By: Caitlyn Freeman, Staff Writer
Photo by Cody Boteler/ The Towerlight
Towson University alumni, Katie Cowan, was selected by the Fulbright U.S. Student Program to teach high school in the Czech Republic as a part of their English Teaching Assistant Program.
According to the organization’s webpage, The Fulbright U.S. Student Program “…provides grants for individually designed study/research projects or for English Teaching Assistant Programs.” The website also says that “The English Teaching Assistant (ETA) Programs place Fulbrighters in classrooms abroad to provide assistance to the local English teachers.”
Cowan, who graduated in 2019 with a degree in elementary education and a music minor, is the 16th TU student to receive the grant since 1968 and the fifth TU student to be selected since 2010, according to the press release. The press release also explained that 11 TU students applied for the grant during the application cycle.
She found out about the TU Fulbright Committee online and attended a few interest meetings.
“Any interested student who wishes to apply for a Fulbright award can reach out to the Fulbright Committee for support and will be assigned an advisor,” said Cowan. “The advisors are professors from different departments throughout Towson who have a vast knowledge on the Fulbright application process.”
She said she worked throughout the summer on the various aspects of her application, with Dr. Colleen Ebacher, a professor of Spanish and Latin American Studies and former member of the TU Fulbright Committee.
“Universities help in different ways they help students to prepare an application. And then the application goes to a national screening committee,” Ebacher said.
Once the application goes to the national screening committee, which Ebacher says is composed of three faculty members from various universities. She estimated that the screening committee typically recommends about 10 to 20 candidates.
“Then those applications go forward to a country overseas to which the student has applied,” Ebacher said.
After that, a national committee would select the recipients. She went on to say that the application process is “very long” and “competitive.”
Cowan said that when applying for the grant, she had to complete a general application and a Statement of Grant Purpose, which she cites as being time-consuming and “difficult to compose.”
“I spent some time every week over the summer making revisions to both statements until Dr. Ebacher and I were pleased with the final product,” said Cowan.
She also had to include three references in her application and the final step of her application was to interview with the TU Fulbright committee in the fall. Once completed, she explained that she submitted her application in October, but didn’t find out about the results until late March.
Cowan said she was “thrilled” upon finding out about her acceptance. “I always thought an achievement like this would be unattainable for me and I feel incredibly grateful and honored to be accepted,” Cowan said.
She cites her various experiences with children such as directing an outdoor nature camp, teaching at 10 schools in Baltimore City and County during her time at TU, and her current teaching position at a school in Frederick County as preparation for her upcoming assistantship.
“Besides having experience as a teacher, I think some of my other interests have helped me become more open-minded and willing to try new things in the interests of the students and community I serve,” Cowan said.
Ebacher cites Cowan as a strong candidate who sought out feedback in order to better her application.
“In addition to that, she understood that every part of her application, not just the two main essays that she needed to complete, were important. All of the elements of the application were important, and she worked very hard on all of those,” Ebacher said. She also said Cowan’s experience as an educator was beneficial in terms of her being fit for the program
She believes the program is beneficial and cites it as a “life experience” and a “very prestigious award.” She also said the program gives participating students opportunities and experiences that graduate schools and future employers will be impressed by.
“And those experiences that they gain from whatever Fulbright they participate in not only are seen very prestigiously by graduate schools, by employers, but they are life-transforming experiences that tend to have an impact for many years on those that participate,” Ebacher said. “In both their outlook and their engagement with their community and the world.”
She went on to explain that she feels the program seeks out engaged students and doesn’t necessarily focus on the academics of their applicants.
“Fulbright is not looking for 4.0 students in the way that say a Rhodes or a Marshall would be. They’re very interested in students who are interested in their objective, which is their goal which is mutual cultural exchange,” Ebacher said.
Cowan recently found out she will be placed in Breclav, which she explained is located in the South Moravian region of the country. She also says that due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, all U.S. Student Fulbright Programs are delayed until January 2021. As she explained, her original grant-period was supposed to begin in September 2020 for 10 months, However, her grant is now set to begin in January of 2021 and end in June 2021.
“It was a bit disappointing to hear that the grant was delayed but I understand that this is a necessary precaution to ensure the safety of everyone involved in the program,” Cowan said. She went on to say she’s happy that she gets to complete the shortened grant period and looks forward to traveling to a new country.
In terms of challenges she may encounter during her time in the Czech Republic, Cowan explained that she will be one of the only American’s in the town she is going to reside in. She also said that due to her recently starting in her career, she has “a lot to learn” and she learns most by building relationships with her students.
“My teaching philosophy is centered around listening to my students and putting their best interests first. The students in my placement school will be preparing to go to a university after high school so I hope to be someone that they know is rooting for them,” said Cowan.
According to the press release, three additional students have been selected as finalists and alternatives for the Fulbright program. Sophia Thrappas, a senior, was selected as an alternate for the ETA grant in Spain. Windsidoma “Ida” Djigumide, a 2019 masters graduate from the Department of Women and Gender Studies was selected as an alternate for the ETA grant in Benin. Lastly, Jaimie Kittle, a 2019 masters graduate with a degree in biology, was selected as a semifinalist for an Open Study/ Research Grant in Ghana.
According to the Fulbright website, a finalist is defined as “a candidate who has been offered a Fulbright U.S. Student grant, contingent upon host country approvals, medical clearance, and submission of all required grant documents” and an alternate is “ a candidate who can be promoted to Finalist status if additional funding becomes available.”
Thrappas, who is double majoring in Foreign Languages and Health Education and Promotion, said that she felt relieved to hear back after the application process.
“However, I was a little disappointed when I found out that I was ultimately selected as an alternate candidate and not a finalist. Still, I am really proud of myself for seeing this through,” Thrappas said. She plans to reapply for the 2021 application cycle.