An NAU force for peace: A Fulbright year abroad for three NAU students focuses on education, community

May 13, 2019

Austin Miller dreamed of a career in the U.S. Foreign Service, but his busy academic and work schedule never permitted time to study abroad. The Northern Arizona University master’s student in communication is making up for it now with selection by the Fulbright U.S. Student Program for a fully funded English Teaching Assistantship (ETA) in Bulgaria next year. By leveraging his teaching and debate coaching experience as a graduate teaching assistant, Miller demonstrated why he was an excellent candidate for this country.

“I have always been attracted to Bulgaria since a family friend is Bulgarian,” he said. “Hearing stories of her childhood in Ruse, Bulgaria, from learning English from a British teacher to the cat fur jacket her father made her, made me want to understand not only the people more, but also the politics of one of the European Union’s newest members.”

Austin Miller

In addition to teaching English, Miller will work with the BEST Foundation, coaching speech and debate after school and traveling to speech competitions. He wants to share with Bulgarian students how speech and debate creates people who are engaged, creative and critical thinkers with a voice to go into the world and change it.

Miller also has plans for engaging with his community through his love of coffee shops and conversation and his talent as a photographer. It is a chance, he said, to see the world through a new lens.

Biology major Laura Lillis spent her junior year in Mexico at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) as part of the NAU Global Interdisciplinary Program. The research opportunity she stumbled into that year became a chance to help make biopharmaceuticals more affordable and attainable for lower-income people and countries across the globe. Impressed with her work, UNAM invited her to do a master’s degree and continue her research. Lillis turned to Fulbright for funding to make it possible. While most Fulbright countries fund one academic year abroad, COMEXUS, the Fulbright-García Robles Commission in Mexico, will support up to two years in a master’s program or up to three years in a doctoral program with strong academic performance.

“While at UNAM, I helped to perfect a consistent method of using shockwaves, a physical phenomenon, in order to transform fungi so that they would produce complex genetically engineered proteins for use in research and ultimately pharmacology,” Lillis said. “Now, my UNAM mentors have helped me map out an exciting thesis project which will be the next step in a collective line of research that has the potential to revolutionize the biopharmaceutical industry.”

Laura Lillis
Laura Lillis (left)

Lillis is looking forward to continuing her participation with her university and local communities with activities ranging from helping university students with their English, to participating in arts and crafts with children, to learning Latin dances.

“Receiving the Fulbright means I get to continue contributing to the Mexican scientific community and growing in my international competence while also knowing that I have the support of Fulbright, making me and my research a part of something much bigger than myself, a community of students, scholars, and professionals all over the world working toward mutual understanding and making the world a better place,” she said.

As a master’s student specializing in teaching English as a second language, Megan Wagy has known for years that she wanted an international career. The Fulbright ETA in Brazil will allow her to grow as an educator, enhance her Portuguese and collaborate with professional educators. She will bring her experience from teaching at the university and the elementary level to creating a collaborative classroom environment, while learning how to adapt her teaching skills to this English as a foreign language setting and individualize instruction for her students’ optimal language growth.

After her teaching assistantship, she wants to continue working in Brazil through the Regional English Language Office or the English Language Fellowship.

“Brazil provides a unique backdrop for learning about English education in a foreign environment, while also looking at the impact of cultural and political factors,” Wagy said. “I want to then pursue a Ph.D. in educational leadership with a focus on the impact of the community in education and work within educational systems in Latin American countries.”

Megan Wagy
Megan Wagy

Wagy is passionate about connecting with people and culture and education for all. She hopes to help Brazilian educators with their English skills while studying methods used in Brazil to promote literacy development in K-12 language classrooms. In the community she looks forward to markets, festivals, practicing her Portuguese and learning Latin dance.

The Fulbright U.S. Student Program offers its participants the unique opportunity to acquire valuable intercultural, professional and life experience and the chance to make an impact in their local community. It is designed to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and those of other countries. It is the preeminent international exchange for U.S. citizens and nationals, sponsored by the U.S. Department of State. Seniors, recent graduates and graduate students interested in applying for a Fulbright grant next year or in the future should contact NAU Fulbright Program Adviser Melissa Hatfield Riggs in the spring or early summer at natl_scholarships@nau.edu. Candidates prepare applications in the summer, apply in the fall and go abroad the following academic year.

NAU logo

Melissa Hatfield Riggs | Honors College