GSE Students Sail Away on Fulbright Grants

The Fulbright Program is an American scholarship program of competitive, merit-based grants for international educational exchange for students, scholars, teachers, professionals, scientists, and artists founded by United States Senator J. William Fulbright in 1946. It is considered to be one of the most prestigious awards to be given out. This year, two GSE students have been awarded grants for September of 2018. Delfina Picchio, a language education major with a focus on ESL, and Alexander Lopez-Perez, a K-12 English major, have chosen to travel to Spain and Indonesia, respectively.

Picchio’s journey to the GSE began while tutoring students at the Plangere Writing Center in Murray Hall. She realized her passion for education while assisting students, mostly international, learn how to write better. With undergraduate majors in English Literature and Visual Arts, she began exploring what additional degrees she could obtain and came across the GSE. The Language Education spoke to some of the deeper issues she encountered while working in the Writing Center.

“When I started working as a tutor I got really interested in linguistics and how people’s first languages can affect how they acquire English as a second language. So, I got really interested in the theoretical foundations in language acquisition and what the factors are that allow people to become bilingual or multilingual.”

Lopez-Perez’s journey was different, since he already knew he wanted to pursue a career in education. He had taken some courses with GSE faculty, but what really interested him was the Urban Social Justice Teacher Preparation program.

“It was a very nice surprise for me because through the addition of new courses, I was able to gain a lot of knowledge relating to the teaching of urban and underrepresented students. Knowing how to teach students and bring in their culture as well as their experiences in the classroom is a great skill to have. Coming from an urban background myself, this addition was really what let me know I had made the right decision in not only choosing to pursue education, but to do it at the GSE as well.”

While in Indonesia, Lopez-Perez hopes to be a representative for the US as well as hoping to achieve a greater understanding of the Indonesian culture while teaching. He has had prior exposure, as his inspiration stems from a deeply-rooted friendship with one of his tutees as well as an interest in puppetry.

“My tutee grew up in Indonesia, although he is of Vietnamese descent. He told me about Indonesia and what made me keep my ears open was its value of puppetry and how important puppetry is in their culture. You have puppeteers on the streets or on the sidewalks. You can even find them in big concert halls and it is something that I want to know more about and maybe adopt for my own teaching later down the line.”

Since a community engagement project is an aspect of the Fulbright, all recipients must find something of interest in their host country’s culture. Picchio plans to involve herself in the local arts scene. “I want to get into the local arts scene and start a group for art sharing and writing to allow collaboration in an artistic space, as well as an intercultural one.”

When reflecting on her time spent at the GSE, Picchio acknowledges not only the lessons taught that helped prepare her for this journey, but those individuals who helped her along the way. “I’ve worked closely with Dr. Mary Curran and I went with her on the service engagement trip to Mexico this past January. She really allowed us to view global citizenship and global engagement in a way that really values the contributions of people in other cultures and change your perspective to see how you can learn from people in other cultures. I’ve had her as a professor as well and she has always been really supportive.”

Lopez-Perez also positively reflects on his mentors at the GSE. “All of my professors through the English cohort, especially Drs. Nicole Mirra, Cheryl McLean and Lauren Kelly, have been my guides through this whole process. They’ve been very supportive and responsive to the questions that not only I had, but also being very purposeful in the texts that they curated for the courses that I took. I always refer back to them when I have questions or inquiries.”

Both students hope to change the landscapes of the communities they will enter once they return from their grant. Picchio wants to make learning accessible to learners who are culturally and linguistically diverse and also allow their students to have fun while learning English. Lopez-Perez has a desire to help students find the balance between school, community, and family. Although these students have had very different journeys, the GSE is honored that they will be representing our mission to advance excellence and equity in education.