Two Elmhurst Students Named Fulbright Semifinalists

April 12, 2022 | by the Office of Marketing and Communications
Norbaya Durr, Mary Kay Mulvaney and Sasha Aleksandra Graf

From left: Norbaya Durr, Mary Kay Mulvaney, Sasha Aleksandra Graf

Two Elmhurst University students were named semifinalists in the Fulbright U.S. Student Scholar Program, the academically prestigious nationwide foreign exchange initiative.

Norbaya Durr ’22 and Sasha Aleksandra Graf ’22 both applied for placements abroad in the Fulbright program and are the latest in a line of Elmhurst students who have received semifinalist recognition and grant awards.

Durr applied to the English Teaching Assistant Program in Botswana, becoming the first Elmhurst student to achieve semifinalist status for a Fulbright position in an African country.

“When I was searching for a best-fit Fulbright opportunity, returning to ancestral lands became an important factor for me,” said Durr, a double major in biology and English who is also minoring in chemistry. “English in the 21st century is just about a universal language that can support national and international growth, and if I am awarded the [grant], I will support Botswana’s growth.”

Graf is one of the first graduates of the University’s digital media program, having earned her BFA in December. (She will walk with her fellow grads at the Commencement ceremonies in May.) She said her background and her interests in filmmaking and music led her to consider the Czech Republic to continue her academic and creative work.

“As a Ukrainian-American, my ties to Slavic culture are integral to my identity,” Graf said. “Reading The Master and Margarita by [Mikhail] Bulgakov, singing Dvořák’s Song to the Moon, and baking yabluchnyk (apple cake) are activities that bring me much joy. Although I am not Czech, I want to learn more about Slavic culture and uncover the thread that seemingly binds Slavic culture together.

“Especially now, I feel that understanding and empathy are vital.”

Graf also said she wishes to deepen her understanding of music and its role in culture: “I want to explore the rich music customs of Czechia and trust that my studies will also inspire my future compositions.”

Meanwhile, Durr, in addition to teaching English, said she hopes to “teach in a way that centers community-building through literature.” Another major goal is to include her knowledge of biology in lessons that will foster education about the impact of climate change on agriculture and land.

Both Durr and Graf said Elmhurst faculty members from across disciplines helped them along their Fulbright journeys, which included essays, the application and a personal interview with a committee of faculty and staff.

“Completion of this exhaustive process deserves credit in and of itself,” said Mary Kay Mulvaney, the University’s Fulbright Program advisor. “So, understandably, when our applicants are selected as semifinalists out of a very competitive pool of such outstanding applicants by the U.S. Fulbright reviewers, we are extremely proud of them.”

Said Graf: “I value the kindness and efforts that my mentors gave to me at Elmhurst U. and hope to emulate their generosity as educators if given the opportunity to be an English Teaching Assistant in the Czech Republic.”

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