ONIS Newsletter, April 2020

Publication date: 
Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Editor’s Note: The ONIS newsletter is a monthly record of news concerning applications for nationally and internationally competitive scholarships, primarily for undergraduates and primarily for the Twin Cities campus of the University of Minnesota. If you would like to have a copy emailed directly to you, please send a request to natschol@umn.edu.  TSJ.


Churchill Scholar Macy Vollbrecht

Senior Genetics, Cell Biology and Development major Marcy Vollbrecht has been awarded a Churchill Scholarship to study for a year at the University of Cambridge. Macy will complete an MPhil in Plant Genetics at the Sainsbury Lab. Read more about Macy.

2019 Graduate Matthew Her has been offered a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship in Thailand for 2020-21. Matthew majored in Linguistics and Asian Languages and Literatures with a concentration in Korean, and completed a certificate in Teaching English as a Second Language. He is currently working as an academic coach at a high school in Milwaukee.

Senior Linguistics and Mathematics major Austin Kraft has been offered a Fulbright Research award to studying grammatical binding in Indonesian Languages. Austin studied Indonesian as a Critical Language Scholar in the summer of 2018 and was a Rhodes Scholarship finalist last fall.

Senior English major TJ Davies has been offered a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship in South Korea for 2020-21. TJ studied abroad in South Korea in the summer of 2018 and is completing a minor in Korean language as well as a certificate in TESL.

Junior Math major Henry Twiss has been awarded a 2020 Goldwater Scholarship for his work in algebraic and analytic number theory. Twiss conducts research with Professor Adrian Diaconu on Dirichlet L-functions which has led to new proofs with implications for understanding the mechanism underlying the Reimann Hypothesis.

Aditya Shekhar, who is completing in individually designed, inter-college major, has been awarded a 2020 Goldwater Scholarship for his work in cardiology, neuroscience and public health. Shekhar has published the results of his research with Dr. Jagat Narula at Mt. Sinai Hospital and Professor Timothy Ebner at the UMTC Medical School, as well as his independent research on emergency medical technology and health care.

Nine seniors were awarded NSF Graduate Research Fellowships to support their graduate studies: Ashleigh Adams (Math), Anuraeg Bukkuri (Math), Matthew DeJong (ChemE), Judith Dominguez (MechE), Katharina Fransen (ChemE), Bailey Nebgen (Chem), Cara Nix (Math), William Ogden (Math), and Levi Palmer (Chem). Nine more recent alumni were also granted fellowships: Sori Baek (’16 Psych), Eric Brand (’18 PlantSci), James Cox (’19 Chem), Steven Goodman (’18 Math), Tiffany Hamidjaja (’17 Soc), Anatoliy Kuznetsov (’19 ChemE), Daniel Lundberg (’18 ChemE), David Lundberg (’18 ChemE), and Rahul Parhi (’18 CSci).

Five students—Nina Afremov (Russian), Anne Briggs (Portuguese), Samantha Knight, Trae Larson, and Eric Liffrig (all Japanese)—were awarded Critical Language Scholarships for the coming summer. Ben Allard (Japanese), Abram Diaz (Hindi), Samuel Erickson (Mandarin), Caleb Feltis (Mandarin), Katherine Hein (Mandarin), Gurtaran Johal (Punjabi), and Casey Lagueras (Arabic) were all named as alternates for the program. Unfortunately, due to the COVID-19 outbreak and subsequent health precautions, this round of the CLS was cancelled. Nevertheless, we want to congratulate them all on their dedication and achievement.

Scholar Profile: Kyle Armstrong

Kyle Armstrong of Neenah, Wisconsin enrolled in the College of Design in 2012 and graduated in 2016 with a major in graphic design and minor in product design. He studied abroad in Turkey in the fall of his junior year. The following year he applied for and was accepted to the Fulbright Student Program as an English Teaching Assistant in Turkey, but the program was cancelled due to political unrest. The next year he applied to the Fulbright Program in Taiwan and was again awarded a position. This time he went and hasn’t come back.

