Seven UC Davis students and alumni are headed to three continents as cultural ambassadors. Three have won prestigious grants, awarded by the Fulbright U.S. Student Program to promote educational and cultural exchange, and will conduct research in Ukraine, Indonesia and India; four others have been awarded the grants to teach English in Malta, Colombia, Malaysia and Germany.
- Jennifer Hoover of Davis, California
- Gillian Irwin of Davis, California
- Nina Fontana of Davis, California
- Ana Skomal of Bonita, California
- Joshua Paull of Walnut Creek, California
- Amanda Eke of Sacramento, California
- April Kersh of Seattle, Washington
The program of the U.S. Department of State awards about 1,900 grants annually to fund airfare, room and board, health insurance and incidental expenses for one academic year of international graduate study, advanced research and teaching in 140 countries. Students and young professionals are selected on the basis of their academic and professional achievement, record of service and leadership.
Jennifer Hoover, India
Hoover, who earned a bachelor’s degree in anthropology from UC Davis in 2000 and soon began work as a teacher, later took classes for personal interest at the Craft Center on campus. Those classes in the textile arts would lead her to enroll in UC Davis graduate studies, do research at sheep-shearing stations in California, earn a master’s degree in textiles in 2016, and make three visits to India. Now Hoover is headed to the Himalayan state of Himachal Pradesh in India. She will examine wool production practices from shearing through weaving to help bridge the gap between shepherds who discard wool or sell it for export and craftspeople who buy synthetic yarns and import wool.
Gillian Irwin, Indonesia
Irwin, who has already studied in Indonesia and taught English there with a Fulbright grant, has received two new Fulbright awards to spend 12 months in Indonesia. Through the Critical Language Enhancement Award, the doctoral student of ethnomusicology will study to improve her already advanced skills in the Indonesian language. Then she will research how the government’s 2013 standardized curriculum, which seeks to develop moral character, has affected music programs in middle and high schools. She will research Indonesian documents in the national archive, conduct interviews and observe music classes. After completing her doctoral degree, Irwin plans to pursue her research through a fellowship and later be a university professor.
Nina Fontana, Ukraine
Fontana, a doctoral student of ecology, will live among the Hutsul people of Ukraine’s Carpathian Mountains to explore their traditional ecological knowledge for managing and using nontimber forest products including wild edible plants and mushrooms. Of Ukrainian heritage, she said the region is considered the Amazon of Europe, and its flora species provide key indicators of ecosystem health in response to climate change. Fontana’s aim is to create a database that captures the relationship between the highlanders’ gathering practices and plant productivity to inform land stewardship policy and conservation.
Amanda Eke, Malta
Eke, who expects to graduate in June with a bachelor’s degree in gender, sexuality and women’s studies, will teach English at the University of Malta. A musician who plays six instruments, manages artists and produces music, she plans to incorporate into her lessons hip hop as well as the Maltese music tradition of Ghana, a rhyming, conversational form of ballad or argument. She has presented her research on the artistry of black female musicians and their roles as political activists at Harvard and Purdue universities. She also tutors at the Juvenile Detention Facility and the Yolo County Jail, both in Woodland, California. Eke plans to pursue a doctorate in cultural studies and then, as a university professor, develop courses that enhance cultural knowledge and understanding through different concepts of identity.
Ana Skomal, Malaysia
Skomal, who will complete her undergraduate studies in food science and technology this fall, will teach English to schoolchildren in rural Malaysia. Fluent in Spanish and English, she plans to hold yoga classes as part of a women’s health club she will start in her community there. Skomal has done a health internship in India and studied abroad in China. She has been active with the student organization Chicanos in Health Education, served as both a medical volunteer and translator at the Joan Viteri Memorial Clinic in Sacramento and founded the Yoga Club at UC Davis. She plans on attending medical school to become a family or primary care physician.
Joshua Paull, Colombia
Paull will teach English in Colombia as he pursues an early career teaching English as a second language in Latin America and eventually to children of American military personnel stationed abroad. A graduating senior with majors in history and international relations, he is fluent in English and Spanish. Paull has studied abroad in Cuba, volunteered with an environmental organization in Guatemala and tutored immigrants through the Solano County Library. Included in his luggage will be his saxophone so he can get involved in cumbia and salsa bands.
April Kersh, Germany
Kersh, who earned a bachelor’s degree in English in 2016, will teach English in Germany.