News and Events
Six Pepperdine Students Earn Prestigious International Scholarships
Five recent Pepperdine University graduates have joined the elite rank of Fulbright Scholars—one of the most prestigious scholarly awards worldwide. Cameron Kruse, Aubrey Hoeppner, Wojtek Peliks, Sabena Virani, and Julia Barr ('11) will be using their Fulbright awards to travel all over the globe to embark on a diverse array of experiences as English Teaching Assistants (ETA) and researchers.
In addition, Melanie Sollitt ('11) has secured a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholarship, a program that promotes international understanding and friendly relations among people of different parts of the world.
Meet five of the Pepperdine Fulbright Scholars below to learn what they will gain from their experiences and the Rotary Scholar who will live out the organization's motto of "Service Above Self."
Aubrey Hoeppner, who graduated from Seaver College this spring after majoring in international studies and minoring in mathematics, will travel to Bulgaria as an ETA for the 2012-13 school year. Hoeppner has been interested in Eastern Europe since traveling to Romania on missions trips in high school and teaching English in Bulgaria as part of an internship last summer. "I was looking for a fuller experience in the region, one that would allow me to spend more time there and become more comfortable with the culture," she explains. While abroad, she hopes to give her students more confidence in English "to take linguistic risks without the fear that they aren't getting it perfectly."
Among her teaching responsibilities, Hoeppner looks forward to representing the United States and hopes to contribute to cultural relations by encouraging the locals to challenge stereotypes about American life. "It is an honor to be trusted with affecting the U.S. reputation abroad," she remarks. "I don't think that means telling people how wonderful the United States is; I think it means being honest about what our struggles are and about the conversations and debates Americans have. It means being considerate and helpful and valuing the people who are sharing their culture with me."
While considering applying for a Fulbright scholarship, recent Seaver graduate Cameron Kruse looked for an experience that would broaden his horizons and help him harness his skills to apply to his career. Throughout the upcoming year, the biology major will be working under Anita Mehta, director of the LM Institute of Pharmacology in Ahmedabad, India, where he plans to study the anti-retroviral properties of the plant Moringa oleifera in hopes of discovering a sustainable option aimed to help those living with HIV in underdeveloped regions.
"I believe an ethnopharmocological approach to the problem of HIV is essential to reaching those in these types of regions around the world," he explains of his research, which counters more scientifically advanced options for arresting the virus in its early stages, including Highly Active Anti-Retroviral Treatments (HAART). "Evaluating what I have learned from existing research, I consider it promising that Moringa could act in similar ways to HAART." Kruse also hopes to facilitate mutual understanding between American and Indian cultures. "My time at Pepperdine has shown me that shared experience, stepping outside your comfort zone with another, is one of the most effective ways to build relationships. I don't anticipate it being difficult to find ways I can step outside of my comfort zone in Ahmedabad. Furthermore, as an American knowing no one where I will be going, I hope to also draw out the adventurous spirit of those I meet."
Having moved from Poland to the United States in the fifth grade, Wojtek Peliks quickly learned English and later Spanish. With his Fulbright scholarship in Indonesia, he hopes to impart the incredible opportunities that he became open to while learning the language as a child, now as an English teaching assistant. "I hope to get kids excited about learning a new language and give them the skill set to pursuing their dreams," he explains. "I want them to realize there is a whole world out there to learn from and that they can grow immensely if they open themselves up to trying to understand other customs, religions, and mindsets."
Peliks first became interested in the Asian country because of his passion for surfing and Indonesia's renowned breaks. He now sees visiting the country as a way to represent his school and country. As a resident advisor at Seaver, he discovered the significance of how his actions could affect his students' perception of the University. "Now the immensity is even greater as my actions have the power to influence people's thoughts, ideas, and opinions of our country," he reflects. "I see it as pertinent that I consider the extent of my behavior and actions as influencing the relationship between Indonesia and the US."
Sabena Virani, who recently graduated with a double major in international studies and Spanish, studied abroad in Buenos Aires during her sophomore year at Seaver and became "astounded and enthralled" with the city, people, and culture. "I traveled around the country and became fascinated with the micro cultures that existed outside of the city; I knew I wanted to explore these areas more in depth, but I had to get back to Buenos Aires for school," she recalls. Upon hearing of Fulbright, Virani's first thought was to return to Argentina to connect face-to-face with those outside of the city.
Even with the odds against her—only 12 percent of applicants are accepted to Argentina, as compared to 35 percent and higher for other destinations, and Fulbright prefers sending candidates to host countries to which they have not previously traveled—she will venture to Argentina in March of 2013 as an ETA, where she also plans to study how social media affects the culture and communication process in Argentina. "I hope that my time with Argentinians will demonstrate a collaborative American spirit and openness on behalf of the entire nation," says Virani, who studied the effects of social media on culture and communication in the US, China, and the countries of the Arab Spring in spring 2011 as part of her senior thesis.
"In essence, I have been awarded the wonderful opportunity to show the positive side of America, because I am willing to share information, but most importantly, listen. After all, God gave us two ears and one mouth so we could listen twice as much as we speak."
A chance pairing of two juniors in 2009 led to a mutual learning experience that steered Julia Barr to pursue Fulbright scholarship to Slovakia, the country from where her roommate's ancestors hailed. "I was instantly intrigued by this rich culture and was filled with a desire to visit Slovakia to experience the unique culture firsthand," recalls Barr, reflecting on the many conversations the two would have about life, education, and the origin of their respective heritages.
Soon, she will be able to experience Slovakia as an ETA, an undertaking Barr hopes will teach her new ways to approach thinking, instruction, and learning that will prove invaluable throughout her future career as a teacher. "I believe that spending time teaching English in Slovakia will deepen my passion for teaching and my students' motivation to become life-long learners," she says.
Throughout her journey, she hopes to write a cookbook containing traditional recipes accompanied by stories highlighting the cultural importance and history of the dishes. Her plans also include implementing an intercultural pen pal program between her students and those studying in America. "Through my words and actions, I want the Slovak people to see America as a place that produces empathetic and thoughtful people who welcome the opportunity to learn more about themselves and others around them."