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College of Arts and Sciences Newsroom

Two University of Dayton alumni awarded Fulbright scholarships

By Allison Brace ’22

University of Dayton alumna Olivia LeBlanc ’21 is looking forward to teaching English in Estonia through the Fulbright U.S. Student Program because of that country’s school system.

“I plan to become a school psychologist in the future, and I believe that experiencing a more equitable school system in Estonia will allow me to better understand inclusive educational practices and incorporate these methodologies into my career as a school psychologist,” LeBlanc said.

LeBlanc, who holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology, is one of two University graduates to receive Fulbright awards in the 2020-21 cycle. 

Elizabeth Michalenko ’19 will be attending the University of Nottingham in the United Kingdom beginning in fall 2021 through the Fulbright program. She is pursuing a Master of Science degree in electrical engineering for sustainable and renewable energy. 

Michalenko, who holds a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering, participated in other international programs as a UD undergraduate. She studied in Italy with the School of Engineering and in London with the Global Flyers Program.

The University has now produced 37 Fulbright Scholars since 2002. It also boasts two Fulbright Scholarship alternates and one Boren Scholarship alternate for the 2021 cycle. 

The Fulbright Scholarship alternates were Emily Ruebleman, a communication major from Somerville, Massachusetts, who is an alternate for English teaching assistant in Thailand, and Emily Johnson, an environmental biology major from Valparaiso, Indiana, who is an alternate for English teaching assistant in Germany.

Kevin McLeeson, a junior business administration major from Rocky River, Ohio, is a Boren Scholarship alternate. Boren Scholarships provide up to $25,000 to U.S. undergraduate students to study abroad in areas of the world that are critical to U.S. interests and underrepresented in study abroad.

McLeeson is planning to reapply with the hope of receiving the scholarship next year to further his studies in Arabic. Ruebleman also plans to reapply for a Fulbright scholarship.

The Fulbright U.S. Student Program offers research, study and teaching opportunities in more than 140 countries. During their grants, Fulbright scholars meet, work, live with and learn from the people of their host country, sharing daily experiences. About 20% of students who apply receive an award.

“The fact that Olivia and Elizabeth received the awards at all is remarkable,” said Laura Cotten Howell, associate director of the University Honors program. “Lora Seery, the Fulbright outreach and recruitment manager, said this was the most competitive cycle for Fulbright in two ways. First, in terms of the overall number of applications received, and second, based on the country awards actually offered.”

The number of Fulbright awards presented this year was down more than 40%. This is because host countries are still attempting to honor awards from the 2019-20 application cycle due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Only half of the 2019-20 Fulbright Scholars have actually gone abroad to complete their awards.

The pandemic has resulted in limited in-person activities and halted most international travel. 

“I navigated the Fulbright application, interview and orientation process completely remotely, which was a very unique and challenging process,” LeBlanc said. “Unfortunately, I was unable to meet other Fulbrighters in person at the pre-departure Fulbright orientation, which was very disappointing, but I was still able to connect with amazing people virtually through conferencing calls and email, which makes me feel more prepared and relaxed for my upcoming departure.” 

The Fulbright experience also prepares students for their professional and post-graduate careers.

“Continuing my engineering studies abroad has been on my mind since my senior year at UD,” Michalenko said. “After graduating, I explored opportunities while working full time. When I started working from home and everything shut down for a while, I found I had time to think about the next steps in my career and focus my efforts on important applications.”

The Office of Fellowship Advising offers support and preparation assistance for students and alumni interested in applying to prestigious national fellowships like Fulbright and Boren.

“Although applying for a Fulbright grant was daunting, if this is something you are interested in potentially pursuing, you should definitely go for it,” LeBlanc said. “I received immense support and guidance from UD faculty members and the Office of Fellowship Advising, students and alumni during my application process, which made me feel supported and prepared from start to finish. I even received a handwritten note from President Eric F. Spina congratulating me for my Fulbright award, which demonstrates how supportive the UD community truly is.”

For more information, visit the Honors Program’s fellowship advising website.

Pictured top, L to R: Elizabeth Michalenko and Olivia LeBlanc.

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