Students win Fulbright honors

Hesham Elnagar and Alex Keller
Hesham Elnagar and Alex Keller
Hesham Elnagar, left, will spend the next academic year as an English teaching assistant in Jordan after being selected for the Fulbright U.S. Student Program. Alexandra Keller is heading to Mexico for a year as part of the cultural teaching exchange program.

Two graduate students are packing their bags for a year teaching abroad after recently being awarded international grants from the prestigious Fulbright U.S. Student Program.

Hesham Elnagar, a graduate student in the Master’s of Sustainable Communities program, will spend the next academic year as an English teaching assistant in Jordan, while Alexandra Keller, a graduate student in biology, is heading to Mexico as part of the cultural teaching exchange program.

As Fulbright teaching assistants, the two will help teach English while serving as cultural ambassadors for the United States. They also will meet, work, live with and learn from the people of their host countries.

Elnagar earned his NAU bachelor’s degree in music in 2009, following a decorated undergraduate career. He kicked off his graduate studies with an impressive scholarship through the National Society of Collegiate Scholars and spent last summer in Tunisia as a U.S. Dept. of State Critical Language Scholar. He has compiled a notable résumé for teaching in locations around the world—from Flagstaff and the Havasupai Native American Reservation, to Chicago, Baltimore, New Zealand and Fiji. He’s also traveled to Peru, the United Arab Emirates and the Cook Islands, where he’s given more than 50 lectures on topics such as art and activism, American culture and society, educational sustainability and global immigration.

“This exchange will be an opportunity to practice and advance my language and dialect skills while also learning about Jordan’s immigrant populations,” Elnagar said. “When not teaching and studying, I hope to conduct small-scale ethnographic research projects with organizations working with immigrants and refugees.”

Keller expressed a similar passion for the pursuit of teaching that incorporates multicultural perspectives. After receiving her bachelor’s degree in international affairs from NAU in 2006, Keller’s fascination with Latin American culture—and specifically the social movements of the region—led her to Central and South America, where she spent a summer traveling from Guatemala to Colombia. The trip, she said, solidified her love for the culture and people in the region.

She returned to the U.S. to pursue a rigorous graduate program in molecular biology, earning a graduate fellowship with the National Science Foundation and teaching STEM education to sixth graders. While excelling as a researcher and scholar, her passion for teaching prevails. The Fulbright program, she said, will help her bring an understanding of Mexican language, community and culture back to the classroom in the United States.

“My goal is to create a classroom culture that supports students from all walks of life and where our past experiences are a welcomed and critical part of the learning process,” she said.

Matt Petney, who this month earned his NAU bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering, was selected as an alternate for the Fulbright U.S. Student Program. In the event one of the program’s 1,900 students withdraws or additional funding becomes available, Petney may be headed to Bolivia, where he proposed a project in collaboration with a prosthetics clinic to improve the design of prosthetic feet and ankles for amputees in La Paz.