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Seven Vassar Alumnae/i Receive Fulbright Fellowships

Savannah Smith ’19 will soon renew friendships she made in Cameroon when she studied there during her junior year. Nicolas Gedigk ’19 will connect with some of his relatives when he journeys to South Korea to teach English in a secondary school.

Savannah Smith ’19 and Nicolas Gedigk ’19 will journey to Cameroon and South Korea, respectively, as recipients of 2019 Fulbright Fellowships

Smith, Gedigk, and five recent Vassar alumnae/i will teach or do research in a total of six countries on three continents as recipients of 2019 Fulbright Scholarships. In addition to Smith and Gedigk’s awards, teaching fellowships were awarded to Mandy Chin ’18 and How Yu Chung ’18 in Taiwan, Mikayla Brennan-Burke ’17 in Greece, and Lars Odland ’17 in the Czech Republic. Sino Esthappan ’16 will pursue social and cultural anthropology research in the Netherlands.

The Fulbright Scholar Program is the flagship international educational and cultural exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government. It operates in more than 160 countries and is designed to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and those of other countries.

Vassar has been consistently recognized as one of the top producers of Fulbright Scholars among bachelor’s-degree institutions, said Lisa Kooperman, Director of Fellowships and Pre-Health Advising and Assistant Dean of Studies.

“Vassar has had 37 award recipients over the past five years—17 for English teaching assistantships and 20 for research grants in 19 countries,” Kooperman said. “What I love most about the Fulbright program is the breadth of opportunities; awards are available in almost every country in the world and for every field of study. It’s accessible to everyone.”

Smith, a political science and Africana Studies double major from Porter, TX, will study Cameroon’s agrarian and land-use policies during her nine-month stay. “Many international companies from Malaysia, China, and other countries are building large farms in Cameroon on land formerly owned by individual farmers,” she said. “I’ll be looking at how ‘big farming’ is affecting the people there.”

Smith said her time as a study-abroad student in Cameroon last year, as well as her course work on the Vassar campus, has prepared her for her Fulbright research project. “I studied agrarian issues when I was there in my junior year, and Vassar is very good about teaching you how to ask the right questions,” she said. “It’s a Vassar cliché that we’re taught to ‘go to the source,’ but that training has grounded me well.”

Gedigk, an anthropology major from Larchmont, NY, said he is considering a career in academia but applied for the Fulbright teaching fellowship because he wanted to gain more experience in the classroom. “I want to learn more about the craft of teaching before I enroll in graduate school,” he said. Gedigk added that his experience as a mentor to young people at the Poughkeepsie nonprofit agency R.E.A.L. Skills Network Inc., as well as his involvement with the Inclusive Pedagogy working group of Vassar’s Engaged Pluralism Initiative, have enabled him to acquire skills and knowledge that will be useful in the classroom.

Gedigk, whose ancestral background is part German and part Korean, said he was looking forward to meeting some of his relatives who still live in South Korea. “I have more familiarity with the German half of my family, so I’ll be excited to be making connections with my Korean relatives over the next year,” he added.