Elon students, alumnae selected to teach abroad through Fulbright Program

All 12 Elon students who were selected as semifinalists by the prestigious program that offers opportunities abroad for recent graduates were either selected as finalists or named alternates.

Six members of Elon’s Class of 2022 and two alumnae have been selected to teach English in a foreign country through the Fulbright U.S. Student Program, with another four students named as alternates for Fulbright awards.

It was a remarkable year for Elon students applying to the prestigious program, with all 12 Elon applicants who were named as semifinalists for awards selected as finalists or named alternates.

“The success of Elon students in this highly competitive selection process is a testament to their wide range of academic achievements, extracurricular commitments, and dedication to cross-cultural exchanges,” said Professor Ann Cahill, director of the Office of National and International Fellowships at Elon. “It is also a credit to their mentors, who have guided them throughout their undergraduate careers, and who will remain crucial sources of insight and support as they embark on these exciting opportunities.”

The largest exchange program in the country, the Fulbright U.S. Student Program awards more than 1,800 grants annually in all fields of study. Recent graduates and graduate students undertake graduate study, advanced research, university teaching, and primary and secondary teaching worldwide. Founded in 1946, the Fulbright Program is the flagship international educational exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government and is designed to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and people of other countries.

Elon has been repeatedly recognized for the number of its alumni who participated in the Fulbright Program as assistant teachers, graduate students, and researchers, and in 2021 was named a top producer of Fulbright students for the sixth time since 2012.

Receiving awards this year are:

Jack Corby ‘22

Jack Corby, who is graduating with a degree in policy studies, has received a Fulbright Award to teach English in Bulgaria. Originally from Alexandria, Virginia, Corby has served this year as student body president and executive president of the Student Government Association. An Elon Engagement Scholar, Corby was honored as residential assistant of the year for the Historic Neighborhood and by Omicron Delta Kappa, the national leadership society. He is a member of Pi Sigma Alpha political science honor society and the Order of Omega Greek honor society.

Corby says he became deeply interested in education during his first year at Elon when he shadowed a local third-grade teacher for 30 hours as part of an education class. “I have taken that love for education and growth to my activities at Elon, using the lens of higher education and student government to see the same power education has, both in and out of the classroom,” Corby says. “I am excited to take this love for education to Bulgaria through my Fulbright.”

Corby is looking forward to seeing another country’s system of education firsthand as an English teaching assistant, and he expects to be challenged in new and different ways during the year to come. “Educational policy is something I have found a passion for while serving as student body president and taking different courses here at Elon,” Corby says. “While I know Elon has prepared me very well for this experience, I expect to grow as a student and a global community member.”

Samantha Dominguez ‘22

A biomedical engineering major and member of the Elon women’s soccer team, Samantha Dominguez will be teaching English in the Czech Republic through the Fulbright program. Dominguez is an Honors Fellow and member of Phi Beta Kappa from Keller, Texas, who was a Colonial Athletic Association Institutional Scholar-Athlete of the Year for 2021-22. She studied in Italy during her senior year, participated in the senior class giving effort and as a volunteer with the It Takes a Village Project, Special Olympics and the YMCA soccer program.

As an undergraduate researcher, she is interested in diversity, equity and inclusion in STEM education, and she is appreciative of the role that the Fulbright Program plays in promoting cultural understanding. “We, as humans, must understand what things and experiences make us different from each other in different cultures, and why those things really make us more similar than different,” Dominguez says. “This award is an opportunity with boundless implications because stories and knowledge that I share with people I will meet in the Czech Republic will lead to further understanding and empathy. That may make all the difference in the future on the road to a more interconnected world.”

Dominguez expects her experience in the Czech Republic through Fulbright will put her ability to collaborate and exchange ideas to the test on a global scale.” I hope to go into medical research in the future, and only by working together and sharing diagnoses, stories and data will my colleagues be able to save lives and improve the health of our patients,” she says. “I hope I will gain a broader on what the world holds and my place in it by the time that I return from my experience in the Czech Republic.”

Deena Elrefai ’22

Deena Elrefai, who is double majoring in public health studies and international and global studies, has received a Fulbright Award to teach English in Uruguay. From Leesburg, Virginia, Erefai is an Elon College Fellow and member of Phi Beta Kappa who received the Lumen Prize. She’s also a member of the Sigma Delta Pi, Sigma Iota Rho and Kappa Omicron Nu honor societies, and has been a Periclean Scholar. During her time at Elon she has worked in the Office of Admissions as a diversity ambassador and as an admissions intern for diversity and access.

She is a facilitator for the Elon Challenge through Experiential Learning and Outdoor Adventures, and is a student member of the Health, Equity and Racism Lab through the Public Health Studies Department. She will begin her time as a Fulbright teaching assistant in March 2023 after working for Borderlinks, a program focused on education surrounding refugees, migrants and border issues.

