North Park University Student, Art Professor Selected for 2012 Fulbright Awards

Fulbright Awardee Karen Kelly
Karen Kelly

Kelly to teach English in Andorra; Okore to teach 'environmental art' in Nigeria

CHICAGO (May 1, 2012) – The U.S. Fulbright Program awarded overseas teaching opportunities to two women from the North Park University community this spring. Senior Karen Kelly was awarded an English Teaching Assistantship to teach in a secondary school in Andorra, a small European country between France and Spain. Nnenna Okore, associate professor and art department chair, was named a U.S. Fulbright Scholar, and will teach and work closely on environmental art projects with artists, galleries, and art organizations in her home country of Nigeria.

Kelly will graduate this month from the University with a double major in global studies and French, and will leave for Andorra later this summer. She is fluent in English, French, and Spanish, and has taken Arabic courses at the University. Most Andorrans speak French or Spanish. Many also speak the country's official language, Catalan. The mix of languages and cultures piqued Kelly's interest in serving Andorra. "That's what stood out to me because on the description for candidates, it said they will give preference to candidates who speak Spanish or French. That will fit well," Kelly said.

The daughter of Evangelical Covenant Church (ECC) missionaries, Kelly was born and raised in Mexico City, and is a dual citizen of Mexico and the United States. She learned about the Fulbright program before she went to North Park University after her parents, Rev. Thomas and Janice Kelly, met former Fulbright Scholar Linda Parkyn, professor of Spanish. That relationship later led to Kelly's decision to apply.

Growing up in a missionary family and attending an international school with students from throughout the world influenced Kelly's global interests. "Being around people who were different from me and speak different languages than me was just normal. I loved it. I had friends from all over the world," she said. Kelly has never been to Andorra, but did study in France during her junior year at the University. Andorra is known for tourism, shopping, and skiing. Its population is nearly 100 percent literate, she said.

Kelly's essay, in which she discussed Andorra as a country "tucked" between French and Spanish cultures, impressed Parkyn. "Her essay followed this metaphor as she described her own life, growing up 'tucked' between the cultures of Mexico and the United States. Karen will be an ambassador for an increasingly mobile group of young Americans who carry with them various 'tucked between cultures' experiences," Parkyn said.

Kelly is looking forward to her role as U.S. representative during her Fulbright year. "I see it as an opportunity to build bridges and break down barriers. I like the unknown, too, to see what's going to come of it," she said.

Fulbright Awardee Nnenna Okore
Nnenna Okore

Art Professor Nnenna Okore to teach environmental art in home country

Nnenna Okore will travel to Nigeria in August, and plans to use her Fulbright Scholarship to teach artists how to use discarded materials to create works of art, and raise attention for environmental restoration in Nigeria.

"It's always been my dream to go back and teach in one of their universities, and share what I've learned here with faculty and students," Okore said in an interview. Okore is a sculptor, whose niche is in environmental art. She uses materials such as newspapers, wax, cloth, rope, clay, and sticks in her art. "It's something I've been very interested in for a long time," she said.

There isn't an effective way of recycling in Nigeria, and many artists have tried including recycled materials in their work. But generally, the culture does not accept such works as genuine art because recycled materials are used, Okore explained. "Part of my aim is to begin to bring some authenticity to the use of our environment, and the use of things that are byproducts of that environment, whether social, physical, or consumer environment. We should be thinking of ways to recycle things back into our art and into our daily lives," she said.

With her Fulbright grant, Okore, who planned sabbatical leave for the coming academic year, will open a studio in Lagos. She plans to collaborate with local students and artists in creating art from recycled materials, raise attention for recycling and environmental restoration, and discuss future art collaborations involving Nigerian institutions and the University. She will also design and teach a course in environmental art at the University of Lagos. Okore will debut the works she creates at the Centre for Contemporary Art, Lagos, beginning in May 2013. Later, she plans also to display the works at the University's Carlson Tower Gallery, and in other venues.

Okore, of Morton Grove, Ill., began teaching at the University in 2005. She has been recognized with several national and international awards. Okore's family will go with her to Nigeria for the academic year, and she plans to stay in touch with North Park University art students via Skype and other online venues.

Parkyn, who also helped Okore prepare her Fulbright application, said her own Fulbright Scholar experiences "force her to see the world in uncommon ways." "One day eager student faces look to you for guidance in the classroom; the next day they debate American involvement in their lives with skepticism; in the same conversation they invite you for coffee to ask you questions about your beliefs. It is a whirlwind of learning for all involved. Professor Okore's art will inspire, attract, repel, and incite. This is every professor’s dream, and to share North Park’s wonderful artist with these Nigerian students is almost magical," Parkyn said.

The Fulbright Program was established by the U.S. Congress in 1946, and is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State. It is the largest U.S. international exchange program offering opportunities for students, scholars, and professionals to undertake international graduate study, advanced research, university teaching, and teaching in elementary and secondary schools worldwide.

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