A record number of current students and/or recent alumni at SUNY Oswego are scheduled to go abroad under the prestigious Fulbright U.S. Student program in 2018-19.

Three Fulbright finalists earned their placements directly through Oswego: Christopher Byrne and Michael Kaefer were selected to teach in Germany, while Michelle Tomei was invited to teach in Romania. In addition, 2016 philosophy graduate Kimberlyn Bailey, who applied independently but received advice from Oswego’s experts during the application period, also was selected to conduct research in Germany. And 2015 graduate Katie Sullivan was invited to teach English in Malaysia.

Fulbright finalists are offered a Fulbright U.S. Student grant, contingent upon host country approvals, medical clearance and submission of all required grant documents.

Byrne, set to graduate in May with a German major and international business minor, looks forward to serving as a teaching assistant as well as helping “other students and other young adults get out there and learn about why it’s so beneficial to go abroad,” he said.

“You have to create your own type of program to engage the culture, and I plan to use American sports and fitness, teaching them sports they aren’t familiar with,” he said of planned activities.

He thanked the modern languages and literatures department, particularly Ana Djukic-Cocks and John Lalande, for showing him the benefits of the program and the opportunities that can come after the Fulbright.

“I’m really interested in the connections we can build between each other,” Byrne said. “I want to go deeper and create a relationship, a bond between the two countries on a micro level.” Afterward, he said, he would love to continue that kind of activity professionally by working in foreign affairs with the U.S. State Department.

Teaching, connecting

Kaefer, a December 2017 graduate in German and history, also awaits an assignment as a teaching assistant in Germany.

“I really got interested because I really want to be a teacher eventually,” Kaefer said. “It feels rewarding to see students succeed. My experience being a tutor at SUNY Oswego helped me see that.”

He previously studied abroad in Germany, even creating a video blog to let people know more about the country and its customs. “Ever since living in Germany previously, I knew I wanted to go there again and live. This opportunity provides just that,” he said. “I love the people there and the way of life there. Learning about the German-speaking world and having studied abroad being immersed in the culture and the language (as well as studies at Oswego) definitely prepared me for this experience.”

Tomei -- a 2014 graduate who majored in public relations and French and minored in international business -- is excited to be one of only six total selected for the teaching assistantship in Romania. Experiences such as studying abroad, living in the globally focused Hart Hall for two years with an international student, and support from the modern languages and literatures department helped prepare Tomei for this honor.

“I'll be working in a Romanian university for the 2018-19 academic year,” which runs October to June, she said, in an American studies or English language and literature department, “as an English conversation, vocabulary and cultural resource. With my students, I hope to create multimedia projects targeting international students to welcome them to their new community. When not in the classroom, I expect to study Romanian, give private English lessons and research students' motivation to study internationally.”

Tomei expects the experience to provide an excellent steppingstone to graduate school, gaining another year of international experience and working in higher education. “The lifelong relationships that Fulbright encourages among its participants and host countries also will be beneficial as I go forward in my career in international education,” she noted.

Science and diversity

Bailey, who is now a computational neuroscience research assistant through a competitive program at the National Institutes of Health, “proposed computational neuroscience work at the Carl Gustav Carus University Hospital in Dresden, Germany, to develop seizure forecasting algorithms for a wearable device,” she explained.

“Like the weather, epileptic seizures can be forecasted to an extent,” Bailey said. “This will allow us to fine-tune epileptic treatments, advance our understanding of epilepsy and set the foundation for just-in-time interventional treatments to prevent seizures. I also proposed work for various women in STEM initiatives, including volunteering for local STEM diversity organizations and developing a children's book to encourage girls into STEM.”

Bailey, who cited physics faculty member Carolina Ilie as a big influence on her interest in sociology in STEM in a global context, said the book would be co-produced by the non-profit cuSTEMized with German and English versions of Bailey's discussions with women scientists across Germany. Together, the projects support shared U.S.-German goals to increase medical applications from computational neuroscience and to advance women in STEM, she said.

A global and international studies graduate, Sullivan is slated to teach as well as lead camps, clubs and other activities at a school and community in Malaysia.

“I have always enjoyed learning about global cultures and as I was getting ready to graduate I was looking into different opportunities that allowed me to not only learn about another culture from the people living there, but to share skills and learn,” Sullivan said. Her major provided courses that showcased international relations and culture from different perspectives. “When I was in my last semester at Oswego I chose to write my final paper on the history of educational and cultural exchange programs in the United States. It was while doing this research that I not only focused on the Fulbright program, but learned of its importance and planned to apply.”

Currently a Peace Corps volunteer in Georgia, Sullivan said studying abroad in Australia and becoming a study abroad mentor, living in Hart Hall and joining clubs like the Study Abroad Student Association, Habitat for Humanity and ONE at SUNY Oswego helped her develop skills and realize the importance of an open mind.

Supportive campus culture

While Oswego being connected to so many Fulbright finalists in one cycle is unprecedented, Lyn Blanchfield, a history faculty member who is the college’s Fulbright adviser through its Institute for Global Engagement, said much of it comes back to having outstanding students and a supportive campus culture.

“They have been doing or have done some excellent work at Oswego and have received wonderful support and mentorship from their advisors and professors,” Blanchfield said. “I have received many recommendations of potential applicants from faculty, some of whom are on the Fulbright Committee or have supported our Fulbright applicants in the past, such as writing letters of recommendation or announcing the Fulbright in their classes. I appreciate all of our faculty and staff who have supported these applicants and have sent them my way.”

And while she has seen excellent applicants for a while, “I have noticed some momentum building since we had a finalist last year: Jesse Corfield who is now in Brazil teaching English,” Blanchfield said. “He graduated a while ago, but some students remember him and finally understand the benefit of applying for a fellowship such as a Fulbright.” Before that, the most recent Oswego finalist for Fulbright U.S. Student had been Julie Schofield, who conducted research in India in 2013.

Blanchfield also praised the campus Fulbright Committee’s work, dedication and support of student applicants, as well as modern languages and literatures faculty offering time to interview Oswego applicants in the languages required for the application.

Even though she started as an independent applicant, Bailey said Oswego’s team was “extremely supportive during the application process. My decision to apply for a Fulbright was incredibly last minute, but, even then, Oswego responded with a vivaciously can-do attitude and relentlessly helped me polish my application in a very crunched timeline.”

About the program

These five are among more than 1,900 U.S. citizens who will conduct research, teach English and provide expertise abroad for the upcoming academic year through the Fulbright U.S. Student Program. Candidates are selected on the basis of academic and professional achievement, as well as record of service and leadership potential in their respective fields.

The Fulbright Program is the flagship international educational exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government and is designed to build lasting connections between the people of the United States and the people of other countries.

The Fulbright Program is funded through an annual appropriation made by Congress to the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. Participating governments and host institutions, corporations and foundations around the world also provide direct and indirect support to the program, which operates in more than 160 countries worldwide.

For more information on Fulbright and related programs at SUNY Oswego, visit the college's Institute for Global Engagement website at https://www.oswego.edu/ige.