It is a record year for Fulbright awards at Geneseo, with four students receiving the competitive study abroad scholarship out of the six who applied. Senior Rebecca Miller, senior Hannah Pruch ‘14 and John Carlson ‘13 each received English teaching assistantships through the Fulbright scholarship program. Senior Christina Mortellaro is an alternate for the same award.
According to the United States Department of State’s website, the Fulbright program is designed to foster communication and understanding between individuals in the U.S. and other countries. The U.S. government sponsors the program.
Miller, who will be stationed in Senegal, learned that she enjoyed traveling when she studied abroad in South Africa in fall 2013. “I like how this program marries language and teaching and culture,” she said.
Miller is an English literature major with French and Black studies minors and is an Edgar Fellow. Assistant professor of French Kodjo Adabra—who leads a summer program in Senegal—also inspired Miller to apply.
Former Geneseo visiting assistant professor of English Beyazit Akman influenced Pruch to apply for a Fulbright to teach in Turkey—Akman’s homeland—and is now teaching again. According to Pruch, Akman himself first came to the U.S. on a Fulbright and encouraged her to apply to serve in Turkey because of her interest in global literature.
An English and communication double major and an Edgar Fellow, Mortellaro became interested in Czech culture after taking an honors seminar titled “Women in Central and Eastern Europe.”
Now an alternate for teaching in the Czech Republic, Mortellaro is in line to serve should a spot open up. “Working there is different from just studying in the country because you’re fully immersed with the people around you and that culture,” she said.
According to a press release on the Geneseo website, Carlson graduated in May 2013 with a degree in psychology and a minor in philosophy and will teach in Poland.
Though none of the award recipients are education majors, several have worked as teaching assistants during their time at Geneseo.
“Working at the writing learning center and being a TA were what really helped [prepare] me,” Mortellaro said. “I led classes in a lower-level creative writing course, so I know what it’s like to actually get up in front of a class and talk.”
Teaching and working in a foreign country are key parts of the program. “The Fulbright program is different from other organizations who do gap year programs, which are often more, like, ‘Go help,’ whereas this is more about facilitating a discussion,” Miller said.
Professor of English and scholarships and awards advisor Melanie Blood agreed that Fulbright is different from most other programs, noting that a Fulbright scholarship “is extremely flexible.”
“Anyone from any major who wants to study abroad for a year, fully and very generously funded, can apply for a Fulbright,” she added.
According to Blood, President-elect Denise Battles’ husband Michael Mills will take over scholarship advising as a staff position in fall 2015. Mills currently serves in a similar position at University of North Carolina Wilmington, where he is also an English professor.
Though she has enjoyed several years of teaching half-time while also advising awards applicants, Blood expressed her excitement to return to a full-time teaching position. “I’m going back to teaching [full-time] because I … just really miss being in the classroom,” she said.
Blood and Mills will be working together with student applicants over the summer until Mills fully takes over in the fall. Meanwhile, the Fulbright recipients whom Blood helped apply will prepare for their journey.
Miller and Pruch both emphasized the power of their experience in the program to determine their futures.
“I’m hoping this will be a growth experience for me where I’ll get to see how I function in a different environment and … come out with a better knowledge of myself, my goals and my capacities,” Miller said.
“I think it’s really just going to show me more possibilities that I can’t even anticipate right now,” Pruch added. “I’m very confident that it’s going to push me in a direction that’s perfect for me. I just don’t know where that’s going to be.”