What scholarships did you apply for and what did they allow you to do?

Fulbrighter Kyle Armstrong

In the fall of my junior year, I applied for a Fulbright Scholarship to serve as an English Teaching Assistant (ETA) in Turkey . . . and ended up becoming an ETA in Taiwan two years later (more on that later). It gave me a chance to live abroad, work, and get to know a culture for two years without worrying about where my next paycheck would come from. Specifically, it gave me a position in public school classrooms working with local Taiwanese teachers to teach English and American culture. Furthermore, the Fulbright gave me a chance to become more familiar with the US Foreign Service (whose officers often interact with Fulbrighters abroad), learn Mandarin Chinese, and even to attend a luncheon with Taiwan's charming president, Tsai Ying-wen!

How did being awarded a scholarship change your academic and/or professional development? What other opportunities has is opened for you?

On my way out of college I was fairly uncertain of what I wanted to do, so I was quite open to influence from the Fulbright experience. The aforementioned exposure to the Foreign Service has led me to strongly consider becoming a diplomat, and living abroad for an extended period of time has shown me the joys of exchanging cultures and successfully communicating in a new language. Today I know I want to work directly with people and have an impact on an international stage. I partially thank this experience for those insights. I also now have opportunities to stay and work in Taiwan, and hopefully once my Mandarin is good enough I'll be able to work in positions that require it. And, although teaching English might not logically fit in my resume (nor is it something I want to do for the rest of my life), I'm confident that I've built important management and communications skills that I can use and speak to in future opportunities. Teaching 4th graders through a language barrier definitely forces you to learn to manage a room and communicate clearly, concisely, and creatively.

What did you learn about yourself through the application process? What particular skills or knowledge did you develop? How has the experience continued to be valuable?

It's hard for me to say what I learned about myself through the process itself, but the first important lesson I learned was that planning ahead--in the case of the Fulbright, beginning an application 15 months before departure--can pay off. Not only was I was grateful to have more time to revise my essays, but I realized that only by planning so far out could I get this opportunity. And then a month before I was set to depart for Ankara to serve as a Fulbright ETA, the Turkish Fulbright ETA program was cancelled due to the military coup of 2016. All that planning was upended, and I was forced to decide if I would apply again to Fulbright or move on to something else. After losing something that took so much planning and work, I wanted to give up. But, with Tim's encouragement, I ultimately decided to reapply, this time to Taiwan. That grant was thankfully not cancelled. So, the second important lesson was to be flexible and persistent in the face of unforeseen challenges.

What are you working on now?

After my two years as an ETA, my Mandarin skills progressed to a point where I wanted to continue studying, so I stayed in Taiwan and am still enrolled in classes. I just got a freelance design job designing a set of yearbooks for Fulbright Taiwan, so my college major (graphic design) and scholarship have unexpectedly come together. Still working on figuring out what I want to do next.

You have accomplished a lot. Really, how much do you sleep at night and what do you do to unwind?

Aww, shucks! Much to my surprise, I've become much healthier since coming to Taiwan, and part of that has involved prioritizing sleep. No matter how much work I have, weekday or weeknight, I try to sleep from around 11:00 to 7:00, eight hours. I read an old fashioned paper book in bed with the lights dimmed to help me unwind and fall asleep. I also set limits on reading news and checking my phone. iOS's new Screen Time features help me cap the vice of mindless phone use, especially around bedtime. In reality I probably only average seven to seven and a half hours, but I'm always fighting to get more.

Is there anything that you wish someone had told you at the beginning of your college career?

I wish someone had told me to get a different haircut. Seriously. But beyond that, as an overly analytical and self-critical person, the advice that I wish I had gotten (or probably did get, but didn't heed) is to think, hesitate, and second-guess yourself less, and to do, try, and put yourself out there more. Don't assume a person doesn't want to talk to you--go strike up conversation (research shows that you'll probably both be happier for it); don't think too long about what words to write--get something written and then revise from there; don't second-guess your qualifications for a competitive scholarship--make your best effort and see what happens.