Nine WKU students and recent alumni have been honored by the Fulbright U.S. Student Program.

Five students received grant offers: Laura Allen of Edgewood; Alexandra Hezik of Campbellsville; Melissa Smith of Guthrie; Shelley Spalding of Lebanon; and Jessica Canada Wellman of Williamsburg.

Four students and recent graduates were named alternates: Deborah Flynn of Bowling Green; Sarah Haywood of Harlan; Dare Norman of Bowling Green; and Jon Sahlman of Modesto, California. Alternates may be promoted to recipients if additional funding becomes available before the beginning of the scheduled grant period.

Laura Allen, a 2017 graduate in healthcare administration, is the daughter of Dan and Rosie Allen and a graduate of the Mahurin Honors College. Her Fulbright grant will fund a year of environmental gerontological research with faculty at Windesheim University in Zwolle, Netherlands. Under the mentorship of Dr. Dana Bradley, Allen conducted research in the U.S. and the Netherlands for her Honors thesis on intergenerational living. In addition, she held a summer internship in which she rotated through several departments of Kensington Park Senior Living in Maryland. At Windesheim, she will learn about Dutch innovation in long-term and dementia care, exploring the balance between residents’ physical environment and their safety.

Allen has been an active member and leader in CORE, the Companions of Respected Elders student organization at WKU, as well as a member of national professional groups Associates for Gerontology in Higher Education, American College of Healthcare Administrators and the Gerontological Society of America.

Allen’s research experience at WKU and engagement in the field of gerontology has been critical to her success in the Fulbright competition. “Dr. Bradley helped me form my project to expand on my current research. Dr. Kelly Fitzgerald helped me form connections with faculty members at Windesheim University of Applied Sciences through the AGHE annual meeting in 2016. AGHE has been very supportive of me through this process,” she said.

Alexandra Hezik, a fifth-year self-designed sustainability major, is the daughter of Bernard and Judy Hezik. She is a graduate of the Mahurin Honors College and Chinese Flagship Program. Her Fulbright grant will fund a year of permaculture research in Taiwan that builds on her experience from a 2016 internship in Taipei. While working to improve her Chinese language skills, Hezik observed permaculture practices she had never seen and began formulating a research question.

“Observing the farmhands throwing rotten pomelos on banana plants is what inspired me to apply for a Fulbright research grant. Without having interned at the farm, I never would have applied,” said Hezik. Her project will investigate the effectiveness of citrus peels and peel extracts as fungicides, pesticides, insect repellants and fertilizers for banana plants.

While at WKU, Hezik conducted research with Dr. Martin Stone in the agriculture department for her thesis, “Transforming the WKU Office of Sustainability’s Front Lawn into an Edible Landscape.” She is a 2014 Gilman Scholarship recipient for language study in China, a 2015 Department of State Critical Language Scholarship recipient, an Environmental Protection Agency Greater Research Opportunities Fellow for 2015-2017, a 2016 Truman Scholarship finalist, a WKU Project Grow Fellow for 2014-2016, and has been a proud member of WKU Big Red Marching and Pep bands for most of her time at WKU.

Melissa Smith is a 2016 graduate of the Mahurin Honors College majoring in Asian religions and cultures and Chinese and a 2013 graduate of the Gatton Academy of Mathematics and Science. She is the daughter of Jim and Kathy Smith. She will serve as an English Teaching Assistant in Mongolia.

At WKU, Smith has built on the language proficiency she has developed in the Department of Modern Languages by active involvement in Project Pengyou, a nonprofit partner of the U.S. State Department that connects alumni of study abroad in China to strengthen people-to-people engagement between the United States and China. In addition, she has served for several semesters as a volunteer tutor for English language learners in after-school programs at Cumberland Trace Elementary School and taught English in Mongolia, China and Thailand. She is currently finishing a six-month-long term teaching English in Cambodia.

“I’m trying to keep an open mind about expectations for the coming year, but I am most looking forward to getting to know my fellow Fulbrighters and experiencing Mongolian culture together with them,” Smith said. “Teaching English is something that I can see myself doing long-term in the future, so having the experience of teaching with Fulbright can only serve to further that mission.  The cross-cultural experiences available during the Fulbright program are without comparison, and cultural understanding is vital for mutual growth in all walks of life.”

Shelley Spalding is a 2015 graduate of the Mahurin Honors College majoring in history, Spanish and social studies. She is a current graduate student in history and secondary education and the daughter of Gary and Luanne Spalding. She will serve as an English Teaching Assistant in the Principality of Asturias in Spain.

Spalding’s passion for teaching has been strengthened by her engagement on and off WKU’s campus. As an Honors Topper, she met with prospective students, gave campus tours and represented the Mahurin Honors College at recruitment events. She volunteered with Bridges International, tutored English language learners at Cumberland Trace Elementary School, and worked with adult English and Spanish language learners. In 2015 she was named Honors Citizen of the Year and awarded the Richard L. Troutman Award for History. She earned an Honorable Mention in the James Madison Graduate Fellowship competition in 2016 and was designated an alternate in the same competition in 2017.

