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Fulbright Announces Two Mount Students as Semi-Finalists

Two students from Mount St. Mary’s University—Saribel Morales-Rivera, C’18, and Alexandra (Alex) Johnson, C’18—have been recommended as Fulbright semi-finalists. As a result, Morales-Rivera and Johnson are one step away from attaining the prestigious grant, which would allow them to continue their academic pursuits in Spain and Greece, respectively.

fulbright-logo.pngMorales-Rivera and Johnson both applied for English Teaching Assistant (ETA) Programs through the Fulbright U.S. Student Program. The Fulbright U.S. Student Program is designed to provide research, study and teaching opportunities through grants in more than 140 countries to recent graduates and graduate students. The ETA programs enable award winners to join local English teachers in their respective countries to provide assistance through teaching the English language as well as communicating and representing American culture.

“Attainment of semi-finalist status speaks to the quality of our students and their ability to compete on the national stage,” said Jamie A. Gianoutsos, Ph.D., competitive fellowships director and assistant professor of history at Mount St. Mary’s.

Gianoutsos noted that four Mount St. Mary’s students have been awarded Fulbright ETA grants since 2015. Alyse Sphiehler, C’17, is currently teaching English on her Fulbright fellowship in Altacomulco, Mexico. Two other 2017 graduates were awarded ETA grants to Kazakhstan and Argentina but declined them to pursue other studies. Brigid Flay, C'17, is pursuing a master's degree at the Middlebury Institute for International Studies, where she is studying international trade and economic diplomacy, and Samantha Solis, C'16, is earning a doctorate in English at UCLA, with a focus on contemporary American literature and Latin literature. John-Paul Heil, C’15, a finalist for the Fulbright ETA to Italy in 2015, declined the award to pursue his doctorate in history at the University of Chicago.

In addition, in November 2017, Dylan Holden, C’18, became the first Mount student to be named as a semi-finalist for the Marshall Scholarship. Being shortlisted for the Marshall is a high honor; in 2016, 159 applicants were selected as semi-finalists from 946 applications. Forty-three recipients were named following an interview process.

If selected, Morales-Rivera and Johnson will not only work in their host country, they will also interact in other facets of life and day-to-day tasks. This immersion allows Fulbright award winners to develop a deeper understanding of the culture and beliefs of their hosts.

The Competitive Fellowships Committee, comprised of Gianoutsos, Thane Naberhaus, Ph.D., and Garth Patterson, Ph.D., oversaw these applications and conducted the Fulbright on-campus interviews.

saribel-small-1.jpgAccording to Fulbright, applicants who reach this stage will be notified if they have been selected, designated as an alternate or not selected between early March and late May, with dates to vary by country.

Saribel Morales-Rivera, C’18, an honors student, is a history and Spanish double major. She applied to the Fulbright ETA Award to Galicia, Spain because of her love for Spanish history and literature discovered early in her college career as well as her passion for teaching which she uncovered by serving as a Spanish tutor.

“There are two ways I wish to engage with the Galician community,” Morales-Rivera explained. “First, I desire to take Gallego language courses, and also Spanish history courses, if possible, as a non-degree seeker at a local university. Second, I would like to volunteer in the archival or collections department of a local museum. I have already been in touch with a number of museum and libraries in Galicia about this possibility, including the Archeological Museum of the Fortress of Saint Anton in A Coruña.

Morales-Rivera plans to continue her study of contemporary Spanish history by pursuing a doctorate in European historical studies, with a focus on the impact of the Spanish Civil War and the memory of Francisco Franco on contemporary Spanish politics. She is grateful for the professors and administrator who wrote recommendation letters for her: Christine Blackshaw, Ph.D., Jamie Gianoutsos, Ph.D., and Kristin Sites.

alex-johnson-small-1.jpgAlexandra (Alex) Johnson, C’18, also an honors student, is a double major in interdisciplinary studies (communication, theology and sociology) and foreign languages (with a concentration in Italian) as well as a history minor.

The Greece ETA appeals to Johnson because of the all-encompassing nature of the Hellanic-American Educational Foundation (HAEF) program and the opportunity to gain experience in a foreign classroom. The Greece ETA is run through the HAEF, which provides fellows with the opportunity to work inside and outside the classroom.  "If time permits, I would like to engage with members of the community through running, either by joining a local running club or running with HAEF students on the school track,” Johnson said.

Johnson’s future plans include working for a nongovernment organization which creates educational opportunities for girls and women in underprivileged countries. She is considering pursuit of a doctorate in international education development.

Johnson is thankful for the professors who wrote her recommendations: Paige Hochschild, Ph.D., Gregory Murry, Ph.D., and Marco Roman, Ph.D.

For more information on the Fulbright U.S. Student Program please visit