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15 ND students awarded national fellowships

| Friday, May 13, 2016

15 graduating seniors have received awards from the prestigious Fulbright U.S. Student Program. This program provides grants for individually-designed study, research projects or English Teaching Assistant Programs.

According to its website, the Fulbright Program “facilitates cultural exchange through direct interaction on an individual basis in the classroom, field, home and in routine tasks, allowing the grantee to gain an appreciation of others’ viewpoints and beliefs, the way they do things and the way they think.”

The awardees for Fulbright study and research grants were Lauren Antosz, Rose Doerfler, Charlie Ducey, Savannah Kounelis and Andrew Scruggs. The awardees for English Teaching Assistantships were Whitney Bellant, Bridget Galassini, Adam Henderson, McKenzie Hightower, Zachary Horne, Ray’Von Jones, Emily Migliore, Monika Spalinski, Luke Wajrowski and Kyle Witzigman.

Witzigman, who is an honors political science major and a member of both the Hesburgh-Yusko Scholars Program and Glynn Family Honors Program, said he was inspired to apply for the fellowship partially due to multiple research and travel opportunities he had at Notre Dame during his undergraduate career.

“Notre Dame’s support and funding allowed me to teach and intern with non-governmental organizations in Hanoi, Vietnam during two separate summers,” he said. “I attended a higher education conference in Bac Ninh province last summer and was intrigued by the relationship between an education and an education system. Fulbright provides a window in which I can learn about the nuance of a culture and of a student perspective by teaching in a classroom.”

Witzigman said he has four goals for his time in Vietnam.

“One, learn how to cook Vietnamese food. Two, improve my Vietnamese language skills. Three, play football with a câu lạc bộ and make a fool of myself,” he said. “And four, say yes more often than not.”

Ducey and Wilson both received the Austrian Teaching Assistantship, which “provides prospective teachers of German and/or graduates with an interest in Austrian studies with opportunities to work at secondary schools throughout Austria,” according to CUSE.

Other awards included funding for abroad graduate programs.

Grefenstette, who is a theology major in the Hesburgh-Yusko Scholars Program and Glynn Family Honors Program, received full funding for a one-year Master’s of China Studies program at Yenching Academy, a prestigious college within Peking University.

According to Dr. Jeffrey Thibert, interim director and assistant director of national fellowships at CUSE, the graduating classes of recent years have seen increasing success in regards to national fellowship applications, especially the Fulbright U.S. Student Program.

“We have also seen increasing success more generally for Notre Dame undergraduates. … Not only have we had a Rhodes Scholar for two consecutive years, but also we have had larger numbers of finalists for other major fellowships, like the Marshall Scholarship and Luce Scholarship,” Thibert wrote in an email.

Among the graduating class, six students were awarded fellowships from the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program (NSF GRFP), and two were named Honorable Mention. According to CUSE, the fellowship provides funding for research-based study leading to a master’s or doctoral degree in the fields of science, engineering, technology, math or social science. The National Science Foundation received over 17,000 applications for the 2016 competition, and made 2,000 fellowship award offers and 2,908 honorable mentions.

“I believe that this increasing success is indicative of an upward trend for fellowships outcomes for Notre Dame students and alumni, as it is now clearer than ever that our students and graduates can hold their own in the competitions for these prestigious opportunities,” Thibert said.

The awardees included Kenzell Huggins, Brian Keene, Ellen Norby, Joseph Norby, Toby Turney and Melanie Wallskog. Jesse David Suter and Zoe Volenec received Honorable Mention awards.

Wallskog, who is an honors economics and ACMS major in the Glynn Family Honors Program, expressed the flexibility that the NSF’s GRFP will provide her going forth as she pursues an economics Ph.D at Stanford University in the fall.

Having been a part of several economics research projects, some of which were with the Wilson Sheehan Lab for Economic Opportunities, Wallskog naturally found graduate school to be her next step, she said.

“My ND economics professors highly recommended that I apply for the NSF GRFP as part of my journey towards my economics Ph.D,” Wallskog said in an email. “The GRFP is extremely valuable for three reasons — it provides three years of grad school funding, it allows you to focus on research during those three years … and it sends a big signal in your grad application that you are a valuable applicant.

“The GRFP allows me a lot of research flexibility at Stanford, since it encourages me to focus on my own research, rather than teaching or researching solely for faculty members. Furthermore, having the GRFP opens up opportunities for me with the NSF; they have additional funding resources and programs that are particularly available to GRFP recipients,” Wallskog said.


According to Thibert, besides graduating seniors, CUSE is seeing increased alumni success in applying for national fellowships as well.

“For some, it makes sense to wait an extra year or two to apply for something like the Rhodes or Fulbright, because it gives them more time to develop a record of achievement that demonstrates that they are already making a difference with regard to a field of study or social issue,” he said. “First, we would like to see more alumni applying for national fellowships. Second, alumni can work with CUSE on their applications. Third, nearly all fellowships allow you to apply multiple times, so I would encourage most people to apply as graduating seniors and as alumni — in fact, both of our most recent Rhodes Scholars were re-applicants.

“An undergraduate education characterized by scholarly engagement [and] applying what is learned in the classroom to make a meaningful impact on the world, is key to success with national fellowships, and CUSE’s primary role is to help students identify and pursue these opportunities. ... CUSE has had great success in recent years, and we look forward to building on that momentum in the years ahead.”

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