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German Studies Department Hits the 100 Fulbrights Mark

Prof. Michael Resler (Photo by Lee Pellegrini)

By Sean Smith | Chronicle Editor

Published: Apr. 11, 2013

In a year of milestones for Boston College — 150th birthday, 100 years at Chestnut Hill — its smallest academic unit, the German Studies Department, has achieved one for itself.

This spring, at least five German Studies students have received Fulbright grants, bringing to 100 the total number of students in the department who have earned the prestigious post-baccalaureate study-abroad scholarships.

While that total encompasses the period dating back to the mid-1980s, department chairman Professor Michael Resler notes that the past 15 years or so have seen a significant surge in annual German Studies Fulbright awards — including an unprecedented 13 in 2007 alone.

These would be enviable achievements for most any department, let alone one with three full-time and three part-time faculty members and 34 combined majors and minors. In this case, small isn’t simply beautiful — it’s effective, according to Resler.

“Because of our size, we’re able to give students lots of face time and mentoring,” he said. “It’s the students, of course, who ultimately deserve the credit for the Fulbrights and other accomplishments: They are talented, intelligent, hard-working, and committed to getting the most out of their education.”

The success of German Studies on the Fulbrights front has been self-sustaining, he added. “Word gets around the BC student grapevine that, if you want to be well-prepared for rigorous academics, take German.

“At the same time, Fulbright grants have taken on increasing importance for students interested in graduate education. They know how critical it is to gain proficiency in a language, and that Fulbrights launch you into so many potential opportunities.”

Caroline Kita, a 2004 alumna who majored in history and minored in German Studies, can readily attest to the difference a Fulbright — and BC’s German Studies faculty — can make. Her Fulbright project in Vienna, on Austrian-Jewish poet Siegfried Lipiner and his intellectual exchange with composer Gustav Mahler, evolved into the dissertation for her doctoral degree in German studies, which she received from Duke in 2011. Currently a visiting assistant professor at the College of the Holy Cross, Kita will join Washington University in St. Louis as an assistant professor of German this fall.

“My fondest memories of German Studies at BC were the professors,” said Kita. “[Associate Professor] Rachel Freudenberg was my first teacher, and she truly fostered my love of the language and made it fun. I never would have even considered applying for the Fulbright without the encouragement of Michael Resler, who remains an inspiration to me as a teacher and mentor to this day. Having a professor recognize your potential and reach out to you can have an enormous impact on how you approach your studies.”

“The question is, ‘How didn’t the Fulbright year affect my life,’” said Heather Broberg ’03, a teaching assistant at a German gymnasium in her Fulbright year, now an admissions and recruitment staff member in the Washington Semester Program. “Without my Fulbright experience, I would have never worked at the Germany Embassy in Washington, DC, which I had the opportunity to do as a US national. I even got to meet Chancellor Angela Merkel and shake her hand. My Fulbright experience has afforded me many opportunities both personal and professional.”

John McQuade ’09, who taught economics and English during his Fulbright year in Germany, also affirms the care and attention of German Studies faculty: He remembers sending a draft of his Fulbright application to Resler at 2 a.m. one night, and getting a response a half-hour later.

“An overlooked benefit of studying another language and culture is how it trains your brain to accept one input, put it in context, digest and translate the thoughts communicated, and respond concisely and coherently,” said McQuade, now assistant vice president at Bessemer Trust. “The broad nature and flexibility of the liberal arts education I received at Boston College, in particular the German Studies Department, provided me with the groundwork I needed to succeed both in my Fulbright experience and professional career.”

Vice Provost for Undergraduate Academic Affairs Donald Hafner said, “In his modest way, Michael Resler will insist he has played only a minor role in the success of our Fulbright applicants to Germany.  But in fact, Michael enjoys national renown — or maybe I should say national envy — for what he has helped our students accomplish over the decades. And when occasionally our applicants to Germany have not been successful, they still have been rewarded with all the encouragement and guidance that Michael lavishes on his students, even years after they graduate.  

“Knowing Michael, he'll pause for a day or so to celebrate this 100 — and the day after, he'll start working on the next 100.”