Springfield, Ohio — Graduation is a time of celebration – but also uncertainty – for most college students. Not so for Wittenberg University students Emily Heidrich, class of 2008 from West Chester, Ohio, and Inge Williams, class of 2008 from Alpena, Mich., both of whom will cross the stage in scenic Commencement Hollow on Saturday, May 10, knowing boundless opportunity awaits during a year as English Teaching Assistants in the prestigious Fulbright Program.
Heidrich and Williams will both spend the next year in Germany, teaching English while also furthering their own ambitious educational pursuits. Wittenberg has now had 11 students receive Fulbright awards since 1996, including four in the last two years.
Heidrich, who double-majored in German and Spanish, plans to gain practical teaching experience while learning German pedagogical techniques for foreign language. She is interested in psycholinguistics, which is the study of how people learn language, and this study abroad experience – different from her semesters in Spain and Germany as an undergraduate – will help her determine a professional direction.
"Even though my job as a teaching assistant will be to assist in the classroom and lead discussions, I know that the students will teach me as much as I will be teaching them," Heidrich said. "I look forward to having conversations about the true American culture, not just the pictures portrayed on sitcoms or in the news.
"I hope that the time I spend in Germany will enable me to refine my language skills and gain a deeper understanding of German culture, which will allow me, in turn, to share my insights with students in the United States."
Williams, who completed her education in December 2007 with a bachelor of arts in international studies with a German minor after spending a semester in Oman, plans to develop her own language skills in both German and Arabic. She expects the Fulbright award to further the lessons learned through a unique interdepartmental major that she developed through the philosophy, history and global studies departments.
"I hope to work toward my goals of mediation and cross-cultural understanding by teaching in a foreign language classroom," Williams said. "The Fulbright will give me valuable experience. It's the first step."
Heidrich, a member of the prestigious national honorary Phi Beta Kappa, received the Heimtraut Dietrich Award, which recognizes the student who displays extraordinary devotion to Wittenberg through faith and service, and the Kurt J. Fickert Award, which is presented to outstanding upperclass students majoring in foreign languages and literatures, at the 2008 Honors Convocation. Heidrich said her Wittenberg experiences, which included numerous extracurricular activities, have prepared her well for both the rigors of graduate studies and the challenges of a career.
"I might be interested in developing language curriculum for our schools in the United States," she said. "I feel that students should be learning languages before high school, when their natural ability to learn language is highest.
"If we could develop programs that will be easy to implement, our students will have a great advantage in our global market. German students start learning foreign languages at a young age, and it is a vital part of their studies. By observing the teaching methods in a different country, I will develop new ways of looking at the "typical" foreign language classroom in the United States."
Williams, who hopes to eventually attain a graduate degree in applied linguistics, credits David Barry, associate professor of languages, for helping her to find perspective. He was one of many Wittenberg educators that gave Williams the educational direction she needed.
"My experience at Wittenberg helped me to focus," said Williams, who previously studied in Germany as a high school exchange student. "I have a tendency to keep things broad, big picture. I had some wonderful guidance from professors who were willing to sit long hours and help me hone down what I wanted to study. They helped give shape to my focus and encouraged me to develop my own interests in creating the major and studying abroad.
"Now I know a general career direction – international mediation, and I know what I love – foreign language classroom."
The Fulbright Program was established in 1946 under legislation introduced by then Senator J. William Fulbright of Arkansas. Sponsored by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the United States Department of State, the Fulbright Program is described as "the largest U.S. international exchange program offering opportunities for students, scholars and professionals to undertake international graduate study, advanced research, university teaching and teaching in elementary and secondary schools worldwide."
Established to "enable the government of the United States to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries," the program awards thousands of grants each year, at a cost of more than $250 million. More than 275,000 individuals have been recognized for their leadership potential and academic merit since the program’s founding more than 60 years ago.
Written By: Ryan Maurer