Sarah Fox named Fulbright Scholar
By Melinda Grimsley-Smith

Posted on May 11, 2015 12:04 PM

For the second straight year, a student from the Land of Logan has been named a Fulbright Scholar. Russellville High School graduate Sarah Fox received the honor this month, a year after Logan County High graduate Wesley Bromm was named.

She is one of seven Western Kentucky University students or graduates to receive the honor, two of whom are alternates for the international study program.

Erin Asher of Louisville, Lindsey Houchin of Bowling Green, Kayla Sweeney of Somerset and Rebecca Thieman of Louisville along with Fox received Fulbright grants to study or teach English abroad. Hayley Hilbert of Louisville and Ryan Vennell of Chatham, Illinois, are alternates.

Fox, a fourth-year music and history major, is the daughter of Susan Fox and Brian Fox and a student in the Honors College at WKU. She will study for a master’s degree in music, choral conducting pathway, at the University of Birmingham in England.

“This will allow me to study conducting under the renowned conductor Dr. Simon Halsey,” she said. “This program, unique among conducting programs worldwide, is an intensive internship with Dr. Halsey, who serves as the director of Choral Activities and the University of Birmingham as well as the director of the London Symphony Chorus and the Berlin Radio Choir.”

As one of two conducting students, Fox will take private conducting and singing lessons that focus on vocal pedagogy. While at WKU, Fox has intertwined her passions for music, education and social change, founding an after-school music program at T.C. Cherry Elementary School and teaching a leadership course for Super Saturdays. Studying at the University of Birmingham is the next step in her interdisciplinary career goal to harness music’s potential to mitigate the effects of poverty in the U.S. and abroad.

Asher, a fourth-year international business and economics major, is the daughter of John and Deidra Asher and a student in the Honors College at WKU. She will use her Fulbright to pursue a master’s degree in spatial, transport and environmental economics at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam in the Netherlands.

“I am primarily interested in urban economics and the role of population and urbanization in the dynamics of this facet of economics,” she said. “I would like to further understand how these affect economic development in different regions, and across countries.”

After completing her degree, Asher plans to return to the United States. “I would like to work within cities in the U.S. that have been exposed to prolonged periods of economic decline and that are in need of revitalizations,” she said.

Houchin, a 2011 WKU graduate and current graduate student in English, is the daughter of Allen and Martha Houchin. She was awarded a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship to Croatia.

Between her degree programs, Houchin went to South Africa as a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar, studying education at University of Cape Town and teaching English to refugees. Her experience there, as well as work experience in the Office of Study Abroad and Global Learning and the Honors College at WKU, helped her make a strong case for Croatia, where ETAs work with university students on conversational skills but also advise on international educational opportunities.

Houchin said the Fulbright ETA would blend her interest in “teaching English language skills, specifically personal essay and other creative nonfiction composition, to high school and/or college students while advising them toward international experiences of their own.”

Sweeney, a fourth-year student majoring in English for secondary teachers, is the daughter of Richard and Janie Sweeney and a student in the Honors College at WKU. She was awarded a Fulbright ETA to Malaysia.

“After a period teaching abroad, I plan to teach ESL in the United States,” Sweeney said.

This will be Sweeney’s first time abroad but she has developed a strong international perspective at WKU, largely through participation in the International Club and Bridges International.

Thieman, a 2014 WKU and Honors College graduate in psychology and English, is the daughter of Robert and Norma Thieman. She was awarded a Fulbright ETA to Malta.

Her work with refugees in Bowling Green and across the state helped make her a highly competitive candidate for Malta.

“I have a strong interest in immigrant and refugee issues as well as war trauma,” she said. “Malta is a major hub for incoming refugees to the European Union. This small country has a very large number of refugees and migrants from war-torn regions in Africa and the Middle East. I applied for a Fulbright in Malta with the intent of volunteering with people of this demographic and teaching them life skills and English.”

Hilbert, a fourth-year international affairs and political science major, is the daughter of John and Tammy Wilder and a student in the Honors College at WKU. She was designated an alternate for a Fulbright ETA to Germany.

Studying in Germany the summer after her first year at WKU stoked an interest in the country and tutoring and mentoring experiences in Big Brothers Big Sisters and Public Achievement cemented her desire to teach English there. In addition to teaching English, Hilbert is interested in building on her research on policies affecting German women by speaking with German women about their experiences of those policies.

Vennell, a 2014 WKU and Honors College graduate in broadcasting, is the son of Kenneth and Roxanne Vennell. He was designated an alternate for a Fulbright Grant to pursue a master’s degree in documentary filmmaking at Royal Holloway, University of London.

Vennell has been working in live sports production for Fox, ESPN and CBS since his first year at WKU as well as producing programs for WKU-PBS. His proposal combined a growing interest in stories that happen off the field with an interest in the nature of Championship League football (soccer) fandom well developed by a semester of study in the UK.

“I hope to begin transitioning to a career in which I produce and direct sports documentaries,” he said.

Melinda Grimsley-Smith, coordinator of international scholarships with the Office of Scholar Development, said she was thrilled with the continued success of WKU students and recent graduates in the Fulbright competition.

“We’re especially excited to see the diversity of this year’s awardees’ destinations, projects and rationales for applying,” she said. “I always tell students that Fulbright isn’t necessarily for everyone, but it is for a lot of students, and these results bear that out.”

WKU President Gary Ransdell offered his congratulations to the 2015 Fulbright honorees. “Five Fulbright awards and two alternates speaks volumes about the strength of our high achieving students and the faculty who mentor them,” he said. “The opportunity for high academic success and international experience are why these students chose WKU for their higher education, and why WKU is leading the way in this important measure of national competitiveness.”

The Fulbright Program, the U.S. government’s flagship international exchange program, is sponsored by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the United States Department of State. The largest international exchange program in the United States, the Fulbright U.S. Student Program awarded about 1,800 grants annually to fund an academic year of study, research, or English teaching in one of about 140 countries worldwide last year. In each of the past two years, more than 10,000 graduating seniors and recent graduates applied nationwide. Grantees are selected on the basis of academic merit, leadership potential, and demonstrated ability to serve as cultural ambassadors for the United States while abroad.


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