From a press release