Sterk awarded Fulbright Grant to teach in Mongolia

Extra: Rod Pritchard, Director of Marketing and Public Relations
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2013-05-23 12:42:28 - General

Gina Sterk, a 2013 Coe College graduate, has been awarded a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship grant. The Fulbright will provide funding for Sterk to teach in Mongolia during the 2013-14 academic year.

Sterk graduated from Coe on May 12 with a major in psychology and minors in English and Asian studies. During her time at Coe, she was involved in Psychology Club and served as a Japanese conversation partner. Sterk was also active in religious life, serving as a leader and mentor in her role as a peer minister. She was a member of the honor societies of Psi Chi, Strata, Phi Kappa Phi, Phi Beta Kappa and Mortar Board. In the larger Cedar Rapids community, Sterk was a tutor at the Catherine McAuley Center and a volunteer at Aid-to-Women and the Alternative Gift Market. Additionally, Sterk auditioned for and was selected to perform a 45-minute set of music that she composed as part of the Kohawks Live series on Coe's campus.

During the spring of her sophomore year at Coe, Sterk spent a semester on Coe's Asia Term, during which she traveled to Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos. While there, she took classes in language, culture and literature. Sterk also took advantage of the opportunities Southeast Asia provided her to teach English language in her free time. In Chiang Mai, Thailand, she volunteered daily at a school for Burmese refugees, answering students' questions and serving as a conversation partner. She was also involved with English teaching in Cambodia, where she spent two weeks working in the classrooms of an NGO called "A New Day Cambodia."

From these experiences, Sterk discovered that learning English is a gateway for many people throughout the world to improving the quality of their lives through better job and educational opportunities. She also discovered her passion for being a part of this process.

"Teaching English was so exciting for me, because in the process of teaching students about my language, my country, and myself, I was able to learn in greater depth about the countries I was living in and the students I was working with," said Sterk. "I usually take for granted the privilege of my education in this country, which included learning English as my first language as a child, and I believe that one of the best ways that I can learn to appreciate this privilege is by sharing my knowledge with others."

The daughter of Steve and Gail Sterk, Gina was born in Duluth, Minn. Her parents instilled in her at a young age a love for all things outdoors, including camping, fishing, biking and skiing. She also developed a love for travel through the opportunities her parents provided Sterk and her siblings with to take family trips around the country. Some of her favorites included skiing in Colorado, camping in Washington and canoeing in northern Minnesota. From these opportunities, she acquired a spirit for adventure, which will soon be leading her across the world.

Sterks' decision to apply for an English Teaching Assistantship Fulbright was made after her wonderful experience of teaching in Southeast Asia; however, her decision to apply to Mongolia specifically was made somewhat on a whim. Sterk knew that should she be awarded a Fulbright, she wanted it to be an experience that was unique, adventurous and filled with opportunities to learn about and explore an unfamiliar land. She also knew she wanted to travel to a country facing high levels of poverty, because the teaching and service she could provide while on her Fulbright would hopefully be of great benefit to the well-being of such a country.

Based on these criteria, Mongolia quickly came to Sterk's attention as a country which she could be of service to and which would provide her with countless experiences and opportunities for learning and adventuring. Mongolia struck Sterk as a country with a uniquely fascinating culture that she is eager to learn more about firsthand. She is thrilled to begin her Fulbright in Mongolia at the end of the summer, even though it means deferring her plans for graduate school and giving up a prestigious scholarship she was awarded. Sterk intends to compete again for this scholarship from abroad, and then to begin studies at Luther Seminary in the fall of 2014, where she will pursue a Master of Divinity degree.

During the application process, Sterk received guidance from several Coe faculty members, including English Professor and Fulbright Program advisor Ann Struthers, English Professor Bob Drexler, English Professor Melissa Sodeman and Chaplain Kristin Hutson.

Established in 1946 and sponsored by the United States Department of State, the Fulbright Program aims to increase mutual understanding between Americans and the peoples of other countries, through the exchange of persons, knowledge and skills. The Fulbright Program is the largest international exchange program, providing funding for students, scholars and professionals to undertake graduate study, advanced research and teaching. The Fulbright U.S. Student Program sends approximately 1,500 students per year to more than 140 countries.