The Catholic University of America

May 25, 2012

Two University 2012 Graduates Awarded Fulbright Grants

Catholic University new graduates Helen Marie Berg of Detroit, Mich., and Timothy J. Schmalz of Howell, N.J., have received Fulbright Fellowships for the coming academic year.

Schmalz, who graduated with a degree in psychology and a minor in German, will study the Austrian public’s collective memory of the Holocaust and how they are “coming to terms with the past,” he said. Specifically, his research will focus on the display of public memorials, the country’s educational system, and the overall history of the Austrians as they confronted their collective past.

As a student of psychology, he said, “I am most interested in the integration of Holocaust memory, culture, society, politics and academics.”

He said he discovered his topic in his sophomore year while taking Associate Professor of German Claudia Bornholdt’s course Austria in Literature and the Arts. “We explored post-war memoirs,” he said, “recounting the difficulty faced by Austrians, particularly Jews, in rebuilding lives marred by the Holocaust, amidst an environment in which responsibility was thrown solely on Germany, despite Austria’s deeply rooted co-perpetration.”

A study trip to Salzburg in spring 2011 led to Schmalz exploring Austria’s process of reconciliation, which started decades after Germany’s, and how this topic is now a “budding area of academic pursuit.”
Following the fellowship, Schmalz plans to pursue graduate study in history, continuing his research in Holocaust memory, specifically “how it has been used in Austrian politics, and how it shapes the global community.” His long-range plan is to teach either at the college-preparatory or university level.

Berg received her degree in history with a minor in Spanish, was an honors student at CUA and served in the President’s Society. Her award, an English teaching assistantship at a Turkish university, begins in September and will finish in June 2013.

She became interested in going to Turkey thanks to a connection through CUA theology lecturer Zeyneb Sayilgan, who had taught the Introduction to Islam course. Sayilgan’s husband, Salih Sayilgan, a campus minister at Georgetown University, helped arrange a scholarship for Berg last July from the Yunus Emre Institute, a private cultural institute in Turkey. She participated in the two-week Turkce Yaz Okulu (Turkish Summer School) in the Turkish cities of Ankara, the capital of Turkey, and Istanbul, in a language immersion course.

“It was awesome,” Berg said. “I loved every minute of it.” The experience of living in that country was “the perfect combination of foreign and exotic, but manageable,” she said. It also gave her the confidence to return and live there for a longer period, so last year she studied Turkish at Georgetown University “getting the grammar down.”

Berg said when Peter Shoemaker, director of the University Honors Program and associate professor of French, learned of her desire to return to Turkey, he encouraged her to apply for a fellowship.

Berg also credits Sara Sefranek, honors program fellowships coordinator, for her success. Sefranek helped mentor student Fulbright applicants this year, including Berg, even though “I was a little late applying,” she said. She added that her family was “very excited” about her receiving the assistantship.

Her plans after the Turkish teaching assignment is completed are to explore further options, which may include attending law school.

"CUA undergraduates are much more globally aware than they were when I arrived at CUA a decade ago,” said Shoemaker, commenting on the awards. “I think that this explains our recent success in winning Fulbrights — three undergraduate awards in two years."

He said the process of applying for a Fulbright is extremely rigorous: students prepare countless drafts of their personal statement and statement of grant purpose, and are interviewed by a committee of CUA faculty.

"Successful candidates are not only excellent students, they also are able to communicate their passion for international education and cross-cultural dialogue," Shoemaker said. "We are very proud of our awardees. They demonstrate that CUA students can compete with the best and the brightest across the country.”

CUA students are encouraged to apply for one or more of the many fellowships available to them. The Office of Distinguished Grants and Fellowships advises student applicants and coordinates on-campus competitions for the Fulbright and other fellowships. Services are open to all CUA students. Students interested in the Fulbright can find more information at

The Fulbright Program is sponsored by the United States Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. Under the Fulbright U.S. Student Program (which includes the English Teaching Assistantships), fellowships are offered to U.S. graduating seniors, graduate students, young professionals, and artists to study abroad for one academic year.


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