Grinnell College Graduating Seniors and Alumni Receive Fulbright Grants

May 21, 2020

Four Grinnell seniors and two alumni were awarded Fulbright U.S. student grants for research/study and teaching English in 2020–21. They were selected based on their academic achievement and leadership potential, with the opportunity to exchange ideas and contribute to finding solutions to shared international concerns.

For more than 70 years, Fulbright grants have provided future American leaders with an unparalleled opportunity to study, conduct research, and teach abroad with the goal of increasing mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries.

The Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, which oversees the Fulbright program, will delay the start date of 2020–21 Fulbright U.S. Student Programs until after January 1, 2021. This revised January start date assumes that the travel pandemic warning levels have been reduced by that time. In addition, individual countries may have to make decisions about administering the program in 2020–21 due to circumstances in their countries.

“Despite the delay, the following graduating seniors and alumni are well-prepared to apply their Grinnell College education and multitude of transferable experiences to be successful ambassadors around the globe,” said Ann Landstrom, Fulbright program adviser (FPA) and assistant dean and director of global fellowships and awards in Center for Careers, Life, and Service.

Valencia Alvarez, class of 2020, awarded a Fulbright Grant.
Valencia Alvarez ’20, awarded a Fulbright Grant.

Valencia Alvarez

Valencia Alvarez ’20, from Yucaipa, California, was selected for an English teaching assistantship in Mexico, where she will support classroom English language learning. As a biology major with a Latin American studies concentration, Alvarez plans to research vulnerable population’s access to and success in the public education and health care sectors for her supplemental project. Within the community, she plans to foster athletic abilities as a volunteer leader in youth soccer leagues.

Alvarez, a QuestBridge scholar, was captain and member of the Grinnell College women’s soccer team, active participant and global envoy leader for the Global Learning Program and studied health studies and lived in Chile through IES Abroad.

“Through my experiences working with children in Yucaipa and volunteering in Chile, I have learned a lot about patience and flexibility,” Alvarez said. “I will use this opportunity to challenge my ability to connect to others and act as an ambassador of the United States.” Using her Spanish-speaking skills, communications skills, compassion, and soccer abilities, she hopes to create meaningful relationships in and out of the classroom.

Following her Fulbright grant, Alvarez will pursue a Master of Public Health degree in global epidemiology with support from the Grinnell College Elsie M. Stouffer 1924 Fellowship. She wants to dedicate her career to public service in Latin America, supporting community health programs in Mexico and Chile.

Benjamin Binversie

Ben Binversie, class of 2017 graduate awarded a Fulbright Grant.
Ben Binversie ’17 awarded a Fulbright Grant.

Ben Binversie ‘17, from Mequon, Wisconsin, was selected for a Fulbright English teaching assistantship in Argentina where he will work with university-level students who are studying to become English teachers. As a history major with a concentration in policy studies and coursework in Spanish, Binversie plans to continue his own exploration of the Spanish language and Spanish-speaking cultures while engaging in a collaborative learning environment with Argentina’s future teachers.

Outside of the classroom, he will engage the community through storytelling, with an emphasis on Argentinians’ relationship to mental health, which seems to be quite open and less adherent to social stigma. His supplementary project will entail investigating the connections between mental health and education systems through conversations in his host community.

Binversie’s teaching experience after college as a full-time paraprofessional in a bilingual middle school and during college as a tutor in the Liberal Arts in Prison program has formed his student-centered approach to language instruction. He also conducted a historical-education research project with Professor Deborah Michaels to create online lesson plans for teaching Native American history in Iowa. His college experience is rounded out by work at a legal aid clinic on the Navajo reservation, off-campus study in Spain and leadership on Grinnell’s baseball team. In August 2018, he returned to his alma mater as content specialist fellow for the communications office, where he created and produced the All Things Grinnell podcast series.

“The Fulbright grant feels like a natural extension of my experiences and skill set as an educator and storyteller,” Binversie said. “I plan to use my experiences in education and lessons learned from living and connecting with new people and languages to engage future English teachers in relevant and meaningful learning, bringing my own worlds to Argentinians and embracing the opportunity to learn from their worlds.” After completing the Fulbright grant, Binversie will continue to use storytelling through public radio, podcasting, or some form of education as a platform to create meaningful change in communities.

Sophie Neems

Sophie Neems, class of 2016 graduate awarded a Fulbright Grant.
Sophie Neems ’16 graduate awarded a Fulbright Grant.

Sophie Neems ’16, from Iowa City, Iowa, was selected for a Fulbright research/study grant in Spain, where she will study climate change and agriculture. As a double major in anthropology and Spanish, Neems will study Spanish farmers’ perceptions of climate change, the factors — such as one’s place-based identity — that influence these perceptions, and the effect these perceptions have on farmers’ decisions to employ climate-smart agricultural practices. She will work with her affiliate, professor Maria del Mar Delgado-Serrano at the University of Cordoba, to address questions such as, “Is a person who feels connected to their place more likely to recognize the threat of climate change and be willing to make land management decisions that ensure the health and longevity of their place?”

“Despite national boundaries and cultural differences, the impacts of climate change affect everyone, everywhere,” Neems said. “Solving the climate crisis depends upon understanding how decision makers at the local level, namely farmers, perceive the problem and are motivated to make change. I’m honored to have the opportunity to learn from such leaders in Spain.”

In addition to her grant research, Neems plans to take a rural development course at the university. She also hopes to volunteer with the Royal Botanical Gardens of Cordoba to meet non-university Spaniards, interact with and teach young people, and learn about local plant varieties.

