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Two Students Win 2010 Fulbright English Teaching Assistant Awards

2010 Fulbright Winners Ruth Blidar and Laura Johnson

CHICAGO, IL (April 13, 2010) – North Park University is proud to announce that Ruth Blidar and Laura Johnson have been honored with Fulbright English Teaching Assistant awards, which will enable them to teach English abroad for a year following their graduation in May. Blidar and Johnson are the fourth and fifth recipients of Fulbright awards at North Park University in the last three consecutive years. This year’s honors strengthen North Park’s core identity as Christian, urban, and multicultural, and provide exciting new avenues for expanding the University’s reach around the globe.

The daughter of Romanian immigrants, a fluent Romanian speaker, and a history major, Blidar (pictured top left) is a commuter student who has actively explored North Park University’s many opportunities for learning and teaching in a multicultural context. She treasures the one-on-one relationships with professors and solid friendships she has cultivated at North Park. Blidar says, “I enjoy learning history because it’s all stories, and I love getting to know people and their stories. I can’t wait to meet my students in Romania and learn about them, as well as share my stories with them.”

Having grown up in a small, rural Illinois town, Laura Johnson (pictured bottom left) selected North Park in large part for the broad spectrum of ethnic and cultural backgrounds it offers. A biology and Spanish major, she chose biology as a path to a career in medicine, and Spanish as a gateway to the vibrant Latino community and culture of North Park’s Albany Park neighborhood. “I hope to sharpen my understanding and practice of the culture and language of my Latino friends and neighbors in Chicago,” says Johnson, “and I want to use this experience as a means to achieve mutuality in relationships between Mexicans and Americans.”

Dr. Linda Parkyn has championed promising North Park students and coached them through the Fulbright preparation and application process, including award winners Riley Clark in 2009 and Rebecca Miller in 2008. “The Fulbright program changes students’ lives forever,” says Parkyn. “It offers a wonderful opportunity to meet the people of the world and figure out your place in it.” Winner of a Fulbright Specialists award to teach applied linguistics at the Universidad Nacional de Agricultura in Catacamas, Honduras in 2009, Parkyn also works with the teacher exchange program to bring teachers from Mexico to North Park.

“Dr. Parkyn pitched the Fulbright idea to me when I was a wide-eyed freshman in her introductory Spanish class,” recalls Johnson. “At that point, I didn’t think I was qualified to compete at the Fulbright level—but the seed was planted. The idea of living in and engaging another culture for a whole year captivated me.”

The Fulbright Program is the flagship international educational exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government and is designed to increase mutual understanding between the people of the U.S. and other countries. It provides participants, chosen for their academic merit and leadership potential, with the opportunity to study, teach, and conduct research, exchange ideas, and contribute to finding solutions to shared international concerns.

Both award winners have big plans for the future, bringing to life the University’s mission “to prepare students for lives of significance and service.” Blidar says, “I hope to work in ESL when I return to the U.S. I have realized I have a calling to work with students with diverse backgrounds. My plan is to learn from my Fulbright experience working with Romanians to be a better teacher.”

Johnson has been accepted at the University of Illinois at Chicago Medical School, and she will begin her studies there in 2011 to pursue an MD/MPH degree. “As a future physician,” she says, “part of my job will be educating my patients. As an ETA, I hope to build my communication and teaching skills so I will be able to provide high-quality care to patients. Eventually, I hope to be a family practice doctor and work in an underserved area of Chicago or other big city with a sizable Latino population.”

Dr. Parkyn offers advice to students who would like to apply for a Fulbright award: “Start thinking about the next steps now, from your first year forward. It’s about leadership. Good grades are the basis, and a track record of getting involved with something you care about deeply—through volunteering or teaching—is essential.”

Of the achievement, Johnson says, “I still don’t quite believe it. It feels like a dream! It has been fun to share the news with my friends, family, and North Park professors who have supported me tremendously throughout this process. This award is an accomplishment for all of us.”