2017 Pomona Fellowship Award Winners

Olivia Zalesin, Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship to France

Olivia Zalesin

Why did you choose to apply for a Fulbright ETA grant? What made you choose your host country?

As a public policy analysis major with a concentration in politics, I have focused mainly on education and immigration policy. My interest lies in understanding how countries can best educate students to be responsible citizens if these students are new to the country, or do not speak the country's dominant language. I hope to build a career in education policy, and found that the Fulbright ETA grant to France would be an ideal way to gain valuable teaching experience while learning how France, a country with a highly diverse student population, approaches education for these youth.

Briefly describe the work you will be doing and how you plan to get involved in the local community.

I will be working as an English Teaching Assistant at a high school in a suburb of Lyon. I plan to engage students in a club celebrating multicultural musical heritage, work with a charitable organization for refugees, and interview French educators about their teaching methods.

What are you most looking forward to about your time as a Fulbright fellow?

I am most looking forward to being in a classroom and engaging with students. I am also looking forward to utilizing my French language skills and immersing myself in a new city.

How have your experiences at Pomona prepared you to apply for this fellowship?

Before applying for the Fulbright ETA, I had a well-developed understanding of education policy in the U.S. from my public policy analysis courses. From my French courses, I had an understanding of the unique French education system and the challenges the country faces in integrating its immigrant population. I was able to bring together these two sets of knowledge to present a cohesive proposal for how I would spend my Fulbright year and how it would further my academic and professional development.

What advice would you give future applicants about the application process?

I would recommend that future applicants start early on their personal statements and statements of grant purpose. I would also say to a future applicant: "If it doesn't write, it's a good sign that you need to rethink your proposal."

Jennifer Lopez, Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship to Colombia

Jennifer Lopez

Why did you choose to apply for a Fulbright ETA grant? What made you choose your host country?

When I returned back from studying abroad in Santiago, Chile, I knew I wanted to pursue an opportunity to live and work in Latin America after graduation. On campus, I have been involved with the ESL Tutoring (English as a Second Language) program through the Draper Center and thought an ETA experience would be a natural extension of the skills and teaching experiences I learned as an ESL tutor. I chose Colombia because the ETA program there allows us to work with university students and I’ve always wanted to live in Colombia since my family is originally from there.

Briefly describe the work you will be doing and how you plan to get involved in the local community.

My primary purpose is to assist faculty at the university with their English language classes. In addition, ETAs are expected to participate in a social project. Though I have some ideas about volunteering with organizations that serve Colombia’s internally displaced populations, my project won’t be finalized until I meet my university partners.

What are you most looking forward to about your time as a Fulbright fellow?

I am looking forward to immersing myself in the university community through teaching and possibly taking classes as well. I am also very excited about living in Colombia, speaking Spanish all the time, and exploring my cultural identity further as the daughter of Colombian immigrants. I have a feeling I’m going to love my experience living and teaching there.

How have your experiences at Pomona prepared you to apply for this fellowship?

Through my Spanish, history, and politics classes focusing on Latin America, I have developed the language skills and contextual knowledge to assist me in understanding my host country’s history and politics. My study abroad experience was crucial in giving me the confidence that I could live and work in another country. I didn’t think I would love it so much given the uncertainty and unfamiliarity associated with living abroad. After my experience studying abroad in Chile, I look forward to the challenge of adjusting to life in Colombia.

What advice would you give future applicants about the application process?

Start thinking about Fulbright application process the summer before the fall application deadline. I started writing my two essays in the summer and continued to work on them in the fall. Try to get feedback from multiple perspectives from professors that know you well, to Jennifer Locke in the CDO, and writing fellows at the Writing Center. I also found it tremendously helpful and supportive to talk with peers who are also applying for Fulbright awards.

Ian Schiffer, Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship to Spain

Ian Schiffer

Why did you choose to apply for a Fulbright ETA grant? What made you choose your host country?

