This spring, three recent UW-Eau Claire graduates and one current student were named semifinalists in the 2016-17 Fulbright U.S. student competition. All four students have applied for Fulbright English teaching assistant awards. Their applications will be forwarded to their host countries for final decisions, which will be announced later this spring.
The semifinalists include Steinike, a 2015 UW-Eau Claire graduate from Appleton who applied for a Fulbright teaching assistantship in Germany; Melissa Hartung, a 2010 UW-Eau Claire graduate from Menomonie with a bachelor's degree in Latin American studies and a master’s degree in professional development, who applied for a Fulbright English teaching assistantship in Peru; Joel Newman, a senior Spanish education and TESOL major from Red Wing, Minnesota, who applied for a Fulbright teaching assistantship in Uruguay; and Anna Waller, a 2015 graduate from White Bear Lake, Minnesota, with a triple major in Spanish, Latin American studies and chemistry, who applied for a Fulbright teaching assistantship in Mexico.
Sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, the Fulbright Program is the flagship international educational exchange program in the country. The program provides grants for individually designed study/research projects or English teaching assistantships. The recipients represent the U.S. as cultural ambassadors while they are abroad, helping to enhance mutual understanding between Americans and the people in their host country.
Lara Steinike recently graduated from UW-Eau Claire with an education degree in German and biology. As a part of her student experience, she spent a semester studying abroad in Kassel, Germany, which she chose because she knew she would be one of only a few Americans at the university. Steinike had hoped the experience would strengthen her German language abilities and her decision did not disappoint.
Not only did Steinike make strides linguistically, her experience also gave her a new-found sense of drive and desire. Living independently in Germany improved her decision-making skills and gave her a new goal for after graduation: return to Germany to teach.
“Even before I returned from my semester abroad I knew I wanted to apply for a Fulbright Teaching Assistant Scholarship as a means for achieving this goal,” Steinike said.
UW-Eau Claire has a strong tradition of producing Fulbright students. In the past 10 years, 17 UW-Eau Claire students have gone abroad and represented the U.S. through the Fulbright Program. This year’s semifinalists will tell you the main ingredient to their success is the committed faculty who pour time, energy and expertise into guiding the students through the process and helping them craft excellent essays.
Newman shares the group’s sentiment. "Cheryl Lochner-Wright, UWEC's Fulbright Program adviser and study abroad coordinator, and Dr. Jeff Vahlbusch, German professor and director of the University Honors Program, are just two of the many faculty who were a tremendous help to me during the application process,” Newman said. “I am very grateful to have had their help. I would not have been named a semifinalist without them."
All four students are diverse in their backgrounds, majors and interests, so what was their recipe for success? All of them, inspired by their study abroad experience, combined their unique majors, service-learning experiences and personal passions to create an educational project and essay that advanced them to semifinalists in the Fulbright competition.
Steinike, in addition to teaching her students about English language and American culture in the classroom, if awarded the grant, plans to bring her lessons to life by organizing an extracurricular baking group that will tour the U.S. and utilize their new English language skills in an informal setting.
Hartung joined the Peace Corps after graduation expecting to be placed in Latin America. Instead, she was invited to serve in China. She took on the challenge and set out to learn about Chinese language and culture. While in China she taught English at a vocational institute and worked on developing and implementing a teacher training program for English teachers at a local high school. She would now like to refocus on Latin America and use her experience and skill in Peru.
Newman studied abroad in Costa Rica in the summer of 2015 and will participate in a faculty-student research project in Peru in summer 2016. He is an Honors student and an intercollegiate athlete who has volunteered as an English as a second language tutor in a local elementary school for the past three years.
Newman was attracted to the Fulbright program in Uruguay because it consists of two placements, one in an urban setting and one in a rural area. It would also give him the opportunity to combine two of his passions, teaching and football. Outside of the classroom, he hopes to introduce his students to American football.
Sports can positively impact lives, teach the importance of hard work, build community and create fun. With just one football and part of a field, I hope to demonstrate that in American football, there is a position for everyone,” Newman said.
Waller studied abroad in Chile where she had the opportunity to teach English to both children and adult learners.
"My year studying abroad in Chile greatly improved my Spanish language skills and my passion for learning about other cultures,” Waller said. “I fell in love with Latino cultures while traveling throughout South America and this motivated me to apply to the Fulbright in Mexico.”
She applied this experience when she returned to Eau Claire and became the assistant director of Habla en la Cabra, a communitywide Spanish conversation group. Waller, who graduated with University Honors, is currently teaching English in Spain and would like the opportunity to expand her teaching skills through a Fulbright English teaching assistantship in Mexico.
Her project would be to lead a group of women in weekly discussions, readings and films that relate to feminism in Mexico and the United States. Together they would explore past and present Latina authors and activists in both countries.
Top photo: Anna Waller
Photos within story: Lara Steinike; Joel Newman; Melissa Hartung