Two students named Fulbright semi-finalists for Ukraine, Mexico

The Fulbright Program has a long history of improving intercultural relations through its education and research programs that create an exchange of knowledge and ability between the United States and over 160 countries.

University Relations
University Relations

Academics across the country from soon to be college graduates to doctoral students working on their dissertation, apply for various Fulbright awards in the hopes of expanding their worldview via research in a foreign country or educational efforts within schools abroad.

This year, Baldwin Wallace is proud to have two Fulbright English Teaching Assistant Award semi-finalists, Klementyna Pozniak and Jessica Villacres.

Throughout their time at Baldwin Wallace, these students have been largely focused on capitalizing every opportunity, inside and outside of the classroom, that undergrad has to offer. Spending countless hours dedicated to research, community service, and the study of language, Pozniak and Villacres are ready for the next step after graduation this spring.

Pozniak and Villacres have both received semi-finalist status and are currently waiting for the final round of the vetting process and interviews with the programs in the host countries they applied to—Pozniak with Fulbright Ukraine and Villacres with Fulbright Mexico.

Pozniak said the process is both extremely intensive and rewarding.

“I was so convinced I wouldn’t get it, but somehow I made it this far. I mean you’re not necessarily competing against your peers, but the hundreds of applicants that applied to your country,” said Pozniak. “At least in my case for Ukraine, you apply for the country as a whole, then place their candidates that are suitable to different universities. You teach and lead discussions and things like that, but they want to have this really strong integration of culture.”

Differentiating yourself as an applicant can be challenging, which is why in the case of these applicants, they sought to gain additional cultural experiences.

Villacres volunteered in a school in the Cleveland School District that’s specifically for English as a Second Language students who have recently come to the United States.

“It gave me a good sense of what I was getting into because it was classroom exposure and teaching, and definitely practice teaching a language,” said Villacres.

Pozniak completed a six-week summer intensive language program at the University of Pittsburgh to study Ukranian, and completed a thesis project on the Eastern European communities in the Greater Cleveland area.

Experiences like these have not only benefited these students but have changed the trajectory of their lives after college.

Applying for the Fulbright awards is an advantageous process. Moreover, selected applicants have contributed to the resurgence within the Undergraduate Research and Creative Studies (URCS) program.

Two years ago, the Fulbright Program was moved to fall under the URCS program in order to reach more students. Dr. Amy Lebo, director of the Honors Program and URCS, was heavily involved in this transition.

Dr. Lebo, as well as other honors program advisors, made a point to inform and recruit students to apply for the Fulbright Program.

This resulted in the first Fulbright Award recipient at Baldwin Wallace, Willian Lekan, in over a decade.

This success has only motivated Dr. Lebo more.

“Our aim above all else is to help students get the absolute most they can out of their university experience, and then to be stepping away from BW at graduation, as the most competitive candidate for whatever it is that’s next for them, whether that’s graduate school or Fulbright or employment,” said Lebo.

She also notes that the Honors Program is hopeful to aid a larger subset of the student body not just honors students.

“We’re trying really hard to kind of bridge the gap to serve any student that’s highly motivated,” said Lebo.

This year’s two Fulbright semi-finalists have much more in store for them, preparing for their next steps to achieve a year-long Fulbright English teaching position in Ukraine and Mexico. Pozniak and Villacres sing high praise of this program and hope more students in the future will consider applying.

“To be honest, you do have to be a high achiever and you have to be passionate and dedicated enough to get through a strenuous application,” said Villacres. “But there’s no right way to do it. Find your own way, find what you’re passionate about.”