Noelle Brooks, senior international studies major, and Marena Coonrod, a graduate in special education, were selected as Fulbright students, which allows them to teach English abroad.
“It is probably the most prestigious federally funded grant program that exists in the United States,” said Michael Makara, chair of the Fulbright Committee.
Makara said the purpose for the program is for the government to send the best and the brightest abroad in the U.S. to basically promote cross-cultural dialogue with other parts of the world. He said it’s aimed at promoting an understanding between the U.S. and other countries.
Makara said it either funds a year of research or a year of teaching English as a teaching assistantship. Brooks will be teaching English in Mexico and Coonrod will be in Malaysia.
“I view this grant as an opportunity to grow and develop and ultimately lead me to figuring out what I’m truly passionate about,” Brooks said. “Living in a different county and culture can be very challenging. However, these challenges and the overall experience will prepare me to be a more confident individual in every facet of life.”
Brooks said she has always been very passionate about education. She said at UCM she helped promote programs such as the Peace Corps, AmeriCorps and study abroad.
“I have had some prior experience teaching English in foreign countries and loved that I was able to help students who were trying to be more competitive in a globalized world,” she said. “I think what really inspired me to apply to Fulbright as an English teacher is the fact that I would be able to experience another culture by being completely immersed.”
She said although her main job will be to teach English it will be just as important to challenge the misconceptions about Americans and the U.S. that students might have while also challenging the misconceptions about Mexico that Americans might have.
Makara said Brooks was a student the Fulbright application is looking for. He said the department noticed her potential right away.
“It was no surprise to anyone that she got this. If there was anyone who deserved it, certainly it was her,” he said. “When Noelle came in, it was clear to everyone in this department that she was going to be one of our star students…She really had that experience that Fulbright likes to see.”
Makara said he did not work with Coonrod in the process, but knew she is someone who deserved the Fulbright grant.
“From what I could tell just in my brief interactions with her she was incredibly driven, someone who knew why she wanted to go abroad and can articulate a very compelling case in her application,” he said. “She could articulate a motivation for pursuing this opportunity that was just very compelling, and it’s no surprise that she was selected as well.”
Coonrod said she is excited about this opportunity and she hopes she can reach the special needs community in the area to bring light on how to educate them.
“I know this will help me to be more resourceful in my teaching and meeting their needs,” she said. “Upon returning I am hoping to snag a scholarship for graduate school because of the Fulbright.”
She said while she is in Malaysia, she is going to be running two English camps to shed light on their culture. She said she will be teaching and working with an after-school program.
“I hope to bring my culture to life while also embracing theirs and the diversity between them.”
Coonrod said she is nervous about flying to Malaysia, but excited for the trip.
“I am most excited to be around another culture and be given so many oppurtunites to travel,” Coonrod said.
Makara said having this opportunity will help Brooks and Coonrod immensely for their future endeavors.
“When you have Fulbright at the top of your resume, it sets you a part on any single job application or graduate school application that you apply for,” he said. “I have no doubt that whether they want to apply for a federal government position or a teaching position or work for a non-profit…that experience will provide a leg-up on any application they apply for.”
Makara said when he was in grad school, he went to Jordan, Western Aisia, with Fulbright where he completed his dissertation work.
“The opportunity is life changing. I tell people to this day that not only academically but who I am as a person has been shaped immensely by that opportunity to get out and see the world and to really do good in the world.”
He said while he was in Jordan, his roommate, a from Kansas who went to Kansas University, received incredible opportunities because of the experience with Fulbright.
“This is not someone who grew up with a silver spoon in his mouth or anything like that,” Makara said. “He was a hard-working student who had Fulbright on his resume and he applied for graduate schools while in Jordan…He got full rides to graduate programs at Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Barkley, Texas. He had his pick of where he wanted to go. I have no doubt that Noelle and Marena have a similar fate waiting for them when they’re done with their opportunities.”
Editor’s Note: This post has been updated. In a previous version, Michael Makara’s name was misspelled.