CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Sixteen Illinois students and recent alumni are among the 1,900 U.S. citizens who will travel abroad for the 2015-16 academic year through the Fulbright U.S. Student Program. Recipients of Fulbright grants are selected on the basis of academic and professional achievement, as well as demonstrated leadership potential in their fields.
The U. of I. has consistently been among the top producers of Fulbright recipients in the U.S. The 16 University of Illinois applicants offered Fulbright grants include graduating seniors, master’s candidates, doctoral students and recent alumni from the colleges of Social Work; Liberal Arts and Sciences; Engineering; and Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences.
“This is the largest number of Illinois scholars to ever take part in the program,” said David Schug, the director of the National and International Scholarships Program at Illinois. “And I’m proud to say we’ve matched quality with quantity. We look forward to the future successes and accomplishments of these extraordinary students, both in their international studies and beyond.”
“Through the intensive cross-cultural experience it offers, the Fulbright program plays an incredibly important role in helping students become citizens of the world and in promoting international understanding,” said Ken Vickery, the director of the Office of External Fellowships at Illinois. Applications are open for students interested in pursuing studies, fine arts, research or English teaching assistantships under the Fulbright for the 2016-17 academic year.
Colin Anderson of Valley, Nebraska, recently earned a bachelor’s degree in linguistics with minors in Spanish and teaching English as a second language. He has been offered a Fulbright to teach English in Ecuador for the upcoming academic year. In his free time, Anderson hopes to contribute to his host community by offering preparation for the Test of English as a Foreign Language and other standardized tests. He also plans to learn more about ecotourism while in Ecuador. As a student at Illinois, Anderson has prepared extensively for his Fulbright year, serving as an intern at the Intensive English Institute and as a research assistant in a bilingualism lab. Post-Fulbright, he aims to earn a master’s in teaching English as a second language and to pursue full-time teaching positions at South American universities.
Michelle Asbill, of Los Alamitos, California, is a doctoral candidate in social work. She will conduct dissertation fieldwork in Bulgaria to uncover factors that help at-risk girls avoid going into prostitution. She developed her research interests during the four years she spent in Bulgaria as a community development worker with Greater Europe Mission, a nongovernmental organization dedicated to education and community development. She also worked with the Smile Bulgaria Foundation, an organization that serves institutionalized and orphaned teenaged girls. Asbill earned her MSW from the University of Wisconsin at Madison. She also earned a master's in European Union studies at Illinois and a master’s in European social work from New Bulgarian University.
Pooja Bag, of Naperville, Illinois, will teach English to university students in Laos. Bag recently earned a bachelors in bioengineering with honors as a Chancellor’s Scholar and James Scholar. She has spent a number of years conducting outreach to middle school students to promote the engineering and science disciplines. She has been active with the campus Model United Nations team, where she served as secretary general. Bag is fluent in Spanish, Hindi and Marathi, and studied abroad as a college student in Japan, Spain and Ecuador. She is interested in a career in health industry consulting, and seeks to enhance her intercultural communication skills through her time in Laos.
Valerie Brankovic, of Palm Beach Gardens, Florida will conduct qualitative research regarding how economic growth in central China has affected the division of household labor between couples in the city of Xi'an in Shaanxi Province. Prior to beginning her Fulbright grant, Brankovic will spend three months in Harbin for intensive Mandarin language training under a supplemental Critical Language Enhancement award. After spending her first two years at Illinois as a music major specializing in piano and studying German, Brankovic earned a bachelor’s in political science and twice studied abroad in China. She was active on campus with Model United Nations and also in her research, twice presenting work at the Midwest Political Science Association Conference.
Justin Chacko, of Des Plaines, Illinois, recently earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry and Spanish with a minor in molecular and cellular biology. He has been selected to teach English in Spain. Chacko brings considerable teaching experience to the grant, including as a chemistry teaching assistant at Illinois, for which he was named to the list of Teachers Ranked as Excellent for fall 2013. Chacko has also been honored with the Doremus Scholarship for students in chemistry. He has been studying Spanish since elementary school and currently volunteers as an interpreter at a healthcare center. Along with his teaching assignment, Chacko looks forward to volunteering in a medical setting and learning flamenco dance while in Spain. He plans to enter medical school after the Fulbright, and one day to become a professor of medicine.
Isabel Correa, of West Chicago, Illinois, has been offered a Fulbright grant to teach English in Germany. She earned a bachelor’s in Germanic language and literature and global studies. Correa was first exposed to Germany as a high school student on the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange. She looks forward to returning to Germany, this time as a teacher. At Illinois, she served as an English language conversation partner for a Chinese college student, taught English to youth in Ecuador for a summer and volunteered with the Consulate General of Mexico to assist adult Mexican citizens in filling out paperwork. In Germany, she hopes to organize sporting events and movie nights to help her students and other Germans in the community learn about American culture.
Julianna Dubin, of Oak Park, Illinois, recently earned a bachelor’s degree in linguistics and teaching English as a second language. She has been awarded a grant to teach English in Taiwan. In addition to her studies, Dubin has engaged in cross-cultural teaching in her work at GirlForward, a nonprofit organization in Chicago. She also founded the League of Linguists at Illinois. She speaks Mandarin Chinese and will continue her study of the language while in Taiwan. When she is not teaching, Dubin will give back to her host community by curating their oral history, inspired by the StoryCorps project. Post-Fulbright, she plans to teach English to refugees in the U.S. and to continue her lifelong pursuit of fostering intercultural communication.
