West Virginia University has three Fulbright Scholars in the same year for the first time since 1983.
The three, Lisa Beans, a Masters of Fine Arts student from Kearney, Neb.; Jeremy Munza, a senior accounting and German double major from Idamay; and Stefni Richards, a senior international studies and Chinese studies double major from Shinnston, received notification from the United States Department of State and the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board earlier this month. They have not been awarded grants yet.
“We are so proud of these three students who were named Fulbright Scholars,” said WVU President Jim Clements. “When our students earn these kinds of honors, it brings great pride to our faculty and staff, who do such a great job mentoring students. Like seeing members of our family succeed, we are so proud of these students for their achievements. Their hard work at WVU and dedication toward learning about other cultures will benefit not only this University but the world as they travel abroad.”
It’s also the third time the University has had three Fulbright Scholars in the same year and fifth time it’s had multiple recipients since 1951. WVU has now had four Fulbright scholars in the last two years after having only one from 1993 to 2010. WVU now has 30 Fulbright Scholars.
“I am very excited about the strides WVU is making with regards to the number of Fulbright applicants and recipients of the award,” said Lisa DeFrank-Cole, director of the ASPIRE office at WVU. “It is a remarkable indication of the quality of our students to have multiple Fulbrighters in one year and we look forward to having many more competitive applicants in the future.”
The Fulbright Program is an international educational exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government. It is designed to increase mutual understanding between the United States and the people of other countries. Recipients of the Fulbright grants are selected on the basis of academic or professional achievement, as well as demonstrated leadership potential in their fields.
The program operates in more than 155 countries around the world. An estimated 310,000 individuals have participated in Fulbright programs since 1946.
For more information on the Fulbright, visit http://fulbright.state.gov/.
Beans checked her email in the New Orleans airport following a Spring Break trip at 8:30 a.m. and saw the subject line and the word “Fulbright.”
Beans, who would like to become a professor and teach poetry, sat next to a bunch of strangers while waiting for her flight back north, and couldn’t really put the words together to describe the moment.
“I took a deep breath to prepare myself for disappointment, but it was the opposite,” she said. “I’m excited, because I know what it means and I know how big of a deal it is. I’m proud of myself.”
As part of the honor, Beans will travel to Poland and teach to students in Krakow one of the oldest cities in the country.
Beans admits she still can’t get used to the rolling hills of West Virginia. She misses the flat land of the Midwest and being able to see “from horizon to horizon.”
Her change of scenery allowed her to get the inspiration for her thesis. That’s why she wanted to leave Lincoln, Neb. following her undergraduate education at Nebraska Wesleyan.
“Being away from Nebraska for the first time, it allowed me to have a new perspective of the state when compared to West Virginia,” she said. “I’m excited to move to Poland, because it’s going to trigger in big flow of poems, because in some ways that’s how I deal with that experience and new culture shock.”
Beans doesn’t know Polish, and she’s never been that far away from home but said this is something she wanted to do to help expand her world knowledge.
“It probably came across that I was very motivated and dedicated. I did spend a lot of time on the application. I was really passionate about it,” she said. “I bet the experience will be similar from just packing my stuff and moving to Morgantown. Then, obviously, I’m moving to another continent that speaks a different language, so it will be a tough adjustment at first.”
Munza wouldn’t be where he is today if it weren’t for getting locked out of scheduling for a Spanish class.
Munza, who never had experience in German but had an overall interest in foreign languages, joined a friend of his in a German class early on in his undergraduate career. He fell in love with the language and changed his career path because of it.
Munza will head to Germany to teach English from September through June as part of the Fulbright Scholarship.
He found out on March 29 via an email while he was sitting at his desk at Key Logic where he interns.
“I yelled and jumped up from my desk. I was just hoping it wasn’t some type of early April Fool’s Day joke,” he said. “Honestly, I was happy as a finalist, and when I got the email, I was relieved, excited, proud and now I’m a little anxious for summer to end.”
Munza gained some contacts when he traveled to Germany last summer.
“Whenever I went over for the first time, I was overwhelmed. Afterword, I felt really good about it, though, because we had to speak German,” he said. “I have a lot of contacts in Germany now, and I feel better prepared to head over.”
“I have a lot of working experience, so I think that helped me a lot. I’ve got some experience in Germany, which is useful, as well. I was always hoping a small-town guy could do something big, and I think this opportunity allows me to do that.”
When he started at WVU, he wanted to end up as a lawyer in corporate law, but with the German background he would like to work for a company like Bayer, BMW or Mercedes-Benz in Washington D.C. and Charlotte with opportunities to consult in Germany.
“I want to use my German skills. I want to bolster those and be able to help the trade or something else between America and Germany,” he said.
Ever since she can remember, Richards was interested in different cultures. She played with Asian Barbie Dolls, read up on indigenous tribes and was enamored with the stories her grandparents would tell her about in their trips to Asia.
“When I see a different culture, I don’t think, ‘hey, it’s a different culture.’ I want to know why it’s different. In a sense, I’m an explorer. I like to know a lot about the world around me,” she said.
“I’ve helped a lot of international students, and I’ve interacted outside of the American community here,” she said. “I’ve interacted with people from almost every country, and I’ve learned different cultures and customs that will last me through the rest of my life.”
In high school, she traveled to Asia and loved the culture. She had an affinity for the speedy economic growth and high development of populated areas. However, she said education in lesser populated areas is not up to par, particularly in foreign language.
Following her high school trip, she took two study abroad trips to Taiwan in the summer of 2009 and the fall of 2010. In 2009, she backpacked to Malaysia, as well. That’s where Richards will spend her time as a Fulbright Scholar. She will be an English teaching assistant for 20 hours a week and plans to teach younger children after-school programs to raise awareness of foreign language education.
“You have to use all of your energy to make sure that these kids learn, even if you end up making a fool out of yourself by singing and dancing,” said Richards, who has prior teaching experience with elementary and high school students in Taiwan. “If they can learn, then that’s the method you use.”
After the Fulbright experience, she wants to work to implement foreign language in early childhood education curriculum in the U.S. with help from research she gains in Malaysia.
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