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Five New Fulbrights Awarded

May 25, 2019

Francis DuVinage and Leslie BriceSpring is award season in graduate education. And UMD had a very good year with five Fulbright recipients. Four current graduate students and one master’s alumna received this prestigious recognition--Rebecca Benzion ('16, MEd), J. Alex Porter, and Cara Slotkin, the Fulbright English Teaching Assistant award, while Shelby Hickman, and Margaret (Peggy) McWeeney, the Study/Research fellowship. The two doctoral recipients will conduct research overseas--Hickman will travel to Brazil to study labor trafficking interventions while McWeeney will go to the Philippines to investigate the nature of major rebel groups. The three master’s-level recipients, Slotkin, Porter and Benzion will teach English in Rwanda, Germany, and Turkey.

The national recognition of these graduate students' is not only good news for the students themselves, but also gratifying for the programs that nurture their talents, and the key office that supports their Fulbright candidacy. Each year, UMD's National Scholarships Office (NSO), headed by Francis DuVinage and Leslie Brice makes a significant effort to ensure the success of graduate students in many fellowship application processes.

Through strong and strategic recruitment initiatives and extensive student resources, NSO has successfully supported countless applicants and 23 graduate Fulbright recipients in the last five years. They offer scheduled and on-demand information sessions on campus. They work with graduate programs, associate deans, the Graduate School's Office of Funding Opportunities, and the UMD Fulbright Campus Committee to get the word out about various opportunities. An intense process that leverages social media strategies, NSO's recruitment efforts finally peak in late winter.

The new crop of applicants emerges late in the spring semester. During this time, every candidate meets with NSO to establish a time frame for the summer with key milestones. They are introduced to NSO's Fulbright resources on ELMS.  "We work first on the Statement of Grant Purpose, providing feedback one section at a time. Then, we will turn to the Personal Statement. It’s helpful to meet in person but we understand that many students are away during the summer, so we do much of our advising over email, Skype, and Google Hangout," says Leslie Brice, Assistant Director of NSO.

"It takes months to put together a competitive Fulbright application and so the ideal time for graduate students to start meeting with us is in the spring semester. Meeting early helps us understand the project and what students hope to accomplish. If there are any concerns, particularly with feasibility, it’s easier to make adjustments early in the process. Starting early is critical for designing and writing a compelling and feasible project statement, as well as for reaching out to potential affiliates in the host country," adds Brice.

In the last stage of the application process, graduate students meet with members of the UMD Fulbright Campus Committee, which is composed of faculty from diverse fields. This committee provides additional feedback so that candidates can make final revisions.

The result is a superb group of Fulbright (and other award) recipients each year. "The University did really well with graduate student awards this year. We are always pleased to collaborate with our graduate programs and NSO to recruit an exceptional class of fellowship applicants each year," remarks Jeffrey Franke, Assistant Dean of the Graduate School.

Two of this year's recipients are current educators in local public school systems. Slotkin, who has been teaching English Language Learners History in Cara SlotkinWashington, D.C.'s Theodore Roosevelt High School for the past four years, will teach English in Rwanda. "My hope is to continue to advance my knowledge of working with ESL students from all over the world, and techniques to create cultural awareness and global understanding in the classroom. In addition to my teaching responsibilites, I plan to study local drama and dance techniques to create performance art, blending Rwandan culture and language learning. I hope to create a cross-cultural experience in a space where students can dance and present monologues to the public," says Slotkin, a graduate student in the College of Education.

Benzion, a high school English teacher in the Montgomery County Public Schools, will be teaching at Uşak University in Uşak, Turkey forRebecca Benzion 2019-2020. In addition to her teaching duties, she plans to participate in a Turkish folkloric dance group, and volunteer in a program that assists women with self-development. After her Fulbright year, Benzion hopes to return to teaching using her enhanced pedagogical and cultural knowledge. "I am honored to have won this award, as it will not only enable me to do a job that I enjoy in a beautiful country, but it will also provide me with the opportunity to learn from my Turkish students and colleagues and their experiences while living there," says Benzion.

Hickman, a Criminology doctoral student, will be working with Federal Judge and professor Dr. Carlos Haddad to study the effects of an anti-trafficking law clinic in Minas Gerais, Brazil Shelby Hickmanon the successful prosecution of human trafficking cases, and to identify factors associated with successfully prosecuted cases. Over a period of about eight months, Hickman will also conduct focus groups, interviews and observations to identify important characteristics of the implementation of the law clinic. "I am grateful for the opportunity to complete my dissertation research and hopefully to build a research portfolio that can be expended beyond my PhD program. I am also enthusiastic about establishing long-term partnerships with researchers and practitioners in Brazil and to facilitate knowledge sharing between our institutions," observes Hickman.

Porter, a master's student in the German department, will be placed to teach somewhere in the state of Rheinland-Pfalz, Germany, close to Luxembourg and Belgium. His assignments will include J. Alex Porteraccompanying various English instructors to their classes to help facilitate English-language discussion, and then direct classroom teaching. In addition, Porter want to pilot an experimental teaching method that involves having students play tabletop role playing and board games. "I want this extracurricular teaching method to have the immersion of a language classroom without the same stakes or pressure that students usually experience," says Porter. "For all of us recipients, I think this award helps create a trajectory for our professional careers. By the time I complete the Fulbright program, I will have over four years of teaching experience at five schools in three countries and two languages. My hope is that such experience will enhance my professional network and as well as my background as I continue to teach. This is my second time applying for this award (the first was in 2016), and I feel immensely grateful and validated to be recognized for the work I have put in over the past three years. It feels good that others recognize my growth as a scholar, teacher, and German speaker. I look forward to learning more through the Fulbright experience," says Porter.

McWeeney, a PhD candidate in Government and Politics, will travel to the Phillipines to continue her research on conflict and rebel legitimacy. Her dissertation examines why Margaret (Peggy) McWeeneyrebels invest in legitimacy, whether these strategies are effective in gaining state concessions in and out of civil war, and whether they are effective in decreasing political violence. Prior to attending UMD, she worked as a federal consultant focusing on issues pertaining to the U.S. Intelligence Community. She has traveled extensively engaging in development work in both South Africa and India. "I am honored to be part of this year's UMD Fulbright group. I think for all of us the recognition is important to our professional careers by giving significant analytical leverage and credibility to our work. Personally, I hope my research abroad will help give a voice to the Filipino people and shed a light on some of their current and past struggles," says McWeeney.

"A Fulbright US Student Grant, in addition to enabling graduate students to enhance their thesis research with first-hand access to sources and sites abroad, provides them with unique opportunities to develop substantial real-world experiences collaborating with scholars, NGO's, policymakers, and local leaders in their areas of research. These experiences significantly expand grantees' knowledge, networks, and skill sets for pursuing internationally-oriented research, NGO, or industry career paths. An important aspect of our Fulbright advising process, particularly with PhD students, is to assist them in developing a broad and well-rounded understanding of the ways their focused research agenda can be related to the priorities and interests of their host nations abroad," says Francis DuVinage, Director of NSO.

(Photo credits: J. Alex Porter, Shelby Hickman, Peggy McWeeney, UMD NSO and Myers Photography)

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