Members of the Boston College Class of 2017 who were awarded major fellowships and other honors include, from left, Winston Churchill Scholar Jesse Mu and Fulbright winners Liam Maguire (who declined the award in favor of joining the Peace Corps), Jamshaid Sulahry, Mackenzie Arnold, Christopher Fell, (seated), Caz Novak, Hagop Toghramadjian, and Natasha Bednarz. (Lee Pellegrini)

Boston College graduating seniors, current undergraduates and graduate students alike earned prestigious fellowships and grants for the coming academic year.

Eight members of the Class of 2017 and three alumni have received Fulbright awards, which support a year’s post-baccalaureate study abroad – recipients typically pursue research in various disciplines, or serve an English Teaching Assistantship, through which they teach English language and provide insights about American culture. (One graduating senior also awarded a Fulbright, Liam Maguire, declined it and will instead serve in the Peace Corps as an English teacher in Namibia.) 

Other honors won by current or former BC students include a Winston Churchill Scholarship, a David L. Boren National Security Education Program Award, a Thomas R. Pickering Fellowship, a Fund for Education Abroad Scholarship, a DAAD (German Academic Exchange Service) Undergraduate Scholarship, Benjamin Gilman Scholarships and Critical Language Scholarships. 

A look at this year’s Fulbright scholars:

Mackenzie Arnold 

HOMETOWN: Wantage, N.J.

PROJECT: English Teaching Assistantship; also will do research on special education programs in the Galicia region of Spain, volunteer with an organization that provides community programs for individuals with disabilities, and hopes to organize a videoconference to bring together disability advocates in the U.S. and Spain. 

FUTURE PLANS: Attend law school and pursue work in education and disability policy.

•“The Fulbright offers the perfect opportunity to combine my interests in education research and teaching while also giving me time to further develop my own language abilities. I’ve always found teaching English to be a personal experience. Choosing to learn someone else’s language can be a vulnerable process; there are times when you don’t know how to express yourself or even how to explain what you would like to know. What keeps both the teachers and the students going is the conviction that someone else has something worth hearing, something we want to help them share with us. 

“One of the best things about language learning is the trust that it creates between students and teachers and the opportunity it provides to share thoughts and ideas with someone we previously couldn’t talk to. This is why the State Department sees teaching English as such a great tool for developing our relationships with countries across the world.”  

Natasha Bednarz 

HOMETOWN: Yardley, Pa.

PROJECT: As a geophysical researcher at Armenia’s National Institute of Geological Sciences, she will work on the Transect Project, the most comprehensive exploration undertaken to date of the Caucasus’ geological setting. She will help analyze data from more than 100 new seismic monitoring stations to be installed across the region. Her work there is in part a continuation of her senior thesis research, in which she investigated earthquakes in the Caucasus region using a method called Cellular Seismology.  

FUTURE PLANS: Publish her research and pursue a graduate degree in geophysics. 

•“This research is the opportunity to dedicate my passion for geophysics to a project that tangibly serves the people of Armenia. My work will contribute to improved seismic hazard assessments, which save lives and protect infrastructure by demarcating zones of seismic danger. 

“My project ties together experiences from my four years at BC. In addition to my academic coursework in geology and physics, I have spent my past three summers interning with diverse earth science institutions, in New Mexico, Guatemala City, and Yerevan, experiencing firsthand the intimate intersection of human communities and their environmental surroundings.” 

Christopher Fell 

HOMETOWN: Yonkers, N.Y.

PROJECT: English Teaching Assistantship; hopes to volunteer to teach English or German language instruction to Syrian refugees, and aspires to start a program exploring cultural cuisines with community members, by sharing recipes and cooking meals together.  

•“I’m really excited to be living in Germany for a year. After being there for a semester abroad, I feel like I’ll be able to make the most of my experience. I want to really integrate myself in the culture and become fluent. I’m also excited to try my hand at teaching and see if that’s something I want to do as a career. If not, hopefully I find some new ideas.” 

Alexis Fessatidis ’16

HOMETOWN: Port Washington, N.Y.

PROJECT: English Teaching Assistantship

FUTURE PLANS: Graduate school to pursue a master’s degree in international relations, with a focus in peace and conflict studies

“As a biracial, first-generation American who strongly believes in the power of cultural interaction, I am immensely excited to serve as an English Teaching Assistant in Cyprus. My experiences at BC, as an international studies major and a tutor through the 4Boston volunteering program, have taught me the value of diversity, dialogue, and education, especially in addressing global challenges. Having worked as an intern at the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations, I am especially humbled by the opportunity to teach in a country working towards peace and reconciliation and hope to also volunteer with a local NGO focused on such efforts.”

Morgan Healy

HOMETOWN: Los Altos Hills, Calif.

PROJECT: English Teaching Assistantship

FUTURE PLANS: Attend Harvard University to pursue a master’s of education in language and literacy.

“I applied for the ETA in Brazil because I am a firm believer in the transformative power of education, specifically linguistic education. Over the past four years I have had the opportunity to teach and conduct research in Brazil, and I am incredibly grateful and excited to be able to return once more to a country that I have come to adore. I hope to not only further my teaching abilities, but also to fully master the language there so that I can return to the US better equipped to serve the Lusophone community in Boston and prepare myself to work in international educational NGOs later on in life. The unequivocal support and guidance of my professors and advisors at BC has been invaluable to me. I hope this experience will allow friends in the US to see the great importance and value of cultural and national diversity in all its forms.”

Maria Ireland ’15

HOMETOWN: Windham, Me.

PROJECT: English Teaching Assistantship

FUTURE PLANS: Pursue a doctorate and ultimately teach at the college level.