I chose to apply for a Fulbright ETA to Spain because of my experience as a teaching assistant in Copenhagen while studying abroad. In Madrid, I will be primarily responsible for Global Classrooms which is Model UN for English Language Learners. As a future social studies teacher within LA, I hope to learn from the students in Madrid through the program and bring a similar program back to the school I will teach in within LA. I also believe that students, when discussing politics, have a powerful ability to think outside of what is 'politically probable' in favor of what is just; in Copenhagen, the students proposed better alternatives to the systems that are built upon injustice.

Briefly describe the work you will be doing and how you plan to get involved in the local community.

I will be an assistant teacher facilitating the Model UN program. I also will be doing a community project within Madrid working with unemployed youth and students doing critical mentoring whether both the unemployed youth and students are contributing to one another's growth. Moreover, I plan on embedding myself in Spanish politics through their leftist party, Podemos, attempting to soak in as much as I can. I also hope to volunteer with an organization called SOS Racismo, an anti-racist organization in Madrid.

What are you most looking forward to about your time as a Fulbright fellow?

I am most looking forward to learning from the students that I am extremely eager to meet. Whenever I am fortunate to have the opportunity to teach or volunteer with students, I always learn more than I am able to give; the power of student knowledge and expertise is incredibly diverse and probative.

How have your experiences at Pomona prepared you to apply for this fellowship?

My professors at Pomona and their radical love and empathy that they have displayed in their pedagogies and actions have helped me. I have learned to listen more and be proximate; Pomona is not always the easiest place for people, I will approach all of my experiences with a critical lens and think about my positionality within 'idyllic' spaces in Madrid.

What advice would you give future applicants about the application process?

I would heavily suggest talking to as many folks that have done Fulbright in the country that you are interested in and asking them for their essays, advice, and picking their brains. Also, there is an enormous and frustrating waiting period between applying and hearing back which can be stressful; pretend like it doesn't exist in the meantime and try not to stress about hypotheticals. If you don't get it, it in no way is a reflection on you.

Peter Chen, Fulbright Research Grant to China

Peter Chen

Why did you choose to apply for a Fulbright research grant? What made you choose your host country?

I decided to apply for a Fulbright research grant because I never had the opportunity to study abroad during my undergraduate years. Especially given my interest in Chinese thought, I felt the experience of living in China would be meaningful and critical for my work and studies.

Briefly describe the work you will be doing and how you plan to get involved in the local community.

I will be doing library and archival research in Hangzhou. My proposal was to continue my senior thesis on Feng Zikai, expanding to include broader considerations on the relationship between art and politics in Modern China. However, I know some of what exists in the archives, but not everything, and so a portion of my time there will be spent just figuring out the extent of the resources in China. There are a lot of materials that aren’t circulated in the US, due to past and current academic interests, and I’m excited to see what’s out there. In terms of local community, I planning on auditing classes at the university and trying to be involved in a local ceramics studio.

What are you most looking forward to about your time as a Fulbright fellow?

Besides food, hiking, and beautiful sights, I’m really excited to involve and immerse myself into life in China! I’m hoping to use and refine my Chinese skills while connecting with people that I share heritage with but also many far-reaching differences.

How have your experiences at Pomona prepared you to apply for this fellowship?

I think the academic experiences that I’ve had, along with the relationships I have fostered with various professors and people at Pomona gave me the aspirations to apply for this fellowship. I don’t know if I’m ready, to be honest, having not embarked upon my Fulbright yet, but Pomona provided me with an environment that allowed me to pursue my interests and grow as a person.

What advice would you give future applicants about the application process?

It’s been said again and again, but you should really start early. Even if you don’t know anyone in the country, cold emailing works! I just looked up people who I was interested in working with and just emailed them. Some don’t reply, but many do! Finding a project that you’ll still be interested in a year late is also really important. Don’t be scared off by the long application process; the CDO and professors have all proven to be very supportive and helpful.

