Flinn Scholars win top study-abroad scholarships

September 8, 2006

By hammersmith

by Leslie Harris, the Flinn Foundation

Four Flinn Scholars received nationally competitive study-abroad scholarships this year that fund their travels to Uruguay, Brazil, China, and Armenia.

Liz Dreeland (’01) and Ryan Johnson (’02) were awarded the Fulbright Fellowship, and Christina Kwong (’04) and Steven Cottam (’03) received the National Security Education Program David L. Boren Undergraduate Scholarship.

The Fulbright Program, sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, is the largest American international exchange program. It awards grants to students, teachers, professionals, and scholars to study, teach, lecture, and conduct research in more than 150 countries.

The NSEP-Boren Undergraduate Scholarship Program enables undergraduate students to study languages and cultures that are currently underrepresented in study-abroad and are critical to national security.

Christina, who spent the summer in China, is the only one of the four to have completed her sponsored travel. Steven has just begun his year of NSEP study in Armenia, while Liz and Ryan will begin their Fulbright travels in the beginning of 2007.

Liz Dreeland

A Spanish, history, and English major who earned Arizona State University’s certificate in Latin American Studies, Liz Dreeland (’01) professes a “longstanding interest” in Latin America. According to Liz, her interest began as a child, when her father was stationed in Latin America and sent home postcards and gifts. When she entered grade school, Liz became fascinated with the ancient Aztec, Maya, and Incan cultures.

“Latin America was kind of exotic, kind of interesting, and the more I learned about it–especially in contrast to North America–the more I wanted to know how it worked,” says Liz.

She has since focused much of her academic efforts toward learning about the region: serving as a policy research intern at the Arizona-Mexico Commission of the Arizona Governor’s Office; working for Pan American Initiatives in the Office of the President at ASU; and conducting independent research during a summer in Cuba.

However, Liz still has a major milestone ahead of her: She has yet to actually visit South America. Armed with a Fulbright Fellowship, Liz will finally visit the region in March, when she will begin an English teaching assistantship in Montevideo, Uruguay.

“I’m looking forward to finally seeing what I’ve studied for so long,” says Liz. “I’m a Latin American studies major, and I’ve still never been south of Cuba. I’m really excited to finally see the culture.”

Ryan Johnson

For Ryan Johnson (’02), a curiosity in transportation economics began on a harrowing bus ride through the streets of Chile. Alarmed by the driver’s reckless speeding, he was informed by a friend that such behavior was financially motivated: Chilean bus drivers were paid based upon number of passengers, so the more people they picked up, the higher their wages.

It was at that moment that Ryan’s path as an economics major took a significant turn. Interested in researching the interplay between economics and public transportation in Chile, he embarked on a project that landed him an internship with the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America.

In the end, Ryan’s research found that if bus drivers were paid a fixed hourly wage, they would have fewer accidents and save 55 lives per year in Santiago. His findings influenced the Chilean government’s decision to end the system of per passenger compensation.

In order to continue his research into transportation economics, Ryan applied for and received a Fulbright Fellowship that will allow him to study informal transportation systems in Brazil. He will be in Brazil from March through November conducting field research.

“There’s nothing like being on the ground for really understanding transportation problems,” says Ryan. “Instead of just reading about the issues, I’ll be able to talk to everyone from bus passengers to government officials.”

“I’ll get a better grasp on the problem and be able to collect necessary data,” he adds. “Then I’ll be able to start ‘getting creative with solutions.”

Christina Kwong

A science major who initially planned to pursue clinical medicine, Christina Kwong (’04) has since shifted her efforts toward the bigger picture of global disease. Recognizing the ever-growing threat of worldwide epidemics, Christina decided her skills would best be used in research to help prevent, rather than treat, infectious diseases.

She has spent the past summer doing just that. A recipient of the NSEP-Boren Scholarship, Christina was able to conduct research and language studies at China’s Wuhan University. She worked in a laboratory researching hepatitis B, a virus that afflicts 350 million people worldwide and accounts for 1.2 million deaths each year, according to the CIA World Factbook. In addition to her research, Christina took Mandarin lessons from a student tutor who worked in her lab.

“The most valuable part of the experience was that I was able to completely immerse myself in China and spend most of my time with native Chinese students,” said Christina. “Since I was already able to speak some Mandarin before I came to China, I was able to learn more about the nuances of college research life.”

Steven Cottam

Steven Cottam in Armenia.The average college student takes Spanish or French to satisfy basic university requirements. For Steven Cottam (’03), however, this was hardly the case. A religious-studies and history major, Steven began college studying Hebrew and Arabic. At the recommendation of fellow Flinn Scholar Justin Kiggins, Steven embarked on a mission to learn Armenian as well, enrolling in ASU’s Critical Language Institute summer program. The program ended in a three-week trip to Armenia, and Steven was hooked.

“I ended up loving it,” says Steven, who found that the language fit well with his other academic pursuits. “In religious studies, I’ve had a lot of emphasis on the interaction between Christianity and Islam, and Armenia is a Christian country dead center in the middle of three Islamic states,” Steven explains.

Eager to gain fluency and learn more about the country’s religious history, Steven has returned to Armenia on an NSEP-Boren Scholarship that will allow him to study Armenian intensively, as well as conduct research for his honors thesis on the Armenian Apostolic Church. He has already begun his year at Yerevan State University, where he hopes to gain language proficiency, background for his thesis, “and maybe some chess tricks.”