Five CSB graduates to go abroad after earning Fulbright awards from two organizations

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June 4, 2020

By Mike Killeen

group of winners

Here are the 2020-21 Fulbright winners from the College of Saint Benedict. Clockwise, starting upper left: Kathryn Weinmann, Samantha Givens, Amanda Bjerke, Julia Petron and (center) Allison Grodnick.

Five College of Saint Benedict 2020 graduates earned “Fulbright” awards, but from two different countries and two different programs.

Three graduates received awards as Fulbright English Teaching Assistants (ETAs), sponsored by the Department of State and the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board – Amanda Bjerke, Samantha Givens and Allison Grodnick.

In addition, two graduates received Fulbright Austria-United States Teaching Assistant positions through the Austrian Federal Ministry of Education, Science and Research – Julia Petron and Kathryn Weinmann.

The Fulbright U.S. Student Program places recent college graduates as English Teaching Assistants in schools and universities overseas. The ETAs improve international students’ English abilities and knowledge of the U.S., while enhancing their own language skills and knowledge of the host country.

ETAs may also pursue individual study/research plans in addition to their teaching responsibilities.

Since 2013, 39 students or graduates from CSB and Saint John’s University have earned U.S. Fulbright ETA awards.

For decades, Fulbright Austria has worked with the Austrian Federal Ministry of Education, Science and Research to bring qualified university graduates from the U.S. to teach English in secondary schools in Austria. As teaching assistants, they help Austrian students develop the linguistic skills that will help them succeed.

They also serve as an informal cultural ambassador and promote mutual understanding between the peoples of the U.S. and the Republic of Austria.

Bjerke, from Elko New Market, Minnesota, graduated with a degree in German (she also has two minors, one of which is teaching English as a second language). She’ll put those degrees to good use serving as an ETA in Germany. Her program is set to begin in January 2021 (as with all the programs, dependent on local/national/international restrictions concerning COVID-19).

“I am truly honored to be selected for this award,” Bjerke said. “In the current moment, it feels surreal. If living through a pandemic has reassured me of anything, it is that life can change at any moment. Knowing that, I live my life day by day, appreciating it for what it is – another day closer to accomplishing my dreams.”

Givens, from Ventura, California, graduated with a degree in political science. She will be serving as an ETA in Malaysia, with the program set to start in January 2021.

“I applied to Fulbright because of the mentorship aspect and the opportunity to foster relationships with young students. However, I am most excited to empower young girls in helping them find their voices so they can write their own stories,” Givens said.  “Knowing who you are and how you should be treated is vital in establishing trusting relationships.”

Grodnick, from Brooklyn Park, Minnesota, graduated with a degree in biochemistry. She’ll serve in Poland, with her program set to begin Jan. 8, 2021.

“I am excited to pursue an opportunity that incorporates my passions of learning, science, teaching and travel. As an aspiring professor, this opportunity will be an invaluable experience as I continue toward this goal,” Grodnick said. “I hope to grow professionally and personally throughout my Fulbright ETA. I cannot wait to begin this exciting experience.”

Petron, from Zimmerman, Minnesota, graduated with a degree in German. She actually qualified for both the U.S. and Austrian Fulbright programs, but chose the latter because “it will provide me with a great environment for achieving my future goals.

“While at my placement in Austria, I hope to be able to gain a greater understanding of the world through making meaningful connections with others,” said Petron, whose program begins Oct. 1. “My placement is in Vienna, a very international city, which will certainly provide plenty of opportunities to achieve this goal.”

Weinmann, from Fargo, North Dakota, graduated with a degree in music (instrumental education emphasis). She is also part of the Austrian Fulbright program, and her first day of teaching will be Oct. 1.

“To me, this opportunity is a reflection of my academic efforts and time I spent at CSB and SJU,” Weinmann said. “Throughout the last four years, I studied diligently, practiced routinely and absorbed as much information as possible. I am extremely thankful for the late nights in the library and early mornings in the (music) practice room. But most of all, I’m thankful for the coaching and guidance from my professors and mentors.”

Two other CSB graduates were accepted into Fulbright programs, but declined the invitation. Tracy Magooba – who earned the Thomas R. Pickering Graduate Fellowship – and Ilyse Putz are both attending graduate school. Magooba was accepted into the Turkey ETA program, and Putz into the German ETA program.  

CSB and SJU students interested in applying for a Fulbright Award for the 2021-22 academic year should contact Phil Kronebusch, professor of political science and coordinator of Competitive Fellowships at CSB and SJU, or Lindsey Gutsch, assistant director of the Academic Center for Excellence and Success at CSB/SJU.