Aurora Brachman, Fulbright Research Grant to Kiribati

Aurora Brachman

Why did you choose to apply for a Fulbright research grant? What made you choose your host country?

I knew I wanted to apply for Fulbright since my sophomore year at Pomona. My sophomore year I was awarded the Pacific Basin Institute documentary grant, which allows students to propose a concept for a documentary somewhere along the pacific rim and funds them to spend the summer filming that documentary. I had heard about this pacific island nation, Kiribati, that as a result of rising sea levels as a consequence of global warming, was predicted to be submerged under water within 30-50 years. I was pretty disturbed that what is happening in Kiribati has failed to widely penetrate the public consciousness and so I proposed creating a documentary that would bring a more intimate face to what is happening there in an effort to bring greater awareness to the issue. I had never made a documentary before although I have long been a documentary enthusiast and have always been involved in visual and performing arts.

My experience making my first film in Kiribati caused a paradigm shift in how I understand my world and pretty much affirmed to me that I wanted to be a documentary filmmaker as a profession. I loved every aspect of the process form building relationships with my film subjects to the tedious detail oriented editing process. I was also struck by what an incredibly wonderful place Kiribati was, I vowed that I would return to the country and to the friends I had made there at the first opportunity I got. When I returned to Pomona for my Junior year I created an independent study with a professor here to work alongside as I edited my film. The professor is a pacific islander herself and studies how to ethically conduct research with indigenous populations. As an outsider coming into this community I did not want to be perpetuating the colonizing institutions of knowledge that so often take from these communities and never give back. I struggled with what the utility of the film I had made actually had for the people of Kiribati. I wanted to return to Kiribati, now equip with more knowledge and a greater understanding of reciprocity, to make films about Kiribati that go beyond pity and can have a tangible beneficial effect on the lives of Kiribati people.

Briefly describe the work you will be doing and how you plan to get involved in the local community.

My Fulbright is an arts research Fulbright in film production to the pacific island nation of Kiribati. I will be creating a series of 8 short documentary style film portraits of people living in Kiribati and how they relate to the Kiribati phrase "tangiran abam", which is used to describe the intense love and longing Kiribati people feel for their home. Because I am certainly no expert of their experience, I want to act more as a mediator through which their lives and stories can be broadcast more broadly, not as a person imposing a story onto them. I will be making each film in collaboration with artists and scholars in Kiribati and will work jointly with each film subject to make the films. I will be creating a social media campaign surrounding the films and distributing them online as "viral videos". This is all in an effort to familiarize the world with Kiribati and allow others to develop the same love and respect I have for the Kiribati people after getting to know them as more than just some far off pacific island. The physical and mental distances between the rest of the world and Kiribati makes it easy to for people to put emotional distance between themselves and the horrible things that are soon to transpire there. I wanted to find a way to shrink these expanses and bring people face to face with Kiribati.

My hope is that when the Kiribati people must migrate elsewhere, the rest of the world will be familiarized with the Kiribati people and they will be welcomed with open arms. Given the present hostile climate towards refugees, I wanted to do something that might potentially ease the transition for the Kiribati people as they are forced to disperse throughout the world.

What are you most looking forward to about your time as a Fulbright fellow?

I am so looking forward to returning to Kiribati, I have dreamt of returning ever since I left 2 years ago. Very excited to see all of my friends there. I know it is going to be a very challenging year but I think its going to be a time of incredible personal growth and will affirm if documentary is something I do want to continue pursuing.

How have your experiences at Pomona prepared you to apply for this fellowship?

My experience with my first grant truly changed my life so without that I would never be here. I have also had brilliant and supportive faculty and friends who have taught me and supported me throughout all of my documentary endeavors these last two years. I certainly would not be here without them.

I am also a psychology major and many of the clinical psychology experiences and training I received have been hugely beneficial in the documentary interview process.

What advice would you give to future applicants about the application process?

Find what you're passionate about and do everything you can to nurture that passion. Also start early, it takes so much longer than you'd expect!

