Photo caption: Michael Konetz, who graduated from UW-Eau Claire in December 2020, is shown here during a visit to Frankfurt, Germany, during a study abroad trip in 2018. Konetz will return to Germany this fall as a 2021-22 recipient of a Fulbright English teaching assistantship. (Contributed photo)
University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire graduates Michael Konetz and Mary Kate Schneeman will use their passion for Germany starting this fall as recipients of a 2021-22 Fulbright English teaching assistantship in the European country.
With the award through the U.S. Department of State’s international education exchange program, Konetz will spend the school year in Hofheim in the western German state of Hessen from September until June 2022. Konetz is a December 2020 graduate who majored in German education with a minor in teaching English to speakers of other languages.
“I’ve always had an interest in teaching abroad, especially in Germany,” says Konetz, a Milwaukee native. “I thought it would be a great opportunity to go back to Germany, and teach and gain new experiences in a country I love being in.”
Schneeman, an English linguistics major and German minor who graduated this past May, will begin her assistantship in September at Reichelsheim, also in Hessen, a village of about 8,500 people.
“I am fascinated by second language acquisition, so this role as an English teacher allows me to firsthand see and help students through their struggles,” Schneeman says.
UW-Eau Claire has for several years been among the top master’s universities in the nation for the number of students who receive Fulbright grants.
“This was a particularly competitive Fulbright year, so it is very exciting to have Michael and Mary Kate get awards,” says Cheryl Lochner-Wright, a senior study abroad coordinator for UW-Eau Claire’s Center for International Education and the campus Fulbright program advisor. “Fulbright received a huge number of applications, and many countries carried forward some of last year’s grantees who were unable to take up their awards due to COVID-19, effectively reducing the number of awards available. Given that, the fact that seven of nine UW-Eau Claire applicants made it to the semifinalist round is amazing.”
Return to Marburg
One of Konetz’s fondest memories of his UW-Eau Claire education was a six-month study abroad opportunity in 2018 in Marburg, Germany.
“My language skills grew so much in my time there,” Konetz says. “It was really hard to leave.”
Konetz, who is an English as a second language teacher in the Milwaukee suburb of Greenfield with a goal of being a German teacher, was excited to learn he was a Fulbright winner. He praised UW-Eau Claire faculty members who he says helped make it possible.
“My German professors were amazing; they were so supportive of me,” Konetz says. “They were a big part of me winning the award.”
Dr. Joshua Brown, associate professor of German and linguistics, says his former student always wanted to learn more about the German language and related cultures. The Fulbright experience in Germany will give Konetz exposure to a variety of teaching contexts that will help him in his ESL and German teaching career, Brown says.
“I was thrilled to hear the news that Michael had been chosen for a Fulbright teaching opportunity,” Brown says. “He follows a long line of German language students who have received Fulbrights, many of whom are still teaching in those same schools today.”
Brown recalls meeting Konetz when the then-high school student was visiting UW-Eau Claire.
“I was already struck then by his passion for language education,” Brown says. “He has a real zeal for wanting others to feel that same way about language learning as he does — which makes him an excellent educator.”
Konetz believes his Fulbright teaching assistantship will give him new insights into teaching English.
“I’m really excited to go back and teach,” Konetz says. “One of my goals is to show the importance of German culture on the United States. When I return, I can be a stronger teacher and create authentic classes about German culture from my experiences.”
Email message changes plans
Schneeman, who grew up in Mendota Heights, Minnesota, originally was an alternate for the Fulbright teaching assistantship. For the past several months, Schneeman worked as a teacher at a German immersion preschool with plans to attend graduate school in Germany in October.
“I was working at the preschool when I heard my phone sound with an email message,” Schneeman says. “I looked down and only saw, ‘Fulbright. Congratulations!’ Immediately, my heart dropped and my face turned red — I was totally gobsmacked!
Schneeman was given one week to decide whether to take the Fulbright teaching assistantship or continue with her graduate school plans.
“Gratefully, a professor and my grandmother encouraged me to take this once-in- a-lifetime opportunity because grad school can always wait,” Schneeman says. “With that, I am excited to see what I will learn during this Fulbright year that I can apply in my graduate program.”
Schneeman studied abroad in Marburg in spring 2020 and found she liked that Germany’s education system differs from the U.S. system.
“During my internship while abroad in Marburg, I discovered that I deeply enjoy teaching English in a foreign context,” Schneeman says. “Not only was I able to apply my linguistic knowledge, but it was also entertaining to just talk about different topics, learn the opinions of my students, hear people argue in English when they found differences and hear students rejoice when someone successfully used a grammatically complex sentence. It’s all about fulfilling goals and being able to communicate with groups of people you were not able to understand before.”
Dr. Martina Lindseth, professor emeritus of German, called Schneeman among the “most talented and well-rounded students I’ve had the privilege to teach and mentor during my long career at UWEC.”
Schneeman embodies the Fulbright mission intended to increase mutual understanding between people through the exchange of knowledge, skills and perspective.
“MK personifies a perfect combination of talent, intellectual curiosity and work ethic,” Lindseth says. “MK has a wonderful presence in class and is both a team player and a leader. Her positive attitude and enthusiasm are inspiring and contagious.”
Schneeman worked closely with Tom Carlson, a lecturer in UW-Eau Claire’s Intensive English Program in the department of languages, as a tutor for his English as a second language students. Carlson says Schneeman has an impressive knowledge of linguistics, is reliable and has a great sense of responsibility when working with students.
“I’m sure this job will give her the chance to build her repertoire of skills for classroom management, lesson planning, etc., and give her a taste of what it’s like to be a team member full time — all while working on her German skills, which is a challenge and an opportunity which cannot be overestimated,” says Carlson, who was a Fulbright recipient in 1988-89 in Germany. “I think Mary Kate is very well-prepared for this task, but I know firsthand how challenging it can be to be learning new job skills while learning the language at the same time.”