Elrefai says that her experience with research at Elon has been one of the most transformative experiences of her undergraduate education. “While I have always had an interest in global development, my time in Alamance County has given me a specific interest and focus on local engagement that will serve me well as I move into my career with a focus on asset-based, sustainable community work,” she says.

She has dreamed of being selected for a Fulbright award throughout her time at Elon because the program encourages cultural exchange and learning in a way that brings together her interests and her passion for experiential education. “I am so grateful to all of the amazing mentors and support that I have had over the last four years at Elon, and I can’t wait to pursue this amazing opportunity,” Elrefai says. “The Fulbright will help me develop my skills in cultural humility and allow me to experience a new culture in the region I have become so passionate about studying. I am looking forward to the cultural exchange between the U.S. and Uruguay, and supporting the Fulbright’s mission of education and exchange abroad.”

India Kirssin ‘21

Alumna India Kirssin, originally from Mason, Ohio, has received a Fulbright Award to teach English in Argentina. An international and global studies major with a Latin American concentration, Kirssin was an Elon College Fellow, a member of Phi Beta Kappa and of Sigma Delta Pi honor societies and a recipient of the Brian Digre International Global Studies Outstanding Student Award. A member of women’s club soccer and Intervarsity, she was a university tour guide and volunteered with Family Abuse Services and with English Language Learners. She studied in Peru during Winter Term 2019.

A trip to Spain during high school developed in her a love of the ability to learn a new language and use it to form unique relationships. “This love continued throughout my time at Elon as I studied Spanish and quickly became passionate about the history, politics and culture of Latin America through my studies and my travels to Peru,” Kirssin says.

Kirssin was studying in Argentina when the pandemic hit, which brought an abrupt end to her global experience that semester. “I became more determined than ever to make it back to Latin America to live, work and continue improving my Spanish skills,” Kirssin says. “These experiences have collectively shaped my journey as a language learner, a student and an Elon alum working toward my professional goals.”

Kirssin was selected as an alternate for the Fulbright program last spring and has spent the past year working as an English teacher in Spain, making it even more meaningful to be selected this year to return to Argentina as an English teaching assistant. “This award validates my hard work, perseverance and adaptability over the past few years as I’ve worked to accomplish my goals,” Kirssin says. “I am grateful to have the opportunity to be a representative of the U.S. and to continue the rewarding work of teaching English and sharing my culture while I immerse myself in my students’ culture through Fulbright. As someone interested in a future career in international policy and affairs, this grant will help me achieve those goals by continuing to challenge and change my understanding of the world, and the space English speakers and U.S. policy and culture hold in it, as I live and work in another country and create my own community in another culture.”

Tasia Theoharis ‘22

After double-majoring in political science and international and global studies, Tasia Theoharis will be teaching English in Germany through the Fulbright Program. Originally from Hastings, Nebraska, Theoharis is an Elon College Fellow and Provost Scholar who is a member of multiple honor societies — Phi Beta Kappa, Phi Kappa Phi, Phi Eta Sigma, Sigma Iota Rho and Delta Phi Alpha. She was content editor of The Pi Sigma Alpha Undergraduate Journal of Politics, she worked with Elon Votes! and volunteered as an English as a Second Language tutor at Alamance Community College.

Her family hosted multiple exchange students when she was growing up, which offered an avenue to learn about other countries and cultures and instilled in her the desire for adventure and cross-cultural connection. Those experiences helped lead her to majors at Elon as well as her study of German and her pursuit of the Fulbright Award.

Theoharis will attend the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University to pursue a master’s degree in international relations following her time as a teacher through Fulbright.

“The opportunity to serve as an English teaching assistant is a welcome challenge, Theoharis says. “I am excited to go out of my comfort zone and gain a deeper understanding of the German culture. For years, I have studied German in the classroom, but the chance to wholly immerse myself into the language is an unparalleled opportunity to learn.”

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Through the Fulbright Award, Theoharis anticipates putting her past four years of academic work into practice. “Serving as a cultural ambassador to the United States, connecting with students in the classroom, and experiencing the German culture will bridge what I have learned educationally with real-world experiences,” Theoharis says. “In my future career working in international relations, my experience living abroad and integrating myself into a German community will give me an understanding of non-American ways of life in a way I couldn’t before. I know I’ll come out of my time serving as an English teaching assistant as a more capable global citizen and thinker than before.”

Also receiving awards this year were Miso Kim ’22, Allison Potter ’22 and Angela Myers ’21, with each declining the award to pursue other opportunities.

Four Elon students and alumni were named alternates for Fulbright awards this year. As alternates, these can be promoted to finalist status if additional funding becomes available. Alternates this year are:

  • Sadie Traylor ‘21 (English Teaching Assistant, Laos)
  • Emily Katz ’22 (English Teaching Assistant, Spain)
  • Catherine Stallsmith ’22 (English Teaching Assistant, North Macedonia)
  • Cameron Wilson ‘21 (English Teaching Assistant, Colombia)

Rising seniors who are interested in applying for a Fulbright US Student grant in the next competition cycle should contact the National and International Fellowships Office as soon as possible.