Maya Kaul, Fulbright Research Grant to Finland

Maya Kaul

Why did you choose to apply for a Fulbright research grant? What made you choose your host country?

By the end of my time at Pomona, I realized my primary passion is to find ways to create and sustain a more equal US education system, in which all students have access to a high-quality education. The summer I applied for the Fulbright, I was teaching middle school students at a summer program designed to support low-income students of color, and was tremendously frustrated by so many ways in which schooling is done in the US. In particular, I was struck by the general disconnect between K-12 teachers and the creation of US education policy, and, relatedly, the relatively little social capital, support, and respect that such teachers have in American society in general. As I did more research on the Finnish context, I read about how they used policy change to rapidly transition to a more equal education system through an understanding that teachers must be sufficiently supported to make that sort of change possible. I realized just how insulated (and, ultimately, limited) my understanding of policy change had become when it came to education reform in the US. I chose to apply for a Fulbright research grant to Finland with the hopes that this research experience might give me the ability to exchange lessons between Finnish and US schools, and to think more critically about possibilities of change in the US context.

Briefly describe the work you will be doing and how you plan to get involved in the local community.

I will be working with Dr. Maija Aksela, the national Director of LUMA Centre Finland and Professor/Head of the Chemistry Education at the University of Helsinki, on a new pilot program of STEM-focused teacher training in Finland. The LUMA Centre ("LU" standing for the Finnish word for natural sciences, and "MA" for mathematics") was created in 2003 by the Finnish National Board of Education to respond to the nation's falling science education outcomes internationally. I will be working with Dr. Aksela on performing a national review of the LUMA Centre's teacher training pilot program, through a combination of interviews, surveys, and classroom observations with teachers and administrators across schools nationally. By synthesizing teacher experiences with the pilot program, the goal will be to evaluate and predict the effectiveness of the initiative, and look more generally and successful methods for training and supporting teachers. Given the large focus on speaking directly with educational stakeholders and physically being present in Finnish schools, the nature of my research with naturally allow me to immerse myself in the Finnish context. I am also excited that the Finnish Fulbright Commission is very intentional about pairing American Fulbright grantees with "buddies" (former Fulbright grantees from Finland to the US), in order to make the transition into Finnish life more comfortable.

What are you most looking forward to about your time as a Fulbright fellow?

I am really excited to be stepping outside of the American educational context to think more critically about the possibilities of education reform. In the world of international education research, Finland is often used as the perfect example of how a previously extremely unequal education system transitioned to one of the "highest-performing," and equal systems in the world. Very often, it is suggested that the US simply adopt the Finnish model of reform. No system is perfect though, and there are relevant differences in the Finnish and American political contexts, so I am looking forward to actually hearing the voices of those in Finnish classrooms to learning from their experiences, and sharing my own experiences from the US educational context.

How have your experiences at Pomona prepared you to apply for this fellowship?

As a Philosophy, Politics, and Economics (PPE) major, I was able to develop both qualitative and quantitative research methods from a variety of different academic discipline's perspectives. Through a SURP, I was able to work with a professor on an independent research project that I really had full discretion over, giving me the context and confidence to pursue my Fulbright research project. The diversity of research methods employed across my classes also taught me the necessity of balancing both large quantitative data work with centering individual, community narratives. Through my work directly in local schools with the Draper Center, I also learned so much more about the US education system than was possible through textbooks alone. The combination of these experiences has given me the skill-set and confidence to pursue this research fellowship, and also the awareness that this sort of work, where I will be conducting research on a context I have never personally experienced, must be performed in a mutually-beneficial way.

What advice would you give future applicants about the application process?

