SPRINGFIELD, Ohio – As Commencement nears and another year concludes at Wittenberg University, two seniors are looking to begin a new scholarly journey, thanks to the prestigious Fulbright Program, which recently recognized them with awards.
Allison Helmuth, class of 2007 from Orrville, Ohio, and Andrew Scarponi, class of 2007 from Akron, Ohio, will head overseas after graduation, quickly exchanging cap and gown for intense study and research as part of the flagship international education program sponsored by the U.S. Department of State.
As a Fulbright Scholar, Helmuth, an English major, will investigate the sustainability of urban poultry farming in Kingston, Jamaica.
"I became interested in studying Jamaica's agricultural sector specifically through a philosophy course titled Ethics of Economic Development taught by [Assistant Professor of Philosophy] Miguel Martinez-Saenz," Helmuth said. "The class gave me a solid foundation to begin thinking critically about the systems of power and commerce we support as a nation, and how they affect people all over the world."
Helmuth plans to focus specifically on the life experiences of men and women currently conducting farming in the country's capital city.
"By means of qualitative research, my goal is to identify the difficulties confronting farmers and their communities, and to suggest possible ways in which these might be usefully addressed," she said.
Active in her community and on a global scale, Helmuth completed a service-learning internship with the Independent Jamaica Council for Human Rights in 2006, during which she made a presentation at the independent research symposium hosted by the University of the West Indies. Closer to home, Helmuth served as a creative writing instructor at the Clark County Jail, where she helped female inmates find their voice through the written word.
As she looks back at her Wittenberg career, Helmuth credits Martinez-Saenz and David Barry, associate professor of languages, for challenging her to push herself and encouraging her to pursue her interest in cross-cultural engagement and economic development.
"I have admired Dr. Martinez-Saenz's commitment to social justice both inside and outside the classroom, as well as his engagement with the community," she said.
As for Barry, Helmuth said he mentored her "on matters as various as how to speak the language of the academy, how to craft writing in a way that is both concise and powerful, and how I might stay encouraged in pursuing the grant."
Helmuth eventually plans to complete a post-graduate degree in the field of development and then work as a practitioner. For now, she is "committed to being an emphatic listener and student of the culture, hopefully gaining a fuller understanding of the Jamaican context and the politics of development."
Scarponi, an East Asian Studies major, will travel to Chengdu, China, to study the functioning of open-air antiques markets.
"I wish to study their economic behavior and the way negotiation is conducted and prices are set," Scarponi said. "Ultimately, I hope to see whether these bazaars can offer any insight into the economic behavior of Chinese culture, which may help understand the actions of Chinese firms on a national and even international level."
Scarponi previously studied abroad in China while at Wittenberg, and the experience solidified his interest in this area.
"After I returned to America, I kept thinking about that process of bargaining when you don't really know what you're buying and what its worth, and I realized that the problem was hardly unique to me," he said. "The more I thought, the more I realized that this must be an essential feature of these kinds of markets, and a fascinating subject for research."
The associate editor of the internationally recognized East Asian Studies Journal, produced entirely by Wittenberg students, Scarponi has already put his love of research to work, writing two papers during his Wittenberg tenure. In 2005, he presented "Cultural Hybridity and Diaspora in the 8th Century Xian" on campus as part of the $1.9 million Freeman Foundation grant awarded to Wittenberg's East Asian Studies Program. He is currently co-writing a paper with Christine Schirr, class of 2007 from Lake Forest, Ill., titled "Understanding & Attitudes of Chinese College Students About Exercise, Nutrition and Eating Disorders."
Following his study in China, Scarponi plans to publish his research findings in an academic journal. He then plans to pursue post-secondary studies in either behavioral economics or economic anthropology.
Intent on increasing "mutual understanding between the peoples of the United States and other countries through the exchange of persons, knowledge and skills," the Fulbright Program has recognized more than 275,000 individuals for their leadership potential and academic merit since its founding in 1946.
Since 1996, nine Wittenberg students have received prestigious Fulbright scholarships, joining the long list of prominent Fulbright alumni, including Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, author Jonathan Franzen, opera singer Renee Fleming and other leading Americans in all fields.
Written By: Karen Gerboth