Neems’ own complex connection with her native Iowa landscape inspires her to understand other people who derive strong feelings from their place. While in college, Neems studied agriculture in her anthropology course, Culture and Agriculture, served as a three-year representative on the Center for Prairie Studies board of directors, and conducted her senior anthropology thesis on farmers. She learned to question agriculture and its effects on communities and the environment.

After college graduation, Neems moved to Washington, D.C., to work in federal agriculture policy and communications. Her experiences at the National Farmers Union and then Farm Credit, as well as her position on the Women Food and Agriculture Network board of directors, put her place-based Iowa identity into a national context and pushed her to consider the systematic and practical constraints affecting farmers’ decisions.

After completing the Fulbright grant, Neems plans to earn a doctorate in anthropology and write a dissertation about the impacts of climate change on agriculture. She wants to teach others about the power of anthropological methods to generate understanding and effective communication across differences.

Madeline Nelson

Madeline Nelson, class of 2020, awarded a Fulbright Grant.
Madeline Nelson ’20, awarded a Fulbright Grant.

Madeline Nelson ‘20, from Golden Valley, Minnesota, received a Fulbright combined research/study and teaching award in Austria. Nelson will live in Vienna, conducting research on the intersection of science education and internationalism, working as an English language teaching assistant, and taking classes at a local university. As a double major in German studies and biological chemistry, she has a distinct curiosity on how having an international worldview impacts global science collaboration. That influences her research project: “The effects of internationalism on the attitudes of students in secondary science classrooms.”

“I am so excited to develop my skills as a researcher, teacher, and German speaker,” Nelson said. “The world is evolving so fast right now, so I think this is a perfect time to devote energy to educational research and figure out what can help students succeed in these changing times.”

Nelson worked as a biochemistry tutor and chemistry lab teaching assistant at Grinnell College and as an intern in high school English classrooms while studying at Freiburg University in Germany. She was also on the German student educational policy committee and was a violist in chamber ensembles, orchestra, and Collegium Musicum while in college. During her Fulbright, Nelson will devote time to cross-cultural engagement through music ensembles, volunteering, and having a language exchange partner.

When she returns to the United States, Nelson plans to pursue employment and advanced education to strengthen access to science education and increase public knowledge on science issues that affect our world.

Alicen Pearce

Alicen Pearce, class of 2020, awarded a Fulbright Grant.
Alicen Pearce ’20, awarded a Fulbright Grant.

Allie Pearce ‘20, from Iowa City, Iowa, was selected for a Fulbright English-teaching assistantship in Mexico, where she will support classroom English language learning. As a political science major with concentrations in policy studies and American studies, she plans to research how societal issues impact the Mexican education system and the personal experience of Mexican students and teachers for her supplementary project. Within the community, she plans to volunteer with youth-based programs that influence students’ learning experience and character development.

While at Grinnell College, Pearce was co-chair for Campus Democrats and senator for the Student Government Association. She served as a teaching assistant with the Grinnell College preschool and as an English language volunteer instructor at the Iowa International Center, along with a summer education policy internship with the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee in Washington, D.C.

“I am so happy to have been offered this opportunity to travel, meet new people and work in a classroom,” Pearce said. “I think it is an especially important time to build relationships with people from Mexico because of the current political climate. Above all, though, I’m very excited to work with the students. I think they’ll teach me as much as I’ll teach them.”

Following her Fulbright grant, Pearce plans to attend graduate school for a degree in education policy so that she can continue to work to expand educational opportunities for vulnerable populations.

Kathryn Perry

Kathryn Perry, class of 2020, awarded a Fulbright Grant.
Kathryn Perry ’20, awarded a Fulbright Grant.

Kate Perry ’20, from Los Angeles, was selected for a Fulbright English-teaching assistantship in Germany to assist in teaching American studies and English language to German students at all pre-university levels. As a double major in history and German with a linguistics concentration, she plans to learn more about German culture and perfect her language and teaching skills while serving as a cultural ambassador for the United States. Perry wants to join community groups including an orchestra and a hiking society.

At Grinnell College, Perry was a National Merit scholar, a peer tutor and grader in linguistics classes, member of the linguistics student educational policy committee, and student worker in the library archives. As a student of violin and viola, she was the concertmaster of the Grinnell Symphony Orchestra and member of chamber ensembles. While in her third year, Perry studied for a semester at Freiburg University in Germany; in her second year, she served as a research assistant for professor Vance Byrd reading and summarizing German 19th-century newspaper articles in the German National Library in Leipzig.

“I love the nuance, messiness and creativity of language as an expression of human culture,” Perry said. “I want to help German students master forms of expression in the English language and gain insight into American culture, as I did in reverse while studying the German language and having the privilege of living and learning in Germany.”

Following a Fulbright year, Perry plans to obtain a doctorate in historical linguistics and hopes to teach at a small private liberal arts college where she can provide hands-on teaching and mentoring for students.

Two Grinnellians Selected as Alternates

Two Grinnellians were named alternates in the Fulbright U.S. Student Program process for 2020–21 and may receive Fulbright grants if funding becomes available:

  • Elena Kohn ’20, of New York City, is an alternate for an English-teaching assistantship in Russia. She is a Russian major with a peace and conflict studies concentration.
  • Jacob Leder ’20, of Westwood, Massachusetts, is an alternate for an English-teaching assistantship in Russia. He is a double major in political science and theatre and dance.

The Fulbright U.S. Student Program operates in more than 140 countries worldwide and annually awards more than 2,100 grants for U.S. students to study overseas. Visit Fulbright U.S. Student Program for more information about the program.

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