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Putting Fellowships to Work

Fall 2013 | By Stephanie Larson. Photos courtesy of Harper Otawka.

In May 2009, interior design major Sharon Smith traveled to Mexico to study abroad for four weeks, hoping to learn Spanish. She loved it so much she stayed a year and a half, returning not only fluent, but with a new calling: teaching. Now one of three CLA students who have won prestigious fellowships, Smith will pursue her passion while helping other language teachers.

Teaching others on campus about the environment is the goal of Purdue junior Allison Turner, who received the University’s first Udall Scholarship. The Udall is awarded to students who have demonstrated commitment to careers related to the environment or an interest in Native American tribal policy or health care.

Harper Otawka in Marrakech, Morocco, during her research trip under a Global Research Synergy Grant.
Harper Otawka in Marrakech, Morocco, during her research trip under a Global Research Synergy Grant.

Turner, who studies political science and natural resources and environmental science, attended a week-long Udall orientation in Arizona, where she learned principles of negotiation and environmental conflict management. Her peers from around the nation also shared environmental initiatives she can initiate at Purdue.

Upon her return to Purdue from Mexico, Sharon Smith changed her major from design to Spanish and elementary education. The recipient of a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship (ETA), she will teach at the Universidad Católica de Colombia in Bogotá, helping non-native speakers who teach English. She’ll also work part-time at the Ministry of Education and serve as a volunteer teacher for children from low-income families. She hopes to use her Fulbright experience to show others the true Colombia, rather than the inaccurate stereotype of a dangerous and crime-filled country. After her ETA experience, she intends to obtain a masters degree in English as a second language and return to Colombia.

Harper Otawka, the recipient of a research-based Fulbright grant, is determined that the benefits of her award ought to extend beyond borders. “I think people should do good things with this opportunity, not just for the United States, but for the country that they’re going to,” says Otawka, who will split her time between Mexico City and Guadalajara.

Drawing a parallel to the increase of women replacing men in the U.S. workforce during World War II, Otawka explains that in Mexico, “Instead of men going off to war, they’re migrating—sometimes permanently. I wanted to see if that changed women’s roles in their communities.”

Her research on the impact of gendered migration on the people and places left behind in Mexico during the 1990s and 2000s will expand her 2012 work on border regions and immigration in Morocco and Spain under a Purdue Global Research Synergy Grant.

Otawka, who majored in creative writing and Spanish, will begin applying for law schools while working in Mexico, and hopes to combine her passion for immigration and gender issues with a career in law. She also plans to publish—not only an academic paper on her research, but also a piece of creative nonfiction about the experience.

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