Fulbright presence enriches graduate programs and beyond

This year's cohort living on campus includes students from Senegal, Burkina Faso and Egypt, two in Master's of Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) program in Education, and one in graduate psychology

September 24, 2021
Mark Tarnacki
Staff Writer
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From left to right are Philip Gadzekpo with the three Fulbright graduate students, Oumar Moussa Djigo, Yasmine ElShamy and Francois Raogo Wemniga. (photos by Lauren Read)

Opportunely, three international students are at Saint Michael’s College on prestigious Fulbright scholarships this year at a time when the College is purposefully pursuing greater “internationalization” through the newly launched Center for Global Engagement, says the Center’s director Jeffrey Ayres of the political science faculty.

Oumar Moussa Djigo from Senegal and Francois Raogo Wemniga from Burkina Faso arrived in August and are studying in a typically two-year program in the Education Department’s Teaching English to speakers of other languages (TESOL) program. Yasmine ElShamy from Egypt also began in August and is in the clinical psychology graduate program – the first time that area of study has welcomed an international Fulbright student.

“One of the goals of the new Center is to much more effectively reach out to and find ways to integrate these graduate students into other aspects of the College life,” said Ayres, noting how Saint Michael’s has a long history of hosting graduate Fulbright students. He and political science faculty colleague Trish Siplon — who oversees the Fulbright program overall for Saint Michael’s (particularly the College’s undergraduates or recent graduates applying for Fulbrights to study overseas) – want to have more panel discussions on global problems incorporating the Fulbrighters, or to have them as guests in classes.

“It’s good to recognize what an honor that is to have a small Catholic liberal arts college like this being sought by Fulbright students from all over the world through the years, given that it is one of the pre-eminent and best-known scholarships in the world,” Ayres said. The mission of the Fulbright program is to promote goodwill and international understanding between peoples. “The fact that we can continue to attract and host these students is a fantastic opportunity to contribute to internationalization,” Ayres said.

Ayres

Jeffrey Ayres

Fulbright students have been coming to Saint Michael’s College at least since 1991 according to Mahmoud Arani, a veteran professor of applied linguistics/TESOL. Arani long has been one of the chief advisers to the Fulbright students along with Richard Gamache, who has been welcoming international students in general to the College longer than anybody else — by far. Gamache is now in his 50th year with Saint Michael’s and still doing Fulbright advising.

Gamache’s long run has included the past 15 years as academic adviser for the Fulbright students. “I work with them help them select courses and guide them through the academic process and protocols they need to know, as someone they can check in with if they have a problem,” he said. “All of these students are going to be wonderful members of our community.”

Meet this year’s Fulbrighters

Oumar Moussa Djigo in the MATESOL program said his family originates from Fouta, the northern region of Senegal, “so I am a Fulani, but I was born and raised in Richard Toll where my father was appointed to work in the sugar company.”

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Oumar Moussa Djigo

Oumar said he comes from a large family and speaks Pulaar (also known as Fula) as his first language, along with French, the official language in Senegal. He graduated from Cheikh Anta Diop University of Dakar majoring in English and completed a teacher training program there with the faculty of science, technology and education. In 2017, he was granted the Hornby scholarship to complete a master’s in Teacher Education at the University of Warwick in the UK. He lived and studied in Coventry for a year, and visited may UK cities for presentations.

He has been teaching English as a foreign language for 10 years in a government school in Dakar and at the English Language Center there. He also has taught in-person and online immersion classes at the American Center in the U.S. embassy of Dakar for three years to students and professionals with a focus on corporate and academic English. At Saint Michael’s he is specializing in curriculum and materials design, which will be of much practical use to him in his work in Senegal.

“I have received a warm welcome at St. Mike’s and am convinced that my experience here will be rewarding and life-changing,” he said. Oumar said he met St. Mike’s and Fulbright alumni in Senegal and “was delighted to learn that they felt a great sense of personal and academic satisfaction after completing their programs.” He is taking three courses for fall semester. “I am excited to discover the U.S. classroom culture, to share my experience in English language teaching with other students, and to benefit from a variety of cultural backgrounds,” he said. “I am looking forward to learning more about the U.S. culture and taking part in extra-curricular activities.”

Francois Raogo Wemniga has a bachelor’s degree in English and a master’s in translation and interpreting from the University Joseph K-Zerbo, Burkina Faso. He most recently has been working as an English-French translator/interpreter and part-time English teacher in Burkina Faso and is an English trainer at the Language Center Let’s Talk, English institute.

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Francois Raogo Wemniga

Francois said he chose Saint Michael’s as his Fulbright destination after taking a virtual tour of the College, and said he “loved the school setting, colors, types of sports and education programs.” He said Saint Michael’s has warmly welcomed him with friendly staff and faculty assisting him on any issue or question. “I have felt my English proficiency increase within this month of courses thanks to our professors’ well-designed courses full of practical sessions,” he said of his time at Saint Michael’s so far.

His goal upon graduation is to pursue his studies for a PhD, either in translation interpreting or TESOL. His distant goal is to become a consultant translator/interpreter and university lecturer. “Any person who speaks more than one language has the duty to teach others at least one of those languages,” he said.

Yasmine ElShamy, who is studying in the clinical psychology graduate program at Saint Michael’s with her Fulbright, was raised in Egypt and came to the College with experience working in a psychiatric hospital in Cairo. In her application materials, she described the incredible resolve shown by her clients and recounted serving with a humanitarian Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) treating LGBT refugees, who reported considerable trauma.

Yasmine

Yasmine ElShamy

Said Sarah Hastings, the Clinical Psychology Program director, “We are so happy to have her join our fall cohort and to have our students learn from her experiences outside the U.S.

“Yasmine was drawn to the Saint Michael’s program because we offer the opportunity to be engaged in both research and practice,” Hastings said, “and Yasmine was excited to learn from clinical faculty who are practicing in the field.”

Ayres said another key staff member in helping the Fulbright students settle into their academics and seeing to their practical day-to-day needs – from airport pickups to shopping or dining trips to Target and McDonald’s —  has been Philip Gadzekpo, the College’s new Director of International Student and Scholar Services & Principal Designated School Official. The three graduate students are living in the 100s townhouses, giving them a direct experience of campus life.

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Philip Gadzekpo

Gadzekpo recently joined Ayres and Peggy Imai of the Student abroad office for a reception for the Vermont Council of World Affairs on the International Day of Peace at Champlain College, and he organized a nice dinner for the graduate students in Eddie’s Lounge in Alliot Hall.

On the academic side, Ayres said, “I would love for students to come into my internationalization course and discuss different views and positions of the U.S. Beyond that, Trish and I have talked about putting a panel together on international perspectives on the COVID-19 pandemic, too.”

Siplon said she is excited to have “bigger possibilities” in the Fulbright world again this after last year’s pandemic limitations. “We weren’t able to do a lot of events or social things together last year,” she said. Siplon said seven Saint Michael’s students are in the process of applying for Fulbrights to go out in the world next year. “We had a semi-finalist last year which was the most competitive in Fulbright history, I think because they allowed people who were pulled the year before to reapply,” she said.

Benjamin White, MATESOL director and associate professor in the Saint Michael’s Education Department, said that in the six years he has been at the College, “we’ve successfully worked with Fulbrighters from Africa, Asia, Central America, Europe and the Middle East.

“To our classes and to campus, these students bring a richness of lived experience, diverse perspectives, passion for learning and a commitment to give back to their home communities as well as to their new Saint Michael’s home. This year’s students are no different and are accomplished scholars and teachers whose curiosity and professionalism inspire their instructors and fellow students alike.”

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