Uplifted by the Power of Community, Natté Fortier ’24 Earns Fulbright Award

Uplifted by the Power of Community, Natté Fortier ’24 Earns Fulbright Award

Academics, Accolades and Awards, Internships, Research, Study Abroad, Testimonials

May 8, 2024

Uplifted by the Power of Community, Natté Fortier ’24 Earns Fulbright Award Natte Fortier '24

When Natté Fortier ’24 reflects upon what he believes to be the key to a fulfilling Hollins experience, one quality in particular stands out in his mind. He recognized it when he first visited campus as a prospective student, and it has remained a constant throughout his entire undergraduate career: a strong sense of community.

“The level of support here is amazing,” he says. “If I didn’t have the chance to work with such incredibly dedicated professors, I would not have achieved the same opportunities.”

The relationships he nurtured and the guidance he sought and received culminated this spring when Fortier was accepted into the Fulbright U.S. Student Program, the U.S. State Department’s flagship initiative devoted to international academic exchange. Only a select number of Hollins students have previously been awarded this honor, including Jacob Silverstein M.A. ‘02 (Mexico) and Ellen Silverman M.A. ‘90 (Hong Kong). Fortier will travel to Madrid, Spain, this September to spend nine months as an English Teaching Assistant (ETA), working in Global Classrooms to coach students in Model United Nations.

“I would not have even dreamed of putting my hat into the ring if my advisor, [Ruth Alden Doan Assistant Professor of History] Christopher Florio, hadn’t told me I was one hundred percent capable of doing it,” Fortier says. “It would not have been possible if I didn’t have his support and feedback throughout the application process.”

Fortier knew upon entering Hollins that he was interested in education, and initially centered his ambitions around a career in policy. Declaring a major in political science, he subsequently got the chance to engage in real-world advocacy for education issues when he interned with State Senator Jennifer Boysko ’89 during a Virginia General Assembly session in Richmond.

“I got to work on legislation that was geared toward teacher training,” Fortier explains. “It was a great opportunity to learn what the legislative process looks like and see some of the different sides of education policy.”

Fortier ultimately chose to stay at Hollins for four years and converted his history minor into a second major, a decision that would have a considerable impact on his academic and career goals. While still largely interested in education policy, his love of history began to take center stage.

In 2023, Florio urged Fortier to apply to The Leadership Alliance’s Summer Research Early Identification Program (SR-EIP) at Columbia University, which its website describes as “a fully paid internship program that provides undergraduates with training and mentoring in the principles underlying the conduct of research and prepares them to pursue competitive applications to Ph.D. programs.”

As with the Fulbright Program, Fortier was initially skeptical about applying to SR-EIP. “I would not have applied if Professor Florio hadn’t told me I should. I was still focused on going into policy, and I didn’t think I necessarily wanted to do historical research. I thought that was something that maybe wasn’t accessible to me. But Professor Florio assured me I could do it and supported me throughout the application process. That was incredibly beneficial.”

Attending SR-EIP last summer was a pivotal moment for Fortier. “The experience definitely changed my mind. Getting to perform hands-on archival research and connect with different professors and graduate students at Columbia was an amazing opportunity. It definitely helped me learn about research and realize what I want to do.”

Inspired by his work at SR-EIP, Fortier interned during January Short Term this year at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., where he made important contributions to an education project. “I worked on turning a collection of audio recordings of Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking poets reading from their works into lesson materials that teachers can use in their classrooms. I learned library sciences firsthand as well as the behind-the-scenes process of research. It was very cool to learn last summer about what it is to be a researcher and then in January work with people who make research happen.”

Fortier’s passion for research has also manifested itself in his senior thesis, “Framing Femininity: Opportunities for Gender Non-Conformity at U.S. Women’s Colleges at the Turn of the Twentieth Century.” He says the idea “came from a project that I did in the fall of last year about Hollins history specifically and the opportunities and limits of nonconventional gender expressions. I started that project focusing on Hollins and then in my thesis looked at the ‘Seven Sisters’ colleges in the Northeast.”

Fortier adds that “my own experience as a trans student at Hollins” served as a significant influence. “I can recognize through my time here that this space of a historically women’s college has provided for me the opportunity to express myself, find myself, and find love and support in this community.”

Exploring “what a student like me would have experienced at Hollins and other institutions a hundred years ago has been really exciting,” Fortier says. “I performed archival research, got my hands on some really cool sources, and was able to bring stories to light so that students today are able see individuals akin to queer ancestors. I had such a fun time doing it.”

“Framing Femininity” has earned prestigious honors for Fortier. The thesis received first prize in U.S. history at the 2024 Virginia Phi Alpha Theta History Honor Society Regional Conference and won the 2024 Wyndham Robertson Library Undergraduate Research Award in the junior/senior category. At Hollins’ 47th Honors Convocation in April, Fortier received the Mary Williamson Award for the best study submitted in the field of humanities. He was also presented the Pi Sigma Alpha Award, which recognizes the senior with the highest grade point average in courses taken in political science.

Fortier has been an active leader at Hollins, serving as a resident assistant and campus tour guide. He is currently president of the Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance (FMLA), a social justice group dedicated toward racial justice and the inclusion of transgender students. During his leadership, FMLA has brought guest speakers to campus to discuss Roanoke’s LGBTQ+ history, held sex education events, and organized NARCAN training. “I really wanted to connect students to different organizations in Roanoke and I hope that continues next year after I graduate,” Fortier notes.

After completing the Fulbright Program next year, Fortier plans to pursue a Ph.D. in history and become a professor, but he emphasizes that he intends “on staying involved in the research realm. The time that I spent at Columbia over the summer and the time that I spent this year on this long but exciting thesis project made me realize I love research. I didn’t realize how exciting it could be before I immersed myself in it. It’s like solving a mystery or piecing a puzzle together, and I hope to continue doing historical research in the future.”

He also stresses that the importance of community will continue to guide him long after leaving Hollins. “The connections I’ve made here have taught me that when I go out into the real world, I will still feel empowered to advocate for myself and ask for help. Sharing ideas and inspiration with Hollins professors and students alike has been the most powerful part of shaping who I want to be.”