Five West Virginia University women, including two from Wheeling, have been awarded the prestigious Fulbright Scholarship to teach English abroad next year.
The Fulbright Program is the U.S. government’s flagship international exchange program. Recipients are given a stipend to study, teach or conduct research while increasing mutual understanding between Americans and people of other countries. This new cohort makes 64 Fulbright scholars for West Virginia University.
All the winners are from West Virginia. The 2019-20 scholars are:
- Karen Laska from Wheeling
- Jordan Miller from Wheeling
- Jana El-Khatib from Hurricane
- Kaley Hensley from Chapmanville
- Constantia Rhinehart from Elkins
“It’s thrilling to see the success of our students on the international stage,” said Ryan Claycomb, Fulbright program adviser and acting dean of the Honors College. “Each of these five built upon experiences that they cultivated in their time at WVU, from education abroad to teaching and mentoring opportunities to in-depth language study.”
This is Karen Laska’s second national award. Last year, she studied in Poland as a Boren Scholar. With an academic focus on Central and Eastern Europe, the opportunity to teach in the Slovak Republic will prepare her for graduate school and a possible career in the U.S. State Department. The senior Honors College student is majoring in International Studies, Slavic and Eastern European studies and World Languages (French).
“I am looking forward to gaining a greater understanding of the region by living in a new country and learning the Slovak language, which is linguistically fairly close to Polish,” Laska said. “I have never formally visited Slovakia, besides standing on its border with Poland in the Tatra Mountains, but I hope to learn more about the relationship between this country and its neighbors.”
Jordan Miller was studying in Barcelona when Catalonia held its 2017 referendum to secede from Spain. As an Honors English major who conducted linguistic research with the West Virginia Dialect Project, the experience sparked her curiosity about the key role language plays in the struggle to preserve culture and identity. A 2018 graduate of WVU and the Honors College, she hopes to learn more about the region when she teaches English in Andorra, a tiny country in the Pyrenees between Spain and France.
“Since Andorra is the only country where Catalan is the sole official language, I applied there to learn more about the way young people who speak Catalan navigate their identities in a complex linguistic, political and cultural environment,” Miller said. “This program offers me an opportunity to grow while enabling others to learn English as a second — or third or fourth in Andorra’s case — language.”
Jana El-Khatib will spend her year in Malaysia teaching English, a country she visited four years ago when her sister, Farrah El-Khatib, was there on a Fulbright Scholarship. The senior Honors College student is majoring in psychology with a minor in Arabic studies. She believes her experience with students in the WVU Intensive English Program and as an English as a second language tutor with the Literacy Volunteers of Monongalia and Preston counties has well-prepared her for this adventure. She plans to enroll in dental school and believes this will make her a better healthcare provider.
“I would like to be a part of an initiative which improves the health of people in rural and remote areas of the world, especially children,” El-Khatib said. “I want to volunteer with a non-profit organization such as Smile Malaysia or Dental Relief Malaysia.”
Kaley Hensley, a senior English major, applied for the Fulbright scholarship because she felt she needed experience in teaching, in living in a new space and in learning from others before she starts graduate studies in English. She chose Latvia because she wanted a place with a poetic tradition and a medieval history. The Honors College student plans to engage with local writers in Latvia by helping them translate their work in English to publish on a blog.
“My creative writing courses at WVU have prepared me in a unique way — I can tailor my criticism to be from a place of compassion. I believe that is what individuals truly respond to in a learning environment,” Hensley said.
Constantia “Connie” Rhinehart of Elkins began studying the German language as a freshman and has developed a passion for the language and the culture. In addition to a study abroad experience, she was in Germany as a Gilman Scholar in 2017. The opportunity to teach in Germany for a year will improve her language skills and give her important classroom experience. She plans to return to WVU as a graduate teaching assistant while earning a master’s degree in linguistics.
“Through my dual major of international studies and German, I have gained a rich knowledge of the world and the importance of experiencing other cultures,” Rhinehart said. “The ASPIRE Office helped me develop a strong application by helping me focus on the topics that would make me more successful.”
One student and one graduate were named as alternates for the Fulbright Scholarship: Lawrence Georgiana of Uniontown, Pennsylvania, a senior international and Chinese studies major and Emma Alquist of Harpers Ferry, a 2019 biology graduate.
The ASPIRE Office supports students who want to compete for nationally competitive awards like the Fulbright Scholarship. Students who are interested in applying can email firstname.lastname@example.org to set up an appointment.