Rebecca Clendenen, a Siloam Springs native and John Brown University graduate, has built an illustrious career on serving her community while simultaneously filling her academic resume.
Clendenen got her undergraduate degree from JBU in political science in 2008. Her master's is in international relations from Webster University in St. Louis. She is currently getting her doctorate at the University of Illinois-Chicago.
Now, she is embarking on the next step of her journey: a Fulbright Scholarship that will send her across the globe for half a year of hands-on studies for her dissertation.
"Fulbright is one of the most prestigious and competitive fellowships that you can apply for," said Clendenen. "It's really prestigious and it's going to open up a lot of doors and opportunities for me that I wouldn't have necessarily been able to access previously."
Clendenen will be departing for Turkey as soon as January, where she will remain until at least July.
"Fulbright is a dedicated, international field work research for my dissertation. I will do six months of interviews with local government officials, the general public, nonprofits and neighborhood associations," said Clendenen.
She continued, saying "The argument that I'm making is that the collective identity of the nation is not something that is fixed from the top down. Leaders give us some ideas, but I am arguing that it is actually our interactions within our own communities."
Clendenen says that every little thing sculpts a community.
"We find meaning in our lives; in the symbols in materials, in the signs and the words," she said. "We give social value to everything from people to objects based on our lived experiences and encounters in our communities. It helps us understand who we are as a nation."
The academic says that she traces her love for community-building back to her Siloam Springs roots.
"Growing up in Siloam Springs and being raised to think about missions and ministry, but then coming into adulthood and realizing that model has room for improvement," said Clendenen. "This is one step on my path, my career development, but it follows a long trajectory of asking 'how can I make an impact?'"
In addition to her roots, Clendenen says that her nonprofit work has contributed to her success.
"One of the things that I attribute to helping me actually succeed in getting this fellowship would be my nonprofit work," she said. "I have been doing grant writing and fundraising for years now, over a decade."
Clendenen is hoping to come back from Turkey and get her postdoctoral degree, eventually moving on into a teaching career.
"When it comes to securing a job, I need to go one step further; Fulbright is the one step further."
One of the gaps that Clendenen leaves behind is her integral part in putting on the annual Heritage Festival in Siloam Springs.
"I have transitioned the leadership of the Heritage festival back to the museum," said Clendenen, "but they can't do it alone. This needs to be something that the community buys into. We want people to look back on their own history."
While she says the plans for next year's Heritage Festival are fluid, she says that, for now, those who want to help should contact the Siloam Springs Museum.