Like most applicants, I would suggest starting the process early. By that, I mean more than just starting the actual application process though. I think it is equally, if not more, important to make sure that the Fulbright (or any other fellowship, for that matter) is something that you truly want to do and that would make sense in your larger set of goals (career, life, etc.). Really think about what it is you hope to get from the experience, beyond just adding another thing on your resume, and whether or not you are comfortable/ready to launch into that experience. Given your own temperament, goals, etc., be intentional about which fellowship(s) you apply for. I think only once you have clear reasons, internally, about why you are applying, will it become clear in your application, why that particular fellowship is a good, mutual fit. Most of the applications are due at the beginning of senior year, when so many other senior year-related obligations begin building up, so you'll thank yourself for not wasting time on applications you know you could never see yourself doing. That being said, don't be afraid to push yourself out of your comfort-zone, if you're doing so for the right reasons!

Once you are settled on what you're applying for, start the process as early as possible. I underestimated just how much time and energy was required to find and establish a research contact internationally that directly matched my own interests. You have to be patient, though, and not be scared to send out a large number of cold emails. I eventually got into contact with my current research contact through another researcher in Finland that a researcher in another country who I had emailed put me in contact with. Even researchers who you might not find a perfect fit with may often know of other people who are. I also really benefited from asking the advice of researchers domestically in the US who I knew had conducted education-related research in Finland. I was really surprised and grateful at how helpful some professors at other universities were in providing my general advice and working to find me contacts, after having only ever communicated over email.

Krista Rutz, Fulbright English Teaching Assistant to Germany

Krista Rutz

Why did you choose to apply for a Fulbright ETA grant? What made you choose your host country?

I am very excited to teach English as a lover of language-learning and someone who is passionate about the role of education in development, and the Fulbright seemed like the perfect opportunity to combine my interest in teaching with my desire to live and work abroad.

I decided to apply for a Fulbright ETA grant both as an opportunity to return to where I studied abroad and deepen the relationships and immersion experience that I'd already begun. When my plans to apply for Turkey changed due to political unrest in the country, I began thinking about Germany as a destination for many migrants from Turkey and the greater region.

Briefly describe the work you will be doing and how you plan to get involved in the local community.

I will be working as a Teaching Assistant in a classroom for students in middle to high school level English classes. My particular assignment as part of the Commission's Diversity Program means that I will be placed in a school serving a higher number of minority and immigrant families. While my day-to-day activities will be focused on designing lessons, building relationships with students, and teaching both English language and American cultural studies, I plan to be involved in a local refugee center, taking classes in German and Turkish, and joining a spiritual community in a local church. I also hope to work on a community art project for the youth from my school and the surrounding area, which will take shape once I am more familiar with the issues facing the community.

What are you most looking forward to about your time as a Fulbright fellow?

I am looking forward to getting to know the global city of Berlin and its inhabitants, as well as building fluency in German. I have loved every chance I get to grow new roots in a new place, and I expect that my year in Berlin will be no different. I am especially honored to be able to be in Europe during such a historically and politically tumultuous time but one in which I hope that my presence can make a positive impact on a small scale to my students. And finally I know that no matter what my expectations are going in, I am excited and ready to meet the unexpected (people, learning opportunities, self growth, and mishaps-turned-adventures) that will come on the way!

How have your experiences at Pomona prepared you to apply for this fellowship?

My experiences working as a Jumpstart Corp Member in local education in Montclair as part of my work study has helped me develop classroom management skills and allowed me to think critically about the roles of teachers from outside of the community and the impact they can have, both positive and negative. I have learned more about what it means to be American and what it means to speak English through my experiences of studying abroad, taking linguistics classes and studying international relations, and by being welcomed into the international student communities in Claremont.

What advice would you give future applicants about the application process?

I would advise future applicants to be adventurous and apply to places that will stretch them as people while also being realistic about the consistency of the job with their personal and academic goals, and bearing in mind the number of ETA grants that are actually given out. Balancing your own qualifications for the job with the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to study and travel is important to getting the position and being genuinely excited to take it on. I am not going to teach English as a way to fund my travels, but because I really enjoy teaching and language study and because I think the particular time and place of this grant are especially appropriate to my personal context.