Mark Frank grew up in Castries, St. Lucia, and Waxhaw, North Carolina. He is a doctoral candidate in the department of East Asian languages and cultures, where he specializes in modern Chinese history. He will conduct dissertation research in southwest China, studying the history of Xikang Province. Unlike most Chinese provinces, Xikang was ethnically diverse and had an altitudinal range of over 10,000 feet, creating unprecedented challenges for its public institutions. Though the province lasted only 15 years and has mostly slipped from popular memory, Frank's research aims to show that it served as a critical step in China's transition from an imperial to a modern nation. Frank earned a bachelor's degree at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, majoring in linguistics, and then a master's at Illinois in Asian studies.
Ana Martin-Ryals, of Ridgecrest, California, is a doctoral candidate in agricultural and biological engineering. She will conduct dissertation research in Barcelona, Spain, on ways to improve wastewater treatment. Barcelona houses the largest reverse-osmosis-based desalination plant in Europe, making the city particularly interesting for water research. Martin-Ryals’ research aims to help scientists and engineers design ways to sustainably reuse wastewater. She graduated summa cum laude from the University of Florida with a bachelor’s in agricultural engineering, and at Illinois she has been supported by a prestigious three-year National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship.
Michael Miller, of Geneseo, Illinois, is eager to spend his first time outside of the U.S. as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in Indonesia, where he will help instruct high school students in the English language and American culture. He graduated from Illinois in May 2013 with a bachelor’s and highest distinction in history. Miller has experience as a mentor for Big Brothers Big Sisters and in working with kids in a summer enrichment program. He is an avid reporter, having experience blogging and producing podcasts about football and history. He looks forward to bringing his technological recording skills to help enrich Indonesian classroom learning. Miller’s career goal is to become a historian with a teaching and research focus on Southeast Asia.
Joshua Shelly, of Oak Park, Michigan, is a master’s student in the department of religion. His Fulbright will send him to Germany, where he will conduct a one-year English teaching assistantship. He earned a bachelor’s in German and history from Wayne State University, then a master’s in library and information science from Illinois. Shelly plans to bring a variety of American musical genres – folk, Motown, hip-hop and pop – into the classroom, not only to help teach vocabulary but also to provide a window into American culture and history. Upon completion of the assistantship, Shelly will begin a joint Ph.D. program in German studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and at Duke University.
Kayla Smith, of Matteson, Illinois, recently earned a bachelor’s degree in creative writing with a minor in teaching English as a second language. She will teach English to high school students in South Korea. At Illinois, Smith devoted much of her time to helping English learners through tutoring and conversation partnering at the Intensive English Institute. Outside of her teaching, Smith will produce a video blog about perspectives on racial and cultural diversity in Korean society. She was an Illinois Promise Scholar and garnered additional scholarships from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and the English department. Upon her return to the U.S., she will obtain a master’s degree in teaching English as a second language and pursue an international career teaching English.
Agnes Sohn, of Chicago, is a doctoral candidate in anthropology who will conduct dissertation research in South Korea. She will investigate how young Koreans in their 20s and 30s are responding to rapid modernization. Her project will take her to Jeju Island off the coast of South Korea, a destination for those seeking to escape the capital city of Seoul. She will carry out fieldwork among two groups: those who are relocating to Jeju to work for high-tech companies, and those who are abandoning a corporate lifestyle to open small, local businesses. Sohn has taught English and traveled extensively in South Korea, and she already has carried out several months of preliminary research. Along with the Fulbright, Sohn won the prestigious Fulbright-Hays fellowship this year.
Jacqueline Sulisz, of Itasca, Illinois, earned her bachelor’s in teaching Spanish. She has been awarded the Fulbright to teach English in Brazil for the upcoming academic year. As an undergraduate studying abroad in Spain, Sulisz served as an English teacher to elementary students and most recently has worked as a Spanish teacher in Champaign, Illinois. She plans to devote much of her free time in Brazil to volunteering in a local crèche, a care center for young children. Sulisz plans to pursue a master’s in teaching English as a second language and to use the Portuguese skills she will gain in Brazil to expand the communities of English learners she can assist in the U.S.
Katharine Tyndall, of Waukesha, Wisconsin, recently earned a bachelor’s in linguistics with a minor in German. She has been awarded the Fulbright to conduct linguistics research at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Science in Leipzig, Germany. Her project will use temporal brain imaging to study language acquisition in children. She also has interests in environmentalism and plans to connect with a local sustainable living organization in Leipzig. She participated in exchange trips to Germany as a high school student and is currently studying abroad in Berlin. Tyndall was a participant in the James Scholar Honors Program at Illinois and was awarded the Liberal Arts and Sciences Preble Research Award in 2014. She intends to use her Fulbright findings as the basis for future Ph.D. research in neuroscience, with the goal of becoming a professor of linguistics or cognitive science.
Susan Zelasko, of Glen Ellyn, Illinois, recently earned a bachelor’s in molecular and cellular biology with honors. She has been awarded a Fulbright grant to conduct research on phage therapy, a method of treating antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections, in Poland. Outside of the lab, she plans to volunteer her time at an oncology center and to take piano lessons in her host city of Wroclaw. As an Illinois student, Zelasko was heavily engaged in research and in 2013 was one of only 29 American Heart Association Research Fellows in the U.S. She also was a participant in the James Scholar Honors Program. Following her Fulbright year, Zelasko will enter a combined M.D./Ph.D. program and plans to devote her career to advancing healthcare through microbiological research.