CWRU experiences help recent alumna become Fulbright scholar in South America

As a student at Case Western Reserve University, Blaire Volbers was a Spanish, chemistry and education major who ran varsity track and cross country and studied abroad. Now, as a recently graduated alumna, Volbers is taking the education, athletic and international experiences she gained at Case Western Reserve and beginning her future as a Fulbright scholar.

When Volbers (CWR ’12) studied abroad in Argentina the summer between her sophomore and junior years, she noticed two things that were a major part of her life in the U.S. weren’t as prevalent in Argentina: women in chemistry and avid runners.

Volbers was about to enter her third season as a member of the women’s cross country team, so she was in the thick of training as she studied abroad—but she seemed to be the only one around with any interest in running. Similarly, as she prepared to return to her upper-level chemistry courses at Case Western Reserve, she found she was one of the scarce few women scientists in her Argentinian community.

Then, when she came back to the U.S., she realized something else.

“I had a really good experience in Argentina,” she said. “I learned a lot, and it gave me more of a perspective globally. But I realized I wanted to become more fluent in Spanish and, though I definitely improved a lot, I wanted to be better. I wanted to better understand the culture.”

And so, when her senior year came around, Volbers applied for a post-graduate Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship to take her back to South America, where she could not only learn more about the culture, the people and the language, but where she also would have a chance to look into the reasons behind the lack of female scientists and leisure runners.

After a thorough application process that began in the fall of 2011, Volbers learned last March that she’d been named an alternate for an English Teaching Assistant (ETA) position in Argentina. In May, when she still hadn’t heard a definitive answer from the Fulbright program, Volbers signed a letter of intent to accept a teaching position at a Cleveland-area high school.

But in June, as she went to email to the Fulbright administrators to notify them that she was removing her name from the process, Volbers’ phone rang: It was a Fulbright employee calling to let her know an ETA position was open in Uruguay—Argentina’s next-door neighbor.

Volbers accepted the offer, and in March she’ll head off to Uruguay—a country she visited for a day trip while studying abroad in Argentina—for nine months.

As an ETA, Volbers will spend part of her time teaching English and serving as an ambassador for the United States, but ETAs are encouraged to have side projects, such as Volbers’ research interest in science and athletics.

Volbers running for the Spartans during her senior year.

One of her goals during her time there is to take university-level chemistry courses to compare the education levels and subjects being taught; the other is to get involved in organizing female sports, whether it’s promoting women’s soccer, which is primarily male-dominated, or, ideally, starting a running club.

“Being at Case—that was where I got the ideas for the side projects I wanted to do, and being in the [joint] education program at John Carroll [University]—that, I think, gave me some perspective on what I wanted to do with the chemistry I was learning at Case Western Reserve,” she said. “While I love the science mindset, I want to be a teacher. That’s what I want to do.”

For more information about the Fulbright scholar application process, which includes ETA positions similar to Volbers’ as well as research grants, visit case.edu/provost/fulbright/.

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