Spalding said, “Getting a Fulbright ETA was something I wanted to do since I was a freshman in college. I hope that my experience will be filled with many firsts that I never even expected to have.”

After she applied and was not selected in 2015, Spalding was frustrated but determined to try again. “Friends, family, colleagues and mentors like Dr. Jennings, Dr. Dumančić, and Dr. Minter encouraged me to keep applying when all I wanted to do was quit. They kept reminding me that Fulbright was still an option and dear friends kept encouraging me along the way. I love that I will get to teach English language and American culture to Spanish students, something I’ve always dreamed of doing.”

Jessica Canada Wellman, a graduate student in applied economics, is the daughter of Gary and Kimberly Canada. Her Fulbright grant will fund a year of economics research with the Free Market Foundation (FMF) in Johannesburg, South Africa. Wellman intends to analyze the economic impact of an FMF program that transfers titles of municipal rental housing to low-income residents.

Wellman received the John D. Minton Award, The Graduate School’s top award at this year’s commencement. Last year, she was honored as WKU’s Ogden Foundation Scholar, the top undergraduate academic award, in recognition of her academic and professional achievements. While at WKU, she has studied abroad in South Africa and on Semester at Sea, was a co-founder of the $100 Solution House, and completed a year-long internship in the global labor relations division of Caterpillar, Inc. She is a graduate of the Mahurin Honors College.

Wellman has been interested in economics and entrepreneurship since she enrolled at WKU, but credits her international experience for defining her path. “I never would have imagined wanting to live abroad before I went on Semester at Sea. That’s when I really opened up to the rest of the world and started caring about things that were happening outside of my own little piece of it,” Wellman said.

A winter-term study abroad program led by Drs. Claudia and Brian Strow of the Department of Economics focused Wellman’s attention on economic development in South Africa. She is currently completing a Master’s thesis on South African labor force participation and public policy. Following her Fulbright grant period, she will begin a Ph.D. in economics at the University of Virginia.

Deborah Flynn, the daughter of Terry and Marleen Flynn, has been named an alternate for a research grant to study the impacts of ecological restoration on groundwater ecology in Ethiopia. She has previously conducted research in Ethiopia under the mentorship of Dr. Nahid Gani in the Department of Geology and Geography. She is an avid distance runner and plans to pursue graduate study in environmental engineering and sustainable design in the U.S. or Sweden in 2018.

Sarah Haywood, the daughter of Allen and Peggy Haywood, has been named an alternate for a grant to fund a master’s degree in history at Cardiff University, focusing on cross-cultural study of mining regions in Appalachia and Wales. She is a 2015 graduate of the Mahurin Honors College and studied history and English. While at WKU, she conducted research under the mentorship of Dr. Thea Browder in the Department of History and Prof. Walker Rutledge in the Department of English. Currently working as an editor for a publishing company based in Louisville, she intends to pursue a Ph.D. in public history.

Dare Norman, the daughter of Tony and Susan Norman, has been named an alternate for a grant to fund a master’s of fine arts in acting at the University of Essex East 15 Acting School, focusing on cross-cultural study of Tang Xianzu’s Du Liniang and William Shakespeare’s Juliet. She is a 2017 graduate of the Mahurin Honors College and Chinese Flagship Program. While at WKU, she benefited from the mentorship of Dr. David Young and Dr. Michelle Dvoskin in the Department of Theatre and Dance.

Jon Sahlman, the son of James and Jenni Sahlman, has been named an alternate for a grant to fund a master’s degree in sociology at the University of Liverpool, focusing on the relationship between public perception of law enforcement and police violence. He is a 2017 graduate in communication studies and sociology and will begin a master’s degree in organizational communication at WKU in the fall. He has conducted research under the mentorship of Dr. Laura Brown in the Department of Communication and Dr. Jessica Furgerson in WKU Forensics.

“Our students’ continued success in the competition for Fulbright awards as well as other prestigious national scholarships is a continued testament to the quality education provided at WKU,” President Gary A. Ransdell said. “Many students today are attracted to WKU because of the opportunities to study abroad and because they know they can be competitive with the best across the United States for these awards.”

Applicants worked closely with Dr. Melinda Grimsley-Smith in the Office of Scholar Development, who serves as WKU’s Fulbright Program Advisor. The campus deadline for the Fulbright U.S. Student program is Sept. 1 and most students begin conceptualizing and drafting application essays late in the spring semester and early summer. Interested students and recent graduates are encouraged to contact Dr. Grimsley-Smith as soon as possible.

Since its inception in 1946, the Fulbright Program has provided more than 370,000 participants—chosen for their academic merit and leadership potential — with the opportunity to exchange ideas and contribute to finding solutions to shared international concerns. Over 1,900 U.S. students, artists and early career professionals in more than 100 different fields of study are offered Fulbright Program grants to study, teach English, and conduct research annually in over 140 countries throughout the world.

The Fulbright Program is funded through an annual appropriation by the United States Congress to the U.S. Department of State and managed by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. Participating governments and host institutions, corporations and foundations in foreign countries and in the United States also provide direct and indirect support.

For more information about the Fulbright Program, visit

Contact: Melinda Grimsley-Smith, (270) 745-5043


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