St. Olaf College | News

Seven Oles receive Fulbright awards

Six recent St. Olaf College graduates have been awarded Fulbright fellowships for 2023-24, and a current student has been selected to participate in the Fulbright Canada MITACS-Globalink summer program.

Marley Anderson ’23, Angelina Gasparov ’23, Emily Johnson ’20, Rachel Beran ’19, Lyla Amini ’14, and Geoffrey Carlisle ’10 received Fulbright fellowships for the upcoming year. Rising St. Olaf senior Lydia Hill ’24 has been selected to participate in the Fulbright Canada MITACS-Globalink summer program.

The seven Oles who have received Fulbright awards include (clockwise, from top left) Angelina Gasparov '23, Emily Johnson '20, Geoffrey Carlisle '10, Lydia Hill '24, Rachel Beran '19, Marley Anderson '23, and Lyla Amini '14.
The seven Oles who have received Fulbright awards include (clockwise, from top left) Angelina Gasparov ’23, Emily Johnson ’20, Geoffrey Carlisle ’10, Lydia Hill ’24, Rachel Beran ’19, Marley Anderson ’23, and Lyla Amini ’14.

The Fulbright Program offers opportunities for graduating seniors, graduate students, and young professionals of all academic disciplines to conduct research, teach English, or pursue graduate studies abroad. The program is designed to expand perspectives through cross-cultural dialogue and create connections in a complex and changing world.

The Fulbright U.S. Student Program is sponsored by the Department of State and operates in more than 140 countries. Program participants are chosen based on many factors, including leadership potential and academic merit.

Marley Anderson ’23, who studied math and education at St. Olaf, will be working as an English Teaching Assistant at a small school in Nova Paka, Czech Republic. The school has a focus on pedagogy, and many of the students will either continue studying teaching in university, or go straight into a teaching field, which will allow Anderson to be involved in teaching education. She is especially interested in teaching in a secondary school in a rural setting where she can encounter the customs and traditions of the country and work with students in the age group she plans to teach after completing her Fulbright grant. As a music enthusiast, Anderson is particularly excited about living and working in the country of Antonín Dvorák and other Czech composers and hopes to join a choir during her year. By placing herself in an entirely new environment, she hopes to prepare herself to be a more experienced and empathetic teacher serving diverse populations in the United States.

Angelina Gasparov ’23 will teach English to students in secondary school in Bulgaria. Having majored in social work with concentrations in race and ethnic studies and German studies at St. Olaf, she is especially interested in how learning languages opens up the world for people, creating opportunities for jobs, friendships, and education. She will be teaching grades 8 through 12, and also plans to be involved in Fulbright Bulgaria’s BEST program, which gives students debate and public speaking opportunities. She hopes to both emphasize the fun in language learning and help students learn life skills like wellness and financial literacy in an academic setting. As a Bulgarian American, Gasparov is especially excited to spend a year in the country of her parent and grandparents and looks forward to deepening her relationship with Bulgaria and its people.

“I hope that I can bring creative and engaging topics to the students, and that my time in Vidin allows Bulgarian youth to see the importance of investing in our people so that we as a collective group stay strong and stay connected to our roots regardless of where we end up settling. I hope that the students I work with will feel confident in their classwork, in their essence as people, and proud of where they come from,” she says.

Emily Johnson ’20 will study how Norwegian nature-based preschools foster social and emotional development. During her time at St. Olaf, she majored in Norwegian and biology with concentrations in educational and Nordic studies. She also studied abroad in Norway and Denmark, where she had a practicum at a forest preschool. Johnson thinks more attention should be focused on early education and is especially interested in the way some Norwegian preschools encourage relatively unsupervised playtime outside regardless of weather conditions.

“After comparing how the U.S. and Norway view early childhood as part of my Rand Scholar Award at St. Olaf, I’ve been drawn to the Norwegian principle of whole-person development through play in nature,” Johnson says. “I’ve spent the last three years as a teacher at a nature- and farm-based preschool in Minnesota, so I’m eager to research the structures and inner workings of nature-based preschools in Norway. Early childhood is such an important time in one’s life!”

Johnson is well-prepared to interview children, parents, and teachers to learn how these schools are organized, in addition to having another practicum experience at a Norwegian forest preschool. She plans to identify best practices regarding the correlation between social-emotional learning and nature-based early childhood education and then work to employ them in the United States.

Rachel Beran ’19 will spend her Fulbright year teaching English at a university in Morocco. After studying French, political science, and Middle Eastern studies at St. Olaf, she went on to earn a master’s degree in education and teach English in Belgium and France. She hopes to use her time in Morocco to encourage students learning a language to take risks through lessons that allow students to make mistakes and learn in a low-pressure way.  

“Oftentimes, the focus in language classrooms is on perfection, which means that students can be very hesitant to speak. I’ll be teaching at a Faculty of Medicine and plan to use simulations, role-play activities, and adapted theater games so that my students can practice the communication skills that they will need for their postgrad careers,” she says.

In Morocco Beran will primarily use French and English with students and others in the community, yet she also plans to study Darija, the Moroccan dialect of Arabic, in order to better connect with her students and colleagues in Marrakech. She looks forward to forming relationships that will provide her with insight into Moroccan culture and further prepare her for a career in international education.

Lyla Amini ’14 will investigate climate change–resilient agriculture as the nexus between climate impacts, adaptation capacities, and community-level resiliency in two valleys in northern Tajikistan. After majoring in environmental studies and sociology/anthropology with a concentration in Middle Eastern studies at St. Olaf, Amini served in the Peace Corps in Morocco and then worked on organic farms and with climate organizations both in the United States and in Tajikistan. She plans to research the potential for creating greater climate resiliency through increased circulation of indigenous seeds. By focusing on local perceptions, she hopes to identify opportunities and challenges to the use of indigenous seeds instead of non-native and imported varieties.

Geoffrey Carlisle ’10 will travel to Norway to conduct a case study analysis of how recent policies reforming Teacher Education Institutions (TEIs) are affecting teacher recruitment, attrition, and preparedness. He studied music and environmental science at St. Olaf and public policy at the University of Texas at Austin. He has spent most of his career as an eighth grade science and sex education teacher in Texas, where a recent statewide poll found that 77 percent of teachers are thinking seriously about leaving the profession. Although Norway and Texas face similar issues of teacher recruitment, attrition, and preparedness, the two have starkly different policy approaches to finding solutions. 

“While Norway is facing a similar shortage of teachers, their recent reforms to teacher preparation take a vastly different approach by doubling down on high-quality, university-based teacher preparation, and elevating the professional status of teaching. The first teachers who completed their training under the new reforms just entered the classroom this year. This presents an incredible opportunity to research how these reforms impact the preparation, attrition, and retention of new teachers,” he says.

Carlisle hopes to use his work in Norway to help inform policy recommendations for Texas, and he plans to employ data analysis as well as personal interviews to better understand the Norwegian system.

Lydia Hill ’24 has also been accepted into the Fulbright Canada MITACS-Globalink program, which provides opportunities for undergraduate students to spend a summer conducting research in Canada. She will be working on a project studying the impact of prenatal cannabis exposure on fetal brain development using brain fetal MRI during the third trimester. She is excited about the opportunity to spend a summer exploring obstetrics and gynecology, which is an area of medicine she is interested in pursuing after graduation. She was also drawn to the program because of the French language requirement.

“As a French major who is planning on going into the medical field, it has been a dream of mine to be able to use my French in a professional setting post-grad — but I wasn’t sure if this would ever be possible or become a reality. Needless to say, I was over the moon to be able to have the opportunity to bring these two parts of myself, French and the sciences, together this summer,” she says.