Elon seniors, alumna receive Fulbright awards to teach English abroad

Elon continues to build upon its reputation as a top producer of Fulbright award winners with members of the Class of 2019 who will be teaching in Mexico, the Czech Republic, South Korea and Malaysia through the prestigious program. 

Five members of the Class of 2019 and a 2018 alumna have received awards to spend a year teaching English in a foreign country with support from Fulbright English Teaching Assistantships. 

The award recipients were selected from a pool of 15 Elon students who were named semifinalists for an award from the Fulbright U.S. Student Program, the largest exchange program in the country that offers opportunities for recent graduates in more than 140 countries. 

Sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, the Fulbright Program is the flagship international educational exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government. Congress established the program in 1946 “to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries.”

Recipients of Fulbright grants are selected on the basis of academic or professional achievement, as well as demonstrated leadership potential in their fields. The program operates in over 160 countries worldwide, with English teaching assistants serving as cultural ambassadors for the U.S. as well as teaching English in the community.

Samantha Collins ‘19

​A history major with teacher licensure who minored in Spanish, Collins will spend a year teaching English in Mexico as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant. It will offer her the opportunity to build upon her experience in 2018 working with a college access program in Austin, Texas, work that has helped shape her professional goals. 

“I worked with many Latino students who will be the first in their families to attend college,” Collins said. “One student in particular guided me down this path after expressing his anxieties surrounding his financial aid opportunities for college. This experience greatly inspired me to pursue a career working with Latino students and English language learners in order to assist them in achieving their goals of higher education.”

A native of Medway, Massachusetts, Collins has been a Teaching Fellow at Elon, as well as a member of the Sigma Delta Pi, Pi Gamma Mu, Kappa Delta Pi and Phi Alpha Theta honor societies. She participated in the American History Study Tour and Engaging DC Study USA programs, and studied in Spain and India.

Teaching abroad has been a dream for Collins through much of her time at Elon. “I greatly enjoy learning about different cultures — Latino cultures in particular — so this opportunity will allow me to immerse myself and fully embrace cultural differences and similarities.”

After her Fulbright experience, Collins is hoping to return to the United States to teach history in high school, preferably in an area with a high percentage of English language learners. “Participating as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant will help me gain experience while also learning more about the Mexican culture,” Collins said. “I think that this experience will push me out of my comfort zone and allow me to explore my own cultural biases. This will expand my world view, while giving me an opportunity to critically examine my own background.”

Courtney Kobos ‘19

​Originally from Grapevine, Texas, Kobos is an English literature major with teacher licensure and will spend a year teaching in the Czech Republic as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant. 

A Teaching Fellow and recipient of Elon’s Leadership Prize, Kobos has also received a Fund for Excellence grant and the Intellectual Climate Award from the university. As a recipient of the Leadership Prize, she explored the challenges faced by English-as-a-second-language teachers while she worked to develop programs to empower teachers.

Her research has roots in a class she took as a sophomore, “Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages,” taught by Assistant Professor Jennifer Eidum, who would become her research mentor.

“Taking TESOL not only broadened my perspective on what it means to teach English abroad, but also introduced me to one of the most supportive professors on campus,” Kobos said. “The personal and professional lessons that I have learned from her have greatly influenced my Elon experiences and my goals beyond.”

Kobos has been looking forward to participating in the Fulbright program since her first year at Elon. In the Czech Republic, she is expecting to also research Czechia’s vocational education system to better inform her study of international education policy. “Because of those who have encouraged me, I know that I will be able to impact my students in the Czech Republic and that I will grow personally and professionally through the experience.”

She plans to return to the United States to teach English in high school, with a longer-term goal of pursuing a graduate degree in international education policy or education leadership. 

Courtney McKelvey ‘18

​An international studies major who minored in communications, McKelvey will spend the next year teaching in South Korea as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant. 

McKelvey, who is originally from Maryville, Tennessee, was an Honors Fellow and recipient of the Presidential Scholarship and during her time at Elon, she studied abroad in Sweden, Denmark, India and Turkey. Since graduating in 2018, McKelvey has completed an internship with the Organization for Refuge, Asylum & Migration in Berlin, Germany, a next step after researching refugee and migration issues as an Elon undergraduate.

It was that undergraduate research as an Honors Fellow that led her to her extensive study abroad experiences, including time in Stockholm and Copenhagen in 2017. “While there, I had the opportunity to interview a range of Swedes and Danes about their perceptions of refugees and migrants, and the national media coverage of the refugee crisis,” McKelvey said. “This ignited a deeper passion for understanding the causes and effects of migration around the world, which has since taken me to Berlin, and will now take me to South Korea.”

McKelvey said she’s honored to be selected for the Fulbright and to have “the chance to impact students’ lives for the better and create a learning exchange between cultures.” She chose the South Korean program because of the opportunity many English Teaching Assistants there have to work with organizations that are assisting North Korean refugees. 

“I hope to serve as an English tutor and learn more about the migration patterns in that part of the world, both of which will help in my career path and future studies in migration issues,” McKelvey said. 

Jill Watkins ‘19

​After majoring in strategic communications and minoring in human service studies, Watkins is heading to Malaysia to spend the next year as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant. 

Originally from Columbus, Ohio, Watkins has been a Periclean Scholar at Elon, with her cohort has focused its project on assisting a community in Sri Lanka. Watkins has received the Iris Holt McEwen Community Service Award from Omicron Delta Kappa and has served as president of the Elon chapter of Alpha Xi Delta. She has served as an English teaching assistant at the Burlington Masjid and has volunteered at the Burlington Housing Authority afterschool program. 

Through the Periclean Scholars program, Watkins has studied in Sri Lanka twice, and she also participated in the Semester at Sea program. Watkins credits her Periclean Scholars experiences as well as her time spent volunteering at Flying Horse Farms, an Ohio camp for children with serious illnesses, with helping develop her passions — sustainable development, international aid and mentoring children. 

“I am now combining these passions into my professional experience as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in Malaysia,” Watkins said. “Fulbright in Malaysia allows for rural immersion while providing mutual exchange through diverse relationships and insights, propelling the international career I see for myself. I am honored, humbled and ridiculously excited for my future with Fulbright on the horizon.”

Watkins sees this experience as a next step in her goal of obtaining a master’s degree in humanitarian and conflict response in the United Kingdom, and then building a career working for the United Nations or the U.S. State Department as a foreign service officer, focusing on humanitarian aid and development in East Asian and Pacific countries. 

“I hope to grow my knowledge of and passion for cultural understanding and mutual exchange as I weave myself into the fabric of a new culture I get to call home,” Watkins said. 

Caroline Bowen and Lauren Ventresca, both members of the Class of 2019, were awarded Fulbright English Teaching Assistantships but have declined the awards to pursue other opportunities. 

Students and recent alumni interested in Fulbright U.S. Student Grants and other nationally competitive awards are invited to contact the National and International Fellowships Office.