who graduated with an MFA in Dance Choreography and Performance in 2015, will also head to Brazil next year where her studies will focus on the local dance styles of Salvador and Rio de Janeiro—including samba, forro, capoeira, and street funk, among others.

“I’ve always been drawn to dance styles within the African Diaspora, along with having a strong love for Latin popular dance like salsa,” says Gray, who over the years has melded these influences into a distinctive style of her own. Drawing on various genres of dance to create new synergies of movement is part of what makes Gray passionate about dance and particularly excited for her studies in Brazil: “It’s the perfect place to dive into fusion dance with the melting pot of cultures, histories, and art scenes,” she says.

While in Brazil, Gray will train under a number of dance company directors, exploring their approaches to choreography, teaching, and directing. Ultimately, her Fulbright project will culminate in a full-length performance that will bring together movers of myriad technical backgrounds to explore identity through dance.

“I am looking forward to being completely out of my comfort zone and hopefully a true beginner at some of the dance styles I will be studying,” says Gray—who also looks forward to brushing up on her Portuguese language skills.

“I’m sure this year will serve as a stepping stone to become the kind of artist I want to be, and I can’t wait to see what doors I’ll end up walking through.”

About Mills College

Located in Oakland, California, in the heart of the San Francisco Bay Area, Mills College is a nationally renowned independent liberal arts college for women and gender non-binary students, with graduate programs for all genders. Ranked one of the top-tier regional universities in the West by U.S. News & World Report, Mills is also recognized as one of the Best 384 Colleges in the nation by The Princeton Review. Since 1852, we’ve been empowering students to become creative, independent thinkers and leaders who take and inspire action. Take a virtual tour.