Study Abroad? Meet the Schar Scholar Who Finished Her First-Year in Ecuador

Photo of Fiona Lighthiser
Fiona Lighthiser: ‘I like that we have a close-knit community within a big school.’

Colorado-native Fiona Lighthiser has already traveled across both the country and the world in pursuit of her degree at George Mason University. The sophomore and government and international politics major is a Schar Scholars program recipient who, in just her second semester at Mason, participated in the university’s Global Gateway program and studied at Universidad San Francisco de Quito in Quito, Ecuador.

The competitive Schar Scholars program provides financial assistance to first-year Schar School students who are interested in government, political science, international relations, public policy, pre-law, and public administration.

The program, and the spring semester abroad, was a bonus for Lighthiser, who had her sights on the Schar School early. She found herself attracted to Mason because she wanted to study “where government happens—Washington D.C.,'' and to incorporate a diverse student environment into her college career as well as study abroad.

As it happens, Mason is one of the highest-ranked majority-minority schools in the country, according to U.S. News & World Report. That social diversity is important to her because it makes “class discussion so much richer, because we are able to learn from others who have different experiences,” she said.

In her first semester of her first year, Lighthiser discovered like-minded classmates among the large undergraduate population on campus, thanks to copious opportunities to meet others. “Events like [the Schar Scholars social] make the community smaller,” she said. “I like that we have a close-knit community within a big school.” 

Lighthiser said she has enjoyed the Schar Scholars program and the chances to network and engage not only with fellow students but also with professors and staff within the Schar School. “This has made me feel like I have more support within the program,” she said. “I feel I can reach out in the future for assistance and professional opportunities.”

Pursuing her education and love of travel, Lighthiser described her unique study abroad experience in Ecuador. In her government classes, the interconnectivity of global issues and the influence of various cultures were discussed. The result? “Hearing different perspectives widened my view on many issues and current events,” she said.

Lighthiser especially enjoyed being able to focus on Latin American issues in many of her classes. “Being in the country and researching issues happening around me was powerful,” she said. “There are aspects to research which can be done through books and databases. But being there in person was a whole other factor.”

Additional reporting by Taylor Ramirez.