UIC announces Fulbright Awards offered to alumni

Four recent graduates of the University of Illinois Chicago have been offered English teaching assistantship grants for the 2022-23 academic year by the Fulbright U.S. Student Program.

The Fulbright Program is the U.S. government’s flagship international educational exchange program and aims to increase mutual understanding between the people of the U.S. 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.

UIC-affiliated finalists

Yadira Herrera, who received a bachelor’s degree in public health in 2018 and a master’s degree in community health sciences in 2020, is scheduled to teach elementary-aged students while based in Spain’s Canary Islands for nine months beginning in September.  

“This opportunity will help me expand my current public health skillset to include facilitation, curriculum-building and community engagement experience,” said Herrera, who currently serves as a project coordinator in the UIC School of Public Health.

Herrera, a resident of Chicago’s Bucktown neighborhood, looks forward to eventually broadening her research to education and childhood development.

“I plan to work, volunteer or advocate for education-focused nonprofits to provide scholarship access to summer enrichment programs and useful resources in underfunded schools,” she said. “After the nine-month teaching experience, I may also consider working toward a master’s in education to pursue education research or curriculum development.” 

Bianca Perez, a former Access to Excellence Fellow who earned her master’s degree in Latin American and Latino studies from UIC in 2021, will teach English in Brazil for nine months beginning in March 2023. While her affiliate institution is yet-to-be-determined, she will be based within a teachers college, and she is excited to educate and learn from future educators through the process.

“The Fulbright will be an amazing opportunity to not only return to an educator-type role and gain further experience in that aspect but to push my language abilities so that I can expand beyond my fluency in Spanish and English to include Brazilian Portuguese and be able to communicate with more people in their first language,” she said.

As a first-generation college student from Hanover Park, Perez earned bachelor’s degrees in Latina/Latino studies and clinical/community psychology from UIUC in 2019. She currently serves as an academic adviser in the UIC College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and an intern for the Smithsonian National Museum of American History project, “The First 100: 50 Years of Chicanas Changing History.”

“I know that for my own family, having access to multilingual academic professionals made all the difference in my K-12 years and especially in university because it allowed them to feel more informed and included in our largely English-dominant educational system,” she said. “At UIC, we have some of the best, brightest, most diverse students, and I look forward to being able to support them with all of the knowledge I have gained as an English teaching assistant when I return.”

Mona Zubi, a former Honors College member who earned a bachelor’s degree in public policy and a minor in Russian from UIC last year, will travel to Tajikistan, where she will create English learning programs and events at the American Space, a U.S. State Department-funded community center offering free access to books in English, computers and other resources.

In high school and college, Zubi taught English language classes in Turkey and Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. Her previous experiences teaching overseas and current work as an elementary assistant Montessori teacher have affirmed her commitment to education.

“Undertaking a Fulbright ETA is the perfect next step for me to both represent the United States and to mentor youth abroad,” she said.

Zubi, a native of Granite City, maintains an interest in foreign policy, particularly involving post-Soviet Central Asia, and plans to pursue a master’s in public policy, achieve full fluency in Russian and potentially receive a PhD.

“While Russian influence is still very strong in Central Asia, I intend to join the decolonization and education work that is currently happening there. During my time with Fulbright, I plan not only to teach English but also to commit to community engagement and organizing,” she said.

Andrew Tuider, a UIC alumnus who received bachelor’s degrees in Germanic studies and political science in 2020 and a master’s degree in Germanic studies last month, was offered a grant to serve as an English teaching assistant in Germany but declined. He is currently pursuing opportunities to teach German locally while working at Spirit Cultural Exchange in Oak Park, where he assists individuals from outside the U.S. approved for exchange visitor visas to apply for summer work and travel cultural exchange programs.

Sydney Erlikh, a PhD candidate in disability studies, and Laleh Khoshnavaz Motlagh, a 2021 master’s graduate in studio arts, have been named as alternates for study/research awards and may travel abroad to South Africa and Turkey respectively if funding becomes available.

The Fulbright U.S. Student Program is administered at UIC by Kim Germain, director of the Office of External Fellowships and Fulbright program adviser for undergraduate students, and Benn Williams, fellowships and awards coordinator in the Graduate College and Fulbright Program adviser for graduate students. They are assisted by Lindsay Marshall, a graduate writing specialist and academic adviser in the Graduate College.

In 2021, UIC was named an inaugural Fulbright HSI Leader by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs for its commitment to the Fulbright Program.

As recipients of Fulbright awards, the UIC-affiliated awardees will join a network of thousands of esteemed 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 the opportunity to study, teach and conduct research, exchange ideas, and contribute to finding solutions to shared international concerns.

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