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Core Program Student Receives Fulbright

University of Dayton graduate Olivia Thomakos '18 will venture to Malaysia to teach English in a secondary school through a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship (ETA) award.

Thomakos, a Core program and Honors program student from New Philadelphia, Ohio, earned a bachelor’s degree in English and Adolescence to Young Adult education.

In Malaysia, Thomakos will use her Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) certification. No stranger to travel, she has participated in University study abroad programs and internships in Greece, London and Hawaii. She is the fourth University of Dayton Fulbright scholar sent to Malaysia in five years.

“I was drawn to Fulbright when I started to explore options to teach abroad after graduation,” Thomakos said. “It is an amazing opportunity to be part of a larger group of people who are supporting you and going through the same experience while teaching English. I hope to gain cultural knowledge of Malaysia and learn how to be a better teacher, especially for those learning English as a second language.”

Thomakos is the fourth Core student in two years to win prestigious scholarships: three have won Fulbright ETA awards, and another won the Austrian Ministry of Education Teaching Assistantship administered by Fulbright Austria.

The Core program is a challenging two-and-a-half year interdisciplinary curriculum in which courses center around the common theme, “Human Values in a Pluralistic Culture,” and fulfill many requirements of the University’s Common Academic Program.

“Core was such a different learning experience compared to my other college classes,” Thomakos said. “I loved that Core pushed me to think differently, and it taught me that I have a voice and that voice is important. Core also showed me that stories have many different perspectives, even stories we have been calling history. My biggest takeaway from Core is that life is interdisciplinary; I am better able to see how things are connected because of Core.”

William Trollinger, Core program director and history professor, believes Thomakos possesses a multitude of gifts.

“Olivia is very bright, extremely curious about other cultures, and a terrifically creative teacher, all of which came to bear on her experience teaching poetry in an English Language Learner class here in Dayton,” Trollinger said. “I am most struck by Olivia’s humility. She absolutely resists presenting herself as better than others. She will thus endear herself to the people she encounters in Malaysia.”

The Fulbright U.S. Student Program is sponsored by the United States government and provides intercultural education exchange opportunities like teaching English abroad, conducting research or attending graduate school abroad.

The University of Dayton has now produced 30 Fulbright scholars in the last two decades. This year was a record for the University with 12 applicants overall — six of whom were semi-finalists — with five winners, including Thomakos. Other Fulbright research and ETA winners this year will travel to Poland, Albania, Senegal and Slovak Republic.

Laura Cotten, associate director for fellowships and graduate school advising, believes University of Dayton students fully understand the Fulbright mission and vision and make great applicants. She said the opportunities allow students to see the world and use their skills in an international context.

“Olivia is fascinated by the history of oral traditions still alive in Malaysia, and she hopes to incorporate this aspect of culture into her classroom,” Cotten said.

After the Fulbright experience Thomakos hopes to continue teaching abroad. If not abroad, she plans to continue teaching English and explore graduate school. She sees her Fulbright as a means to push herself to become a better teacher and a more well-rounded individual while assimilating to Malaysian culture.

From her first campus tour to her graduation in May, Thomakos’ University experiences are vast and plentiful. The common thread among them was the community of people who made a difference in her life.

“UD has provided opportunities for growth and adventure, but none of it would be as enjoyable if it weren’t for the lovely people who helped and supported me along the way,” she said.

- Marissa McCray, Core program assistant, College of Arts and Sciences

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