The many books of Fulbright Scholar Carmen McCain '99 chronicle stages in her vocational journey from editing children's historical fiction at Silver Moon Press, New York City, to studying African languages and literature as a doctoral student at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.
Motivation and Mentoring (continued)
As editor of the College newspaper, The Swinging Bridge, and one who spent her Sunday afternoons recording the stories of refugees in prison for Amnesty International, Wang was never one to hide. But she admits she’s uncomfortable about being tagged a pioneer or trailblazer simply because she’s the first in a growing line of Messiah College students who have now garnered similar international awards. One of those who followed her lead is Carmen McCain ’99, who had been Wang’s roommate and supported her as Wang endured the rigors and anxieties of applying for the Rhodes. McCain had already graduated from Messiah and was editing children’s historical fiction at Silver Moon Press in New York City when she applied for a Fulbright grant. This distinguished award would eventually allow her to live and conduct research in Nigeria, where she had spent her teen years as the child of academic missionaries.
Peter Powers, chair and associate professor of English at Messiah, felt a natural connection with McCain because of their similar missionary backgrounds, their feelings of being both in and outside America at the same time. In 1999, at Powers’ urging, McCain presented a paper entitled “Making the New Man: Generations of Christianity in Chinua Achebe and James Baldwin” at the Shippensburg University English Major’s Conference and a month later at the Thirtieth Annual Conference of the College English Association in Philadelphia. This paper was her first attempt at merging her academic interests with larger questions of faith. “My study of literature gives me tools for understanding the deeply literary structures of my own faith. The imagination with which God created and saved the world is the imagination we must use to engage with the world.”
She says that thanks to Powers she overcame her intimidation about both submitting applications and speaking in front of an academic audience. The year after graduating from Messiah, she made a try for the Fulbright and several other prestigious scholarships. Two of them sent almost immediate rejections. In early 2001, another thin letter arrived in the mail. Preparing herself for “we regret to inform you,” she opened it and the first word she read was “Congratulations.”
“I’m a quiet, unassuming kind of person,” McCain admits. “Without professors like Dr. Powers and [former Messiah professor] Dr. Julia Kasdorf I wouldn’t have applied.”
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