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NIU grads awarded Fulbright grants to Austria

August 26, 2010

A pair of May NIU graduates have received Fulbright grants to teach and study in Austria.

Brandi Smith

Brandi Smith

Brandi Smith, 27, of Chicago, and Melissa Shalter, 27, of Ottawa, will travel to Austria in September to begin their teaching assignments.

Shalter, who earned her certificate to teach in secondary education, will work with high school students. Smith graduated with a dual degree in the German and Spanish languages and literature.

“I’ll be working as a teaching assistant in Vienna,” Smith said. “I’ll also be doing some research work in Austria. I’m excited. This will be the second time I’ve been to Austria.”

Both women applied for the grants because they wanted to continue the global education they received at NIU.

Melissa Shalter

Melissa Shalter

“Working abroad is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time,” Shalter said “I have been studying German since high school. I didn’t want to study Spanish because everyone was learning it. French is nice, but German is interesting.”

The Fulbright program is sponsored and funded by the U.S. State Department and is designed to foster cultural understanding between the United States and countries around the world.

“I’ve always wanted to live and work in a German-speaking country to gain a better understanding of the culture and language through everyday life,” Shalter said. “Although I’ll be teaching English, it will give me much more practice with German. I feel that it’s very important for me to do this before starting my teaching career so that I can be a more effective teacher.”

The NIU graduates are among 1,500 U.S. citizens who will travel abroad for the 2010-2011 academic year through the Fulbright U.S. Student Program.

The Fulbright program is highly competitive, and  rarely are grants awarded to students who have graduated side by side and plan to travel to the same destination, said James A. Lawrence, who is with the office of Academic Exchange  Programs in the U.S. State Department.

Applications by U.S. citizens for the English Language Teaching Assistantship Program are administered by the Fulbright Commission for the Austrian Ministry of Education, the Arts and Culture.

U.S. teaching assistants are assigned to one or two Austrian secondary schools and required to assist teachers of English in classroom instruction 13 hours per week. Applicants should have at least a bachelor’s degree and be interested in careers in education. Prospective teachers of German and graduates with a documented interest in Austrian studies are particularly encouraged to apply. A working knowledge of German is required and necessary to complete classroom work.

U.S. teaching assistants are employed from Oct.1 through May 31 of the school year. They are required to attend an orientation seminar held during the last week of September before beginning their assignments.

U.S. teaching assistants with a superior record of performance may apply to have their assistantships extended for a second year. Applications are accepted via the Internet. The deadline to submit an application for next year is Oct. 18.

Both women said they might want to extend their time in Austria.

by Gerard Dziuba