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Record number of students at Illinois awarded Fulbright Scholarships


Melissa Mitchell, News Editor
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — A record number of University of Illinois students and recent graduates have been awarded scholarships by the Fulbright U.S. Student Program for the 2008-09 academic year. Two other candidates have been named alternates in the competition.

Sponsored by the Department of State, the program awards about 1,500 grants annually to U.S. citizens for use in more than 140 countries worldwide. The program is intended to promote cross-cultural interaction and mutual understanding through engagement in the host community on a one-to-one basis in an atmosphere of openness, academic integrity and intellectual freedom.

Grants are awarded in all fields of study, allowing recipients to design their own program and pursue one academic year of study or research. In addition, Fulbright English Teaching Assistantships are available to more than 30 countries. Fulbright grants generally provide funding for round-trip travel, maintenance for one academic year, health and accident coverage and full or partial tuition.

Fulbright selection committees rate candidates based on their academic or professional qualifications; the validity and feasibility of the applicant’s proposed project; evidence of maturity, motivation and adaptability to a different cultural environment; and the impression a candidate will make abroad as a citizen representing the United States.

“This year’s crop of Illinois Fulbright awardees really speaks to the overall strength and diversity of our student body,” said David Schug, director of the Office of Scholarships for International Studies.

“This year our Fulbright awardees and alternates came from the colleges of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences; Engineering; Fine and Applied Arts; Liberal Arts and Sciences; and Media,” said Laura Hastings, who co-directs the scholarship office. “Next year will find Illinois recipients carrying out their projects on five continents.”

Students selected to receive awards:

Elizabeth Buhe, Countryside, Ill., who plans to travel to Paris to take master’s-level courses and carry out archival research on the Musée Charles X of the Louvre. Buhe graduated magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa from the U. of I. in May with a bachelor’s degree in art history and French studies. At Illinois, she was a volunteer at the Krannert Art Museum and Spurlock Museum. She also served as president of the French-American Student Organization. Her research project is a continuation of her undergraduate honors thesis, which focused on understanding how the French Egyptologist Jean-François Champollion made ancient Egypt intelligible to the 19th-century French public. She will study his curation of the Egyptian wing of the Musée Charles X by examining newspapers, artifacts, French scholarship and unpublished documents.

Martha Erhard, Cary, Ill., who was awarded a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship in Germany. Erhard, a May 2008 graduate who majored in German and history, will assist in teaching English to students at a high school in Darmstadt.  She also plans to conduct archival research on the local history of the Hessen region of Germany, a project she hopes will form the basis of a master’s thesis. At Illinois, Erhard received the Goethe and Business German Student of the Year awards, volunteered as a tutor for elementary school students and coached a soccer team. In Germany, she will apply her history degree by familiarizing students with American history and culture as a means of improving their English language skills.  Erhard ultimately hopes to complete a doctorate in German and teach at the college level.

Charity Flener, Hartford, Ky., who plans to conduct research at Philipps-Universitat in Marburg, Germany. Flener is a doctoral candidate in chemistry studying with professors Gregory Girolami and Thom Dunning. Her Fulbright application was sparked by a June 2007 research visit to Philipps-Universitat supported by a Central European Summer Research Fellowship. Flener’s project involves using quantum mechanical models to study the breaking of carbon-hydrogen bonds, a key step in certain catalytic reactions. In Marburg, she will use advanced modeling techniques to study how transition metal complexes can break (and form) carbon-hydrogen bonds in hydrocarbons such as methane. Understanding the factors that enable such reactions will lead to better catalysts for energy production.  After completing her Fulbright, she hopes to continue her computational work as a college professor.

John Kolinski, Wheaton, Ill., has been awarded a Fulbright grant to join the physics of fluids research group at the University of Twente in the Netherlands. This group uses theoretical and experimental research to focus on turbulence in fluid mechanics. Kolinski received a dual degree in mechanics and mathematics from Illinois in May, after also taking some graduate-level courses. As a student, he studied abroad and interned in Germany during his sophomore year. At Illinois, he served on the Engineering Dean’s Student Advisory Committee and regularly presented his mechanics research work at departmental, college and national conferences. After receiving his doctorate, Kolinski plans to become a professor in fluid physics.

