2014 La Salle University students Marc Vallone and Christopher Mayers have received Fulbright Scholarships and will spend a year overseas.
Vallone, who earned an MBA in May, will travel to Brazil where he will teach college-level English and conduct research at how local organizations provide for at-risk youth. Mayers, who is student in La Salle’s M.A. in Central and Eastern European Studies (CEES), will teach English in Pernik, Bulgaria, and teach English to high school students. He will graduate from La Salle in August and begin teaching in September.
Since the Fulbright program began, more than 60 La Salle students have received Fulbright Scholarships.
Vallone said, “I think when I come back I want to be engaged with at-risk students who are habitually fighting the uphill battle, who are thought of as lost causes.” He is Director of International Admissions at Camden Catholic High School and will leave for Brazil in February, 2015. “At the end of it all, I just want to help facilitate a non-profit organization helping those in need to succeed, whether as a consultant or manager.”
His success with the Fulbright application followed his rejection for one after he earned his undergraduate degree from the University of Scranton.
“In 2010, I applied to go to Korea on a Fulbright,” he said. “I became a National Finalist and all I heard from everyone, from friends who knew nothing about the process to those who knew everything about the process was I was ‘a lock.’ I lost.”
“Instead, I ended up working with the street population of Quito, Ecuador for a human development project called The Working Boys Center. Every year, I return to Ecuador to check up on the kids and see how they are doing,” Vallone said.
When he returned from Ecuador in July of 2013, he had a meaningful breakfast with his brother.
“In a deep discussion, we talked about how I would finish my MBA in the spring of 2014 if I took five classes (at night) between fall, spring, and the intersession (between semesters). My brother then mentioned about the ‘unfinished business’ with the Fulbright,” Vallone said.
His commitment to helping those in need, he said, “is a reflection on my upbringing, having two parents committed to nonprofit organizations, but also from La Salle’s Laura Otten (Director of the Nonprofit Center) and Karen Reardon (assistant professor of business law) and their ability to engage me in and out of the classroom, challenging me to think about nonprofit management.”
Vallone’s father founded the Cathedral Kitchen in Camden in 1976. “It started with handing out bologna sandwiches out of the back of a van and now has grown to dishing out nearly one-quarter of a million meals annually to those who are hungry,” Vallone said. “My mother does inspirational work as well in her role as a physical therapist for students with severe mental and physical disabilities. Her work gives her literal scrapes, cuts, scratches, and bruises.”
Karen Reardon, who teaches in the Management and Leadership Department at La Salle, said “Marc is passionate about his chosen profession: — education. He said, ‘Education is the vehicle that drives social and economic mobility.’”
Reardon oversaw Vallone’s independent study project on volunteerism, and she said, “He has grit. Initially, he fell short when he first pursued the coveted Fulbright Scholarship, but he did not take no for an answer. Rather, he simply worked harder, taking what he learned from the process to groom himself and his application so that he would be chosen next time.”
With all that work, Vallone said the application for this year’s Fulbright was difficult. “I can unequivocally say that August to November of 2013 was the busiest time of my life — balancing a full-time work load with my MBA schedule and the Fulbright application was incredibly stressful,” he said.
He was interviewed by a panel of seven full-time faculty members at the University of Scranton who were also former Fulbright Scholarship recipients. “The interview included any question about Brazil, literally anything that came to mind,” Vallone said. “The Fulbright Committee came from a wide background of studies — biology, philosophy, economics, language — and they were not afraid to grill you on the topics of their interest.”
Christopher Mayers will be an English teaching assistant for ninth- and tenth-grade students. He said he wants to teach “aspects of American culture, explaining our holidays and traditions, providing language instruction, and coordinating extra-curricular activities associated with English.” Mayers will live in the city of Pernik, located outside Bulgaria’s capital of Sofia.
Mayers is fluent in Russian, and said he has a working knowledge of spoken and written Bulgarian.
“The Fulbright application process is a project within itself,” said Mayers. “There are rigid guidelines for writing personal statements and the Statement of Grant Purpose. Applicants need extensive, multiple references, and so much time is devoted to detail.”
He was interviewed by La Salle faculty members on the University Fellowships Committee. “It was nerve-racking, but it is necessary so that you can prepare for what the final Fulbright Committee is looking for,” he said. Mayers cited assistance from Richard Nigro, Ph.D., and Preston Feden, Ph.D., of La Salle’s Honors Program, La Salle alums who had been Fulbright Scholars, and Leo Rudyntzky, Ph.D., and Oksana Chubok of the CEES program as instrumental to his successful application.
Mayers said his interest in the region began with his grandmother, who was from Ukraine. “She was most of my inspiration that made me want to go to Russia in the first place,” he said. “Her stories, her cooking, her love for the country — Ukraine was a part of the Russian Empire and then the USSR – made me want to learn more about the culture.”
He also hopes to share with his students what the United States is really like. “Another big reason I want to go there is to share my culture with Bulgarians and show them how Americans truly are, and not just how we are perceived in the media, or as tourists, or in the movies,” he said.
While a junior in high school, Mayers lived for a year in Moscow.
“I barely knew any Russian at all, so they put me in classes with little kids, which was funny because they would all stand up from their desks when I walked in as a sign of respect,” he said. “I decided not to speak any English, and learned Russian within a few months of immersing myself into it. It was a hard adjustment, especially the weather – there was no sun for three months and in winter the temperature was minus thirty degrees Fahrenheit. It was a life-changing experience to see how other countries live compared to our lifestyle in the United States. I matured from it and learned many things in life.”
Despite the initial culture shock, Mayers said, “I loved the language and culture, and became quite good at the language and wanted to learn more Slavic languages. I loved the people and their mentality, the Russian character, the culture, the history, and even the food. If you’ve been to Russia you’ll find it quite captivating.”
After earning a B.A. in International Relations at Salisbury University in Maryland, Mayers thought La Salle’s CEES program would be a good way to learn more about Russia and Ukraine.
Mayers said he’s thinking about a career in government, such as the CIA, FBI, NSA, or State Department, or he might stay in Bulgaria to work as a teacher or at the U.S. embassy there.
La Salle University was established in 1863 through the legacy of St. John Baptist de La Salle and the Christian Brothers teaching order, which St. La Salle founded in 1680. La Salle is an educational community shaped by traditional Catholic and Lasallian values. The University is ranked by U.S. News & World Report among the top 30 schools in the North Region and among the top 10 Catholic schools in the region.