Three UIC students, alumni earn Fulbright Awards

Three current students and two alumni of the University of Illinois Chicago have been offered fellowships for the 2023-24 academic year by the Fulbright U.S. Student Program.

In addition to the five finalists, two students from UIC were named alternates of the Fulbright Program, which is the U.S. government’s flagship international educational exchange program. Its focus is to increase understanding between the people of the United States and those of other countries.

Award recipients are selected in an open, merit-based competition led by the U.S. Department of State and the Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board that considers leadership potential, academic and/or professional achievement and record of service.

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UIC finalists include:

Sydney Erlikh
Sydney Erlikh

Sydney Erlikh, a PhD candidate in interdisciplinary studies with a focus on disability studies, who will be based at the University of the Arts Helsinki in Finland. Erlikh’s concentration is on disability arts and culture, in particular disability and inclusive dance. She will study arts pedagogy and work alongside students pursuing graduate degrees in dance. Erlikh will be embedded in the Kaaos dance company, a field site for her dissertation.

“My research is a multi-sited ethnography and will culminate in my doctoral dissertation, which explores the culture of inclusive dance companies,” Erlikh said. “My time in Finland will be a culmination of what I have learned as an educator, dancer, choreographer and scholar.”

An educator who taught special education in New York City and California and provided dance opportunities for students before earning her graduate degree, Erlikh was a Fulbright alternate last year and has previously received an Albert Schweitzer Fellowship award.

A California native, Erlikh cofounded an inclusive dance community workshop at Access Living, a center for independent living in Chicago.

Mark Schoenknecht
Mark Schoenknecht

Mark Schoenknecht, a PhD candidate in English studies whose focus is on intersections of literacy, social mobility and economic inequality in the postindustrial Midwest, will serve as an English teaching assistant in Morocco. He will work as a “stand-alone instructor” in a Moroccan university teaching courses related to the English language and American society and culture.

Schoenknecht said his love for literature began as a high school student, when he discovered the works of 20th-century authors William S. Burroughs, Jean Genet and Paul Bowles, all of whom had connections with Morocco.

While he said his primary occupation during the grant period will be teaching, he said he was drawn to Morocco’s recent gains in its national literacy rate and wanted to witness its transformation.

“I’m excited to discover the real, contemporary Morocco for myself,” he said.

Rocio Rivera Rodriguez
Rocío Rivera Rodríguez

Rocío Rivera Rodríguez, a PhD candidate in pharmaceutical sciences whose expertise is the use of plant compounds as medicine, will be based at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim, Norway.

Rivera Rodríguez will research the anti-inflammatory potential of rosemary compounds in an “ex vivo” inflammatory bowel disease model at the Norwegian university.

“One of my long-term goals is to become a scientific consultant at the international stage advocating for the safe use of botanical supplements and drugs,” Rivera Rodríguez said. “The Fulbright will give me the opportunity to experience science and research outside of the U.S.”

A native of Puerto Rico, Rivera Rodríguez credits UIC with helping her develop as a scientist and for providing her with the tools to increase her analytical and presentation skills. She also thanked Joanna Burdette for bringing her to UIC for a summer internship as part of the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship program in the summer of 2019.

Marisol Vela, who graduated in May from UIC with a bachelor’s degree in sociology and a minor in linguistics, will be assisting English teaching classrooms and will take part in community service opportunities in Taiwan.

A Chicago native, Vela will be involved with the English Language Teaching Programs Team, which has been collaborating with the government in the Fulbright English Teaching Assistant project. The organization primarily focuses on teaching English and sharing American culture with elementary and middle school students throughout Taiwan. Vela said living in another country will expose her to what life is like in different parts of the world and to have new and thought-provoking opportunities.

Vela credited her professor, Xuehua Xiang of the UIC linguistics department, for pushing her to apply for the Fulbright.

“Without her I would not have tried to pursue something like this, but she sincerely believed in me and my capabilities,” Vela said. “I think that for a long time I doubted my own capabilities but receiving this scholarship allowed me to realize I have more to offer than I previously thought.”

Spencer Harrison, who earned his Master of Arts degree in English focusing on creative writing, was also named a finalist. He had initially been named an alternate. He will be in Kyrgyzstan.

Spencer Harrison
Spencer Harrison

“I feel going through the rigorous Fulbright application process has enabled me to better assist my own students. I also think my grant writing skills will be invaluable in my future career as I feel that is not something that is given much attention to in the humanities,” said Harrison.

He said he was already engaged in intercultural exchange through his teaching and pedagogy, and is very passionate about doing that internationally. He said it has been immensely impactful for him to travel internationally for educational purposes. In the past year, he went to Vancouver for the International Writing Center’s annual conference, Doha for the Middle East-North Africa Writing Center Alliance’s conference, and most recently Yerevan for the European Writing Center Association’s summer institute.

He also led a workshop at an online conference last summer. He is currently the co-chair for the Online Writing Center Associations 2024 conference and will be the chair for the 2025 conference.

“I have met, learned from and collaborated with people from all over the world this past year which has been invigorating and inspiring and I plan to continue doing that work,” said Harrison.

In addition to the finalists, Julian Adoff, a PhD candidate in the College of Architecture, Design, and the Arts and Amy Satterthwaite, who is pursuing a master’s in occupational therapy, were selected as Fulbright alternates.

The Fulbright U.S. Student Program is administered at UIC by Kim Germain, director of the Office of Undergraduate Research and External Fellowships and Fulbright program adviser for undergraduate students, and Benn Williams, fellowships and awards coordinator in the Graduate College, and Lindsay Marshall, graduate writing specialist and academic advisor in the Graduate College, who are the Fulbright program advisers for graduate students. The three advisers led informational sessions in April and encourage potential Fulbright applicants to reach out to them now as the 2024-2025 competition is already underway.

In 2022, UIC was named a Fulbright Hispanic Serving Institution Leader for the second year in a row by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs for its commitment to the Fulbright program.

The UIC-affiliated awardees will join a network of thousands of Fulbright alumni, many of whom are leaders in their fields. Fulbright alumni include 61 Nobel Prize laureates, 89 Pulitzer Prize recipients, and 40 who have served as a head of state or government.

Since 1946, the Fulbright Program has provided more than 400,000 participants from over 160 countries with the opportunity to study, teach and conduct research, exchange ideas and contribute to finding solutions to shared international concerns.

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