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Hunter Celebrates the Achievements of Six New Fulbright Winners

Hunter students and graduates have a long, proud record of winning the prestigious Fulbright award. This year the tradition continues, with six new winners -- Casey Detrow, Ilirjan Gjonbalaj, Patrick Lee, Jordan Stockdale, George Vourderis and Marcin Wisniewski.

Fulbright award winner and 2011 graduate Casey Detrow has ambitious plans for her upcoming grant-supported year in Germany. She will teach elementary school English, study at Humboldt University in Berlin, and conduct sociolinguistic research on Turkish migrant youth. At Macaulay Honors College at Hunter, her double major in anthropology and gender studies was accompanied by a minor in German, and she has already spent an unusual amount of time studying and working overseas.

Detrow lived in Germany during her junior year of high school. Choosing to take a gap year between high school and college, she made unique use of that time, auditing gastronomy classes at a university in the state of Tabasco, Mexico.

The summer following her freshman year at Hunter, she traveled to Berlin for a fellowship at the Free University. After dedicating the next summer to an internship at The Economist, she spent the summer between her junior and senior years using a State Department grant to study Punjabi in India. The summer after graduation involved another trip – across the East River, from her Hunter dormitory to her new home in Brooklyn.

Detrow hopes to earn a PhD in linguistics and eventually work for the U.N. or other institution where she can apply her knowledge of the intersecting roles of language, immigration and gender in societies around the globe.

Now she is eagerly anticipating her Fulbright-funded work in Berlin and other aspects of life there. “I’m very excited about teaching, about being able to bike everywhere, and about the city’s affordability,” she said.

Ilirjan Gjonbalaj, a May 2012 graduate of the Macaulay Honors College at Hunter and a biochemistry major, has won a Fulbright award to teach in Kosovo. He will be teaching English to high school students. 

The son of Albanian immigrants from Montenegro who settled in the Bronx, Ilirjan Gjonbalaj is the first in his family to graduate from college. His widowed mother works as a hotel housekeeper and in the evenings, both mother and son work the coat-check at The Metropolitan Opera.

During his four years at Hunter, Gjonbalaj volunteered with Peer Health Exchange, a nonprofit that trains college students to teach health workshops at public high schools that would otherwise lack health education. During his senior year, he trained and led Hunter’s group of 68 Peer Health volunteers.  He spent the winter break of his senior year in Salvador, Brazil, working for CAASAH, an organization that provides housing and other assistance to children and teenagers born with HIV. His plans for Kosovo include supplementary work teaching health.

From an early age, he set his sights on a healing profession. “My career goal is to be a pediatrician,” he said. “I’ve always known what I wanted to do.”  Gjonbalaj will apply to medical school this summer, and hopes to begin his studies upon his return from Kosovo.

Patrick Lee, a Macaulay Honors College graduate, majored in chemistry with a concentration in biochemistry, and his career goal is to practice medicine.

His Fulbright assignment will take him into another field, however: He will be an English teaching assistant in Macau, one of two special administrative regions on the coast of China (the other is Hong Kong). The teaching assignment is one he is well prepared for, since he has extensive experience as a tutor. Among other assignments, he led a class of high school juniors through an intensive five-week SAT program. His students increased their math scores by an average of 121 points, the greatest overall improvement of any tutor in the program. 

Lee sees the Fulbright as a life-changing opportunity: "I was born and raised in New York City and have rarely ventured outside of it. Being a Fulbright Scholar is a once in a lifetime chance to explore the other side of the world in an exciting way."

A 2008 graduate of Stuyvesant High School, Lee has been active in several college organizations, including the Hunter Jazz Ensemble and the Coalition for the Revitalization of Asian American Studies at Hunter.

Jordan Stockdale graduated in May with a master’s degree from Hunter’s School of Education. The focus of his graduate studies was special education, and as an NYC Teaching Fellow during the past two years, he has taught sixth-grade students with special needs in East Harlem.

Stockdale grew up in Kansas City, Missouri. In 2009, while earning his bachelor’s degree at the University of Missouri, he studied abroad in Argentina. As a Fulbrighter in Spain, he will teach English and other subjects at a secondary school in Madrid. 

Saying how honored he feels to receive this wonderful recognition and support, he added, “The Fulbright gives me the opportunity to pursue my passion of teaching while exploring another culture.” 

Stockdale’s future plans include doctoral studies in political science, with a focus on U.S. foreign policy, and several years of teaching on the college level. He hopes to eventually return to teaching secondary-school students.

George Vourderis was already in South Korea when the news came that he’d won a Fulbright to do research there.  He had left New York for the coastal town of Yeosu in May, immediately after completing his undergraduate coursework as a Macaulay Honors College/CUNY BA student at Hunter.  Vourderis missed Hunter commencement, but did have time to be inducted into Phi Beta Kappa before packing his bags.

His summer job in Yeosu is Student Ambassador for the USA Pavilion at the 2012 “Living Ocean and Coast” Expo. When the summer is over, he will begin his Fulbright-funded study of the role Korean colleges and universities are playing in globalization.

Vourderis has always had a deep interest in East Asian culture. He studied Korean and worked for Korean organizations when he was in high school, and later completed an internship at The Korea Society and a year abroad at Yonsei University in Seoul. That year, he also translated textbooks and volunteered as an interpreter at a Korean hospital.

A serious student of Iberian culture as well, Vourderis was president of the student-run Spanish journal Revista de la Academia from 2009 to 2010.

Music has charms to soothe the savage breast. Marcin Wisniewski’s study of those therapeutic charms has won a Fulbright award.

Wisniewski is a classical guitarist and a composer. His family emigrated from Poland when he was seven, and after growing up in Brooklyn, he came to Hunter to earn a bachelor’s degree in music. After graduating in 2010, he continued his music studies at Hunter, and received his master’s degree this spring.

On a trip to Switzerland, he met people who introduced him to music therapy.

“It’s a very old field, but just emerging as a field of medicine,” he said. “Sound is used to elicit a physical response from the body.” Giving tinnitus as an example of a condition that responds to sound therapy, he explained, “Music is edited according to how the patient’s ear is damaged, and different frequencies are used to promote healing of the eardrum.” He added that sound therapy is also being used for migraines.

After starting to engage in his own research, and with the encouragement of a Hunter professor who’d won a Fulbright when she was a student, Wisniewski drew up his successful Fulbright proposal.

He will be living and working at a health-care facility in the Swiss town of Castaneda, 30 minutes from the Italian border, assisting a doctor he met on a previous visit.

Modest about his achievement, Wisniewski says that he never expected to win the award, and that he sees his success as a lesson for other Hunter students to pursue their dreams “as much as possible.”

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