Vas, an Elementary Education major with a concentration in English, will be teaching English at a primary school in Estonia starting in September. She is the latest Western Connecticut State University student to become a Fulbright scholar. Previous awardees have studied the church organ in France, socio-political issues in Haiti, folk music in Estonia and social entrepreneurship, also in Estonia.
The Estonia connection comes from Dr. Chris Kukk, a WestConn political science professor who himself was a Fulbright scholar who studied in Estonia, his family’s historical country of origin.
Vas insists that is not why she ended up in Estonia. Instead, the small country in Eastern Europe became her destination of choice after she created a spreadsheet of countries that offered Fulbright teaching assistantships. Another factor she considered was the competition, although she didn’t do herself any favors in that regard.
Taiwan was in the running until Vas realized that educators there would accept up to 80 teaching scholars. Estonia had only one slot, and Vas decided to apply for that one.
“Estonia really was the one I wanted to work in,” Vas said. “My family thought I was crazy because there was only one position, but Estonia’s education system is supposed to be like Finland’s, which is held up as a model. I wanted to learn more about that.”
Sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, the Fulbright program is the largest United States international exchange program offering opportunities for students, scholars and professionals to undertake international graduate study, advanced research, university teaching and teaching in elementary and secondary schools worldwide.
As a WestConn student, Vas was busy.
In addition to her studies, she was a member of the Student Government Association for four years, spending one as vice president of Internal Affairs.
She helped organize the WCSU Relay for Life fundraiser in support of cancer research for four years, including the past year as chair.
She was an active member of the Kathwari Honors Program as well as an orientation leader for first-year students and a mentor in the residence halls.
Vas was a member of the Education Club and the Newman Club, with which she made mission trips to Jamaica and the Dominican Republic. She also traveled to Louisiana with Habitat for Humanity, and spent a semester at the Disney College Program in Lake Buena Vista, Florida.
And she earned a 3.94 GPA.
“I got to develop so many communities within the one university community,” Vas said. “I always take on more than I can handle. I guess that’s the teacher side of me. I have a lot of interests pulling me every which way, and I’m always wishing there were more hours in the day.”
In her senior year, Vas was a student teacher in a fifth-grade class in Danbury’s Ellsworth School. “It was an incredibly positive experience,” Vas said. “It made me more confident and more convinced I wanted to be a teacher.”
Her long-term goals include studying federal or international education policy as it affects citizens on an everyday basis.
“Education influences everything — women’s rights, the economy, health,” Vas said. “I’d like to look at how different countries develop their education systems.”
As a senior at Danbury High School, where her father teaches Social Studies, Vas applied to several universities, and now reports she is happy with her choice of WestConn.
“I wouldn’t change a thing,” she said.
To learn more about Western students who have received Fulbright awards, visit www.wcsu.edu/newsevents/fulbrights.asp.
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