Two members of Converse’s Nisbet Honors Program have been selected for top national awards. Meagan Kusek ’12 of Owens Cross Roads, Al., is the fourth Converse student or alumna to receive a Fulbright Teaching Assistantship in the last four years; and Lindsay Eller ’13 of Spartanburg, S.C. is the second Converse student to receive a Goldwater Scholarship honorable mention in the last two years.
These awards continue the trajectory Converse began a few years ago to consistently garner top national and international awards for students.
“The look on her face was absolutely priceless—and I was shaking with so much excitement that I actually broke the key inside of the technology tower in Hartness Auditorium”
“The Converse community is thrilled to celebrate these achievements, which represent the drive and ability of Meagan and Lindsay, the commitment of our faculty to mentoring students towards realizing their dreams, and the excellence of our academic program,” said President Betsy Fleming. “The awards are exciting evidence of the strength of Converse outcomes. A young alumna, who serves as US Foreign Service Officer, recently stated that ‘this world is no place for timid women.’ Converse has a notable capacity to produce graduates ready to excel with bold, activated voices and aspirations.”
FULBRIGHT WINNER, MEAGAN KUSEK
Meagan Kusek, who majored in creative and professional writing and also studied German, Chinese and Studio Art at Converse, will spend next year representing the United States in Germany with the highly prestigious Fulbright Program, the U.S. Department of State’s flagship cultural exchange program. She will serve as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant and work on a novel based on Norse/Germanic mythology that she hopes will allow Americans to understand a facet of the cultural beginnings of Germania. In addition to her proficiency in German, she is a talented artist and one of Converse’s highest-achieving students in the study of Chinese.
“I have been interested in Germany since childhood,” Meagan said. “For several years, it has been my dream to live there for a time and become fluent in the language.” Meagan’s father began teaching her German expressions when she was in kindergarten, and she grew up responding to them as naturally as their English counterparts. “By high school, I had the desire to learn more than the smattering I had picked up and it quickly became clear that I wanted to continue learning German for as long as I could.”
Unfamiliar with the Fulbright program before arriving on campus her freshman year, Meagan developed interest in applying to the program in large part due to Associate Professor of History Dr. Edward Woodfin, who recruits and advises Converse’s Fulbright applicants. She heard Woodfin speak during Opening Convocation just days into her freshman year, and was influenced by his encouragement of students to study or travel abroad during their college career. After hearing him speak of the Fulbright program during a Nisbet Honors Program event, and then seeing Converse student Stephanie Jennings ’11 win the award last year, it finally seemed feasible to Meagan that she could have a chance to win as well.
“I spent last summer mulling over which grant to apply to (research or teaching assistantship), and then spent the first three weeks of school acclimating to my school work and working through the several-page-long application, the most challenging of which were the personal essays,” she said. “If I learned anything during the decision and application process, it was that the study and teaching of language was more important to me than I had realized, and it inspired me to think that maybe foreign language would be something I’d like to study in graduate school.”
Dr. Mirko Hall, assistant professor of modern languages, encouraged and supported Meagan throughout her application process. Hall was with Meagan the morning she learned of her award. “The congratulatory text arrived on Meagan’s mobile phone right at the very start of our Contemporary Germany seminar,” he said. “The look on her face was absolutely priceless—and I was shaking with so much excitement that I actually broke the key inside of the technology tower in Hartness Auditorium (my apologies to the Maintenance team).” Hall enjoyed working with Meagan throughout the rigorous application process, and noted, “Meagan is an outstanding student, writer, and linguist, whose intellectual passion and curiosity is always ‘on fire’ in the classroom. Her cross-cultural sensitivity, community spirit, and goodwill towards others will make her an excellent representative of our country abroad.”
Meagan sees her Fulbright Assistantship as the perfect opportunity to advance her language skills and explore teaching. “I want to use my Fulbright year as a time to see how well I do in certain situations, such as teaching and being immersed in a foreign language atmosphere. I hope to decide whether or not to attend graduate school, and if so, what area I should concentrate in, because as of right now I have too many possible interests and I don’t know how to narrow them down.”
For Dr. Woodfin, whose record of mentoring Fulbright winners is a trend that Converse hopes will become a long-term tradition, Meagan is an ideal young ambassador for the U.S. to send abroad. “I’m very pleased with the idea that, for a number of Germans, when they think of America, they will think of Meagan. She is an intelligent and creative world-citizen—basically, our ideal Converse graduate. With her language skills, her writing, and her art, she has the power to make a wonderfully positive impact on her German students and build lasting relationships.”
GOLDWATER HONORABLE MENTION, LINDSAY ELLER
The Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship is the most prestigious award in the country for undergraduate students studying science, math or engineering. It was established by Congress in 1986 with the aim to provide a continuing source of highly qualified scientists, mathematicians and engineers in the United States. Four scholarships and four honorable mentions were awarded to South Carolina students. Converse junior Lindsay Eller, who is from Spartanburg, is the only honoree in the state who does not attend a large research university. The other award winners are from Clemson, the University of South Carolina and the College of Charleston.
Lindsay is double majoring in biochemistry and psychology and plans to become a physician. She decided to study psychology when she realized that those who provide the best patient care have a strong understanding of how people feel and what compels their actions.
Last summer, Lindsay was awarded an impressive internship to conduct research on juvenile diabetes with the Herman Wells Center for Pediatric Research at Indiana University Medical School. She recently co-presented an interdisciplinary research paper with Dr. John Theilmann, professor of history and politics and co-director of the Nisbet Honors Program, at the SouthEastern Medieval Association. “Unlike most undergraduates, she played a major role in conceptualizing the project,” said Dr. Theilmann. “Her research and writing skills are at such a level that I regard her as a full collaborator in the completed project. She is emblematic of what we expect from Nisbet Honors students.”
Dr. Laura Feitzinger Brown, associate professor of English and co-director of the Nisbet Honors Program, said that the honors program was specifically designed to encourage these kinds of academic achievements. “The program provides additional help for students in independent research, study travel, and application for national scholarships, above and beyond what is available to every Converse student.” More than half of Converse’s Nisbet students go on to advanced study within two years of graduating from Converse. They have been accepted at schools like Yale, Cornell and Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, and have received awards for post-graduate study such as a stipend at Princeton and a full scholarship at Georgetown.
One she completes her undergraduate studies at Converse, Lindsay plans to attend medical school and pursue research for developing new treatments for maternal-fetal infectious diseases.