Waiting patiently and nervously was just part of the process Katherine Winner, Wittenberg class of 2019, had to withstand for months before learning that she was a recipient of a Fulbright U.S. Student Program grant.
The application was due at the start of October 2018, but she didn’t learn the results until mid-March 2019. However, it was well worth the wait as Winner will now head to the Czech Republic in late September 2019 for a nine-month research project.
Winner, from Cincinnati, Ohio, completed a double major in biochemistry/molecular biology and Spanish to graduate this past May and is now set to pursue research at the Institute of Parasitology in České Budějovice, Czech Republic, researching “nuclear tRNA export as a quality control of tRNA processing and modification.” The institute is a branch of the Czech Academy of Science, the leading public research institution in the Czech Republic.
Winner is one of three Wittenberg students awarded a Fulbright. Madison Krstich, class of 2019 from Johnstown, Ohio, will spend the 2019-20 academic year as an English teaching assistant in Uzbekistan, and Thomas Zabonik, class of 2019 from Westerville, Ohio, will be working next academic year as an ETA in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Germany. Wittenberg now has 29 winners dating back to 1952 when Barbara Gaver served as an ETA in France.
While the Czech Republic offers a new experience, Winner is no stranger to studying abroad.
“I am not nervous about staying in a foreign country for an extended period of time; in fact, it exhilarates me to think that every day I will have the potential to put myself out of my comfort zone and learn about another culture,” she said. “I have studied abroad twice before. In the summer of 2017, I went to Acapulco, Mexico, to shadow an orthopedic surgeon for six weeks, and in the fall of 2018, I went to Madrid, Spain, to study Spanish for four months. The summer before my senior year of high school, I participated in a service trip in Mazatlán, Mexico. This was a pivotal trip for me from which I determined that I love learning about other cultures and languages. I’m looking forward to learning about a new culture in the Czech Republic and trying my hand at learning the local language. I’m also really excited to dive into the research side of my grant and continue learning about my chosen topic.”
Winner was torn about which Fulbright opportunities she wanted to pursue as she could have applied to be an English teaching assistant in a Spanish-speaking country.
“In the spring of 2018, I was nominated by my Spanish advisor, Dr. (Ruth) Hoff (associate professor of languages and the department chair), to apply for the Fulbright, and I started my application that summer with the intention to apply as an English Teaching Assistant in Spain,” Winner said. “Over the summer, I was doing research at The Ohio State University (OSU), and my research advisor suggested that I instead apply to do research with one of his collaborators in the Czech Republic. From that point on, it was a frantic effort to change around my application to reflect my new interest. My OSU advisor was instrumental in securing my affiliation with his collaborator at a Czech research institution, and Dr. (David) Barry (associate professor of German) here at Wittenberg was instrumental in preparing and finalizing all of my application materials.
“Once I decided to pursue research, I felt like the Czech Republic was the most likely place to secure an affiliation and to also continue the research I did last summer at OSU. While in the Czech Republic, I will be continuing the research that I started at OSU last summer,” added Winner, who worked in Wittenberg’s Office of Admission and as a supplemental instructor in Biology 170 and 180, ran cross country as a freshman through her junior year, was a member of the swim team her freshman and sophomore years, and served on the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee. She was also a member of Delta Gamma, Alpha Phi Omega, president of the Outdoors Club, and president of Ivy Ring.
Winner said that Delta Gamma has had an enormous impact on her growth over the past four years at Wittenberg.
“Through this organization, I was introduced to a group of inspiring women who taught me that hard work and confidence are the key to achieving my dreams,” she said. “Each woman I interacted with in the organization continually encouraged and supported me in all my endeavors. Though I am now an alumna, I still feel the love from current and graduated members alike, and know that I could turn to any one of them for advice and support in the future.”
Being a Fulbright grantee was never part of Winner’s plan until she saw that the option was actually possible.
“When I first started studying at Wittenberg, I thought I had laid out an exact career path to follow that would lead me to a physician assistant school, but over the years, I became interested in many different topics, and my path began to change,” she said. “Once I applied for the Fulbright grant, I knew it was something that I wanted deeply. It opened up the opportunity to explore all of my interests and not just limit myself to one field of study. Because I had the opportunity to major in both science and a foreign language, Wittenberg has set me up to continue on a variety of career paths. But for right now, I want to savor the experience of conducting research in a foreign country without being entirely sure of what’s next.”
The Fulbright U.S. Student Program is the largest U.S. exchange program offering opportunities for students and young professionals to undertake international graduate study, advanced research, university teaching, and primary and secondary school teaching worldwide in more than 140 countries. Recipients of Fulbright grants are selected on the basis of academic and professional achievement, as well as demonstrated leadership potential.