First-Ever Fulbright Award to North Park Student

Post a Comment » Written on April 16th, 2008     
Filed under: News
By Stan Friedman

CHICAGO, IL (April 16, 2008) – The first-ever North Park University student to receive a prestigious Fulbright Award will use the grant to combine rock and roll, bluegrass, and hip-hop music to teach English as a Second Language (ESL) in Indonesia.

Rebecca Miller graduated in December 2007 from North Park, where she studied classical guitar and earned a Bachelor’s in Music degree. She learned April 5th that she had received the award and will begin her work starting in August 2009.

Miller’s Fulbright grant is an English Teaching Assistantship (ETA), which enables her to be both teacher and student. She will spend 20 hours a week teaching ESL and communicating the United States culture. The other 20 hours will be spent studying Indonesian music and language.

The Fulbright Program is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State in order to “increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries.” It is funded through a congressional appropriation. Each year, thousands of students from across the nation apply for the limited number of awards available from the internationally acclaimed program.

Recipients of the ETA grant generally are placed in schools or universities outside of capital cities, assigned various activities designed to improve their students’ language abilities and knowledge of the United States, and fully integrated into the host community. They also may pursue individual study and research.

The grant covers travel, living expenses, and health insurance. It also provides a book and research allowance.

Miller says it makes sense to teach culture and ESL with American music. “Music is a way people in other countries already connect with American culture,” she explains. Most foreigners are familiar with rock and roll, but she hopes to communicate more of U.S. culture by exposing her students to all forms of music.

Miller, who was in the honors music program at North Park, began to consider applying for a Fulbright award in 2007, but wasn’t sure what would be the focus of her proposal. A trip to Louisiana provided the needed inspiration.

During her spring break, Miller and friends traveled to Phoenix, Louisiana, to help rebuild the community, which was nearly destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. “I went down there to do construction,” she recalls, but community leader Tyrone Edwards asked us if we would tutor students who were preparing for exams.”

Miller had tutored students in her native New York while attending high school, but had not continued the work after graduation. Working the week in Phoenix, she fell in love with tutoring once again.

“I came back and knew what I wanted to do,” Miller says.

When she returned to Chicago, Miller immediately applied to the Southeast Asia Center to become a tutor. Her interest in Asia was sparked by a world music class at North Park as well as stories from her sister, Dorothy, who travels on business through the region.

Miller had hoped to tutor Indonesian immigrant youth at the center, but she learned that no Indonesians were seeking tutoring and that adults were especially in need of her skills. “It’s funny how things work out differently than you thought they would be,” she says.

Miller already is using music to teach her students in Chicago. “If you learn words to a melody, you remember them better,” she says.

Typically, Miller helps the students read the lyrics without hearing the music. They learn more than the words. “We pull it apart and figure out what the song is saying,” she says.
Miller then plays the song on a CD several times before asking the students to follow along on the lyrics sheet. The class will then frequently sing the song together.

Miller knows she will be working with youth in Indonesia, but doesn’t know where she will be. “I don’t even know what island I will be on,” she says, laughing. That determination will be made after Miller goes through a two-week orientation program.

Linda Parkyn, professor of Spanish at North Park and herself a Fulbright recipient, helped Miller prepare her proposal and says the awards committee looks at a variety of factors when making their decision. “Student grantees are chosen for their leadership potential, their academic performance and their personal projects that fit with descriptions of programs promoted by the individual countries to which they apply,” Parkyn says.

The process included preparation of an extended essay in which Miller reflected on her love of English, her ability as a classical guitarist, and her interest in using music as a medium to teach English.

“This year will change Rebecca in ways she cannot fathom,” Parkyn says. “That’s a wonderful dream, and now a reality, to be given access and the means to live, work and give back in another culture supported by the American people.”

The recipient also bears a future responsibility, says Parkyn, who has served on committees to choose student grantees and served two years at the United Nations headquarters as well as in Chicago.

“As a Fulbrighter, you are encouraged to keep living and working and growing in the spirit of your original grant,” she adds. “It is one of the most prestigious academic awards, and all academic and business organizations know about it. We can be proud of the first North Park University recipient! The growth will follow her into her chosen life work.”

Miller hopes the time in Indonesia also will help her to clarify her own future plans. “I’ve never had the opportunity to be the foreigner,” she explains, and has not had to experience the struggles of adapting to another culture. “That is what I am trying to help my students do right now.”

Beyond picking up employment skills, Miller says, “I look forward to broadening my view of life and my spiritual understanding through experiencing how other people go about study, work, friendship, prayer, and artistic expression — every aspect of life.”

Miller is the daughter of Eleanor and Michael Miller, who attend Grace Covenant Church in Clay, New York.

Until she leaves for Indonesia, Miller will continue tutoring. She also is pursuing her own music project and playing in the Tim Lowly Ensemble, led by university assistant professor of art Tim Lowly. Miller also helps care for Lowly’s severely disabled daughter, Temma.

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