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Tuesday, April 16, 2024
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The Study Abroad office on the third floor of UW-Madison's Red Gym, photographed Feb. 20, 2023.

Meet some of UW-Madison’s 14 students, alumni recognized as Fulbright scholars

The United States Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs recognized fourteen University of Wisconsin-Madison students or alumni as Fulbright Scholar Program awardees.


The United States Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs recognized 14 University of Wisconsin-Madison students and alumni as 2024 Fulbright Scholar Program awardees in early February. 

The Fulbright Program, coordinated at UW-Madison by Mark Lilleleht, sends scholars abroad in an exchange program while visiting scholars come to the United States. UW-Madison was one of the top 30 universities for scholars receiving grants, according to a Feb. 13 press release, ranking 28th globally for numbers of Fulbright recipients. 

The program is funded primarily by the U.S. Congress to foster international connections. Candidates create a research proposal and work on projects with universities in their chosen country. 

The Daily Cardinal interviewed three of UW-Madison’s 14 awardees.

Betty Nen 

Betty Nen, a 2020 UW-Madison graduate in political science and Southeast Asian studies, will be researching indigenous community resilience during climate-related disasters at Monash University in Malaysia. Nen said she’s interested in discovering how governments prepare for disasters and keep local communities safe. 

Nen said she applied for the Fulbright Program after working as an emergency preparedness specialist for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which sparked an interest in helping vulnerable communities.

Malaysia was the best fit for her research, Nen said. “It would allow me the most room to grow and the ability to connect with indigenous groups there.”

Her day-to-day research will consist of qualitative research and interviews with different nonprofits and nongovernmental organizations, Nen said. She’ll focus on connecting with indigenous groups in Malaysia and capacity development building within small communities and community-based organizations. 

Nen said her studies in political science and Southeast Asian studies at UW-Madison helped her think of current events from different perspectives.

“People are very curious there, and my classes always pushed me to think critically and to expand my views and change preconceived notions,” she added.

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Mary Girad

Mary Girad, a 1982 UW-Madison graduate in education and political science, received a study and research grant and will be working through Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi, India. Girad’s research focuses on studying tribal folktales of the Adivasi community, an indigenous group in India. 

Her interest in South Asian studies stemmed from growing up in India, she said. That interest only grew when she came to UW-Madison.

“I was so excited that there were so many classes about India, a great library, and over the years, a growing Indian population in Madison,” Girad said.

Starting in 2019, Girad began research for a book about a tribal woman in India, but she said the prospect of traveling to India was financially out of reach. She found out Fulbright extends to alumni and applied in October 2022.

Girad said she hopes to understand her own ancestors’ encounters with the Adivasi and apply the group’s perspective to her research. Girad has a personal connection to the research — her great-great-grandfather came to India from Germany and learned a tribal language called Kurukh

His work recorded “folktales, songs, riddles and idioms that he had heard,” Girad said. Through her research, she said she wants to understand her own ancestors' language and connect to her great-great-grandfather’s work.

Aniya Schwoerer

Aniya Schwoerer, an East Asian language and culture graduate who focused on Korean studies during her time at UW-Madison, was awarded the Elementary Education English Teaching Assistant Award. She is currently teaching English to young students in South Korea in Andong-si. 

Schwoerer said the goal of the Teaching Assistant Award is to provide more teachers and “shape us as cultural ambassadors with the tools and experiences we need to make an impact on our own communities.” 

After she graduated from UW-Madison in 2022, she taught English as a second language to adults who were refugees or immigrants through the Literacy Network for a year. Schwoerer said she decided to apply for a Fulbright scholarship to better understand her students’ experiences. Even after her Fulbright program ends, Schwoerer said she wants to continue the work, citing an increasing number of people who need to learn English and a need to provide language resources.

Schwoerer said her time at UW-Madison taught her to face challenges,  receive cultural exposure and gain confidence in teaching English to others. A large part of that was owed to her professors’ cultural backgrounds, she said. 

“[I] had the opportunity to learn about the Koreas from the viewpoints of native Koreans, Korean-Americans and foreigners,” Schwoerer said. That education allowed her to learn the power of differing perspectives and the presence of her own biases, she added.

In leaving for Andong-si, Schwoerer said she hopes to create the same cultural exposure for others.

“Our idea of cultural differences becomes more complex, how we experience culture becomes more sophisticated and our intercultural relations in cross-cultural situations improve,” Schwoerer said. “As we step away from our own culture being centralized in our reality, we can begin to take into account differences in perspectives and adapt better.”

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