Hela Kotob, Bettendorf, Iowa, will spend the next academic year in Syria. A May graduate who majored in history (pre-medicine), Kotob will research medical ethics – in particular, end-of-life decision-making in Syria. She plans to research how Syrian history has shaped end-of-life decisions, investigate how medical students are taught ethics, and observe how doctors practice them. She will be auditing bioethics courses at the University of Damascus and shadowing doctors at two Damascus hospitals. At Illinois, Kotob was an active member of the Muslim Student Association, where she coordinated numerous outreach projects. Upon returning to the U.S., Kotob hopes to pursue a medical degree and begin practicing medicine domestically and internationally.

Lauretta Lacko, Hickory Hills, Ill., who will travel to the Westmead Institute for Cancer Research at the University of Sydney, Australia, to work with Dr. Christine Clarke. Lacko will study the role that progesterone plays in breast cancer and will continue her work in comparative health-care issues. The Westmead Institute is the only laboratory in the world that has developed a three-dimensional model of the normal breast that retains progesterone responsiveness. In May, Lacko received a bachelor’s degree in animal sciences with a minor in chemistry. She graduated as a James Scholar and Bronze Tablet Scholar. Upon her return to the United States, she will continue her studies in cancer at the Weill Graduate School of Medical Sciences of Cornell University.

Gordon Nangmenyi, Houston, who has received a Fulbright award to work at Tshwane University of Technology in South Africa. Pursuing a doctorate in materials science and engineering at the U. of I., Nangmenyi assisted in the discovery of a new class of highly effective antibacterial materials for water purification. During the tenure of his Fulbright, he will design and develop alternative water disinfection systems, which will be used in the rural areas of South Africa. He also is developing new systems capable of removing carbon dioxide from power plants. He hopes that this research, along with his work in South Africa, will lead to advancements in water and air purification and will have significant public health and public policy ramifications in countries throughout the world.

Tim Peters, Wheaton, Ill., who was awarded a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship in Argentina. He will be placed at an English Teacher Training College, where he will assist in the instruction of future English teachers. Peters hopes to engage with these future teachers by using English as a tool to express political criticism and interpretation. When not teaching, Peters plans to continue building his journalistic skills, which he cultivated at Illinois by writing and editing for various publications, including the news weekly “buzz,” “Mish Mash” magazine and “El Informador,” a Spanish-language newspaper for the local Latino community. Peters graduated in May as a James Scholar and Bronze Tablet Scholar, majoring in philosophy. He also studied for a semester in Spain and two summers in China.

Sam Schmetterer, Deerfield, Ill., who was awarded a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship to Indonesia. Schmetterer received a bachelor’s degree in music performance in May 2007 and a master’s degree in instrumental music education in December 2007. A percussionist, he spent a semester studying in Australia, where he had the opportunity to co-conduct the Melbourne University Wind Ensemble. In Melbourne, Schmetterer was introduced to Indonesian gamelan instruments, which led him to apply for the teaching assistantship in Indonesia. At Illinois, he played for the Champaign-Urbana Symphony orchestra and volunteered teaching music students at Urbana Middle School and Urbana High School. Schmetterer looks forward to a career as a music educator.

Jung (Josie) Sohn, Fullerton, Calif., who will return to South Korea on a Fulbright award to study the country’s film culture. Though she spent the first 12 years of her life in Korea, since then, she has not been back to the country for more than six weeks at a time. Sohn is a third-year doctoral student in East Asian languages and cultures and cinema studies at the U. of I. South Korean cinema is one of the most active frontiers in cinema studies today, and Sohn seeks to explore the contradictions in Korean film between its focus on nationalism and its movement toward greater transnationalism. Her Fulbright award will support her study of the South Korean media industry, and film consumption, areas she plans to focus on in her dissertation. After receiving a doctorate from Illinois, Sohn plans a career as a professor of film.

Jenette Sturges, North Aurora, Ill., who has been awarded an English Teaching Assistantship to Vietnam for the 2008-09 academic year. This is the inaugural year of the Fulbright teaching assistant award in Vietnam, where Sturgis will contribute to the teaching of English at the university level. A December 2007 graduate with a bachelor’s degree in religious studies, she nourished her broad interests in social justice and environmental issues by participating in five service trips through the Alternative Spring Break program. She also served as an editor for the Daily Illini student newspaper, and plans to write about her experiences in Vietnam for U.S. publications.

Also receiving a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship, to support work in Andorra, was another recent U. of I. graduate who requested to remain anonymous.

The Office of Scholarships for International Study is accepting Fulbright applications from U. of I. undergraduates entering their senior year, graduate students and recent alumni. Candidates must begin working on their applications this summer to apply for funding for study or research beginning in fall 2009.