•“My coursework and co-curricular involvements at BC instilled in me two driving passions – one for education, and the other for intercultural exchange. Becoming an ETA in Italy is an extraordinary chance to join my love of Italian language and culture, academic interests in changing demographics and international studies, and professional dream of being an educator. I look forward to all the blessings and challenges that this next year will bring.”

Mabel Lee ’15

HOMETOWN: Boston, Mass.

PROJECT: English Teaching Assistantship; plans to create a club that focuses on wellness of the body through meditation, physical education, and reflection.

FUTURE PLANS: Hopes to work at a startup and utilize her engagement with the Taiwanese community to bring back shared understandings in technological progress; eventually plans to attend business school.

•“I view the Fulbright as an opportunity to represent BC and the US in an international arena. The opportunity to complete an English Teaching Assistantship in Taiwan is the perfect culmination of my passion and interest in Taiwanese culture, my academic background in International Studies, and my experience in the technology industry since graduating. I hope to use the Fulbright to continue to embrace the Taiwanese culture while promoting economic social justice through the use of technology.”

Caz Novak  

HOMETOWN: St. Cloud, Minn.

PROJECT: English Teaching Assistantship; wants to impart to his host community the history and societal impact of baseball in the US, and create his own pickup league.

FUTURE PLANS: Attend graduate school.

Jamshaid Sulahry

HOMETOWN: Lewisville, NC

PROJECT: English Teaching Assistantship; hopes to introduce and encourage informal sports activities to “nurture an active and healthy lifestyle.”

FUTURE PLANS: Join Teach for America; attend graduate school with the hope of consulting in the education sector.

•“Winning the Fulbright was a special moment for me because I am one step closer to helping change the world to a place where every single child gets a chance at a quality education. As a finance major, many may see this move as unorthodox, but there is no major for following your heart. More importantly, it was a special moment to share the news with friends and family; they are one the ones who crafted my time here at BC to be as amazing as it was. Without their support and love, I would not be in this position.”

Ava Tessitore

HOMETOWN: New York, N.Y.

PROJECT: Study Minnelieder, a form of courtly love poetry, at the University of Salzburg, and complete own translation into English with accompanying analysis.

FUTURE PLANS: Continue education in German with focus on medieval languages and historical linguistics, with eventual goal of teaching at the university level.

Hagop Toghramadjian

HOMETOWN: Blaine, Minn.

PROJECT: Researching social, economic and cultural issues facing Syrian-Armenian refugees.

FUTURE PLANS: Graduate study in government or international relations; work for USAID, State Department or related agency to support US foreign policy that is “attentive to ethnic and religious minority groups in the Middle East and beyond.”

•“To me, the Fulbright represents an opportunity to help address a problem affecting a country I care deeply about. How can the Republic of Armenia better accommodate the tens of thousands Syrian-Armenian refugees currently living there, and how can refugees help Armenia build a brighter future? Syrian Armenians have the potential to spark great cultural and economic development in their ancestral homeland. They possess an imaginative, enterprising spirit that enables them to envision new opportunities for the country, and their deep linguistic and religious ties to Armenia have encouraged them to hit the ground running. 

“Yet Syrian-Armenians still face significant barriers to integration. As a result, even as the refugees work to put down roots, thousands are quietly weighing the possibility of immigrating to the West. It remains unclear whether Syrian Armenians are temporary sojourners, or whether they are in Armenia to stay. I hope to help the Armenian government, NGOs, and the international community better understand how they can help ease the refugees’ transition –and I hope to remind them why it’s so important to try.” 

Other graduate and undergraduate award winners:

Jennifer Shin ’13 has been selected for a Thomas R. Pickering Fellowship that will support her studies of security issues in the Korean peninsula and international relations in East Asia.

The Pickering Fellowship Program provides undergraduate and graduate students with financial support, mentoring and professional development to prepare them for a career in the Department of State Foreign Service. 

Shin will attend the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies this fall.  Read more here.

Jesse Mu ’17 won a Winston Churchill Scholarship for graduate study in the United Kingdom at the University of Cambridge. Read more here.

Bemnet Zewdie ’19 will go to Ghana next spring via a Fund for Education Abroad Scholarship, which seeks to foster increased access to international scholarship by supporting students from a variety of racial, ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds.

Sabrina Black ’19 has received a DAAD (German Academic Exchange Service) Undergraduate Scholarship and will study at the Catholic University of Eichstätt in Germany during 2017-18.

•Two undergraduates won Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarships – which enable students of limited financial means to study or intern abroad, gaining skills critical to American national security and economic competitiveness – for this summer: Layla Aboukhater ’18 (France) and Tenzin Pelzom ’20 (Ecuador).

•U.S. Department of State Critical Language Scholarships have been awarded to Daniela Benitez ’19 and Enise Koc ’18 for study in, respectively, Oman and Russia. The CLS program is part of a government effort to expand the number of Americans studying and mastering critical foreign languages to contribute to American economic competitiveness and national security.

Taylor Green JD’18 has received a David L. Boren National Security Education Program Award – designed to build a broader and more qualified pool of US citizens with foreign language and international skills – that will fund a fellowship to Japan. 

Stephen Ferguson ’15, who is currently completing his master’s degree in philosophy at BC, has been named a Lilly Graduate Fellow by the Lilly Foundation. The Lilly Graduate Fellows Program supports outstanding students who seek to explore the connections among Christianity, higher education, and the vocation of the teacher-scholar as they pursue graduate degrees in humanities and the arts.

Lidya Mesgna'17, won a Humanity in Action Fellowship that will enable her to build on her interest in issues of inclusivity and tolerance. Mesgna, who majored in International Studies with a political science concentration and minored in economics, will study minority rights in a German historical context and produce research on how and why individual and societies have resisted intolerance and protected democratic values.

-University Communications