Wheeling Women Karen Laska, Jordan Miller Named Fulbright Scholars at West Virginia University

Fullbright Scholars front row from left: Constantia Rhinehart, and Jana El-Khatib. Back row from left: Kaley Hensley,Karen Laska, and Jordan Miller. The scholars were photographed at the Wise Library on the downtown campus Thursday, April 11, 2019.

MORGANTOWN — Five West Virginia University women — two of whom are from Wheeling — have been awarded the prestigious Fulbright Scholarship to teach English abroad next year.

Karen Laska and Jordan Miller join three others in the Fulbright Program, which is the U.S. government’s flagship international exchange program. Recipients are given a stipend to study, teach or conduct research while increasing mutual understanding between Americans and people of other countries. This new cohort makes 64 Fulbright scholars for West Virginia University.

All the winners this year are from West Virginia. Along with Miller and Laska, the 2019-20 scholars are:

∫ Jana El-Khatib, Hurricane

∫ Kaley Hensley, Chapmanville

∫ Constantia Rhinehart, Elkins

“It’s thrilling to see the success of our students on the international stage,” said Ryan Claycomb, Fulbright program adviser and acting dean of the Honors College.

“Each of these five built upon experiences that they cultivated in their time at WVU, from education abroad to teaching and mentoring opportunities to in-depth language study.”

This is Laska’s second national award. Last year, she studied in Poland as a Boren Scholar. With an academic focus on Central and Eastern Europe, the opportunity to teach in the Slovak Republic will prepare her for graduate school and a possible career in the U.S. State Department. The senior Honors College student is majoring in International Studies, Slavic and Eastern European studies and World Languages (French).

“I am looking forward to gaining a greater understanding of the region by living in a new country and learning the Slovak language, which is linguistically fairly close to Polish,” Laska said. “I have never formally visited Slovakia, besides standing on its border with Poland in the Tatra Mountains, but I hope to learn more about the relationship between this country and its neighbors.”

Miller was studying in Barcelona when Catalonia held its 2017 referendum to secede from Spain. As an Honors English major who conducted linguistic research with the West Virginia Dialect Project, the experience sparked her curiosity about the key role language plays in the struggle to preserve culture and identity. A 2018 graduate of WVU and the Honors College, she hopes to learn more about the region when she teaches English in Andorra, a tiny country in the Pyrenees between Spain and France.

“Since Andorra is the only country where Catalan is the sole official language, I applied there to learn more about the way young people who speak Catalan navigate their identities in a complex linguistic, political and cultural environment.” Miller said. “This program offers me an opportunity to grow while enabling others to learn English as a second–or third or fourth in Andorra’s case–language.”

Laska and Miller both are graduates of Wheeling Park High School.

El-Khatib will spend her year in Malaysia teaching English, a country she visited four years ago when her sister, Farrah El-Khatib, was there on a Fulbright Scholarship. The senior Honors College student is majoring in psychology with a minor in Arabic studies.

Hensley, a senior English major, applied for the Fulbright scholarship because she felt she needed experience in teaching, in living in a new space and in learning from others before she starts graduate studies in English. She chose Latvia because she wanted a place with a poetic tradition and a medieval history.

Rhinehart began studying the German language as a freshman and has developed a passion for the language and the culture. In addition to a study abroad experience, she was in Germany as a Gilman Scholar in 2017. The opportunity to teach in Germany for a year will improve her language skills and give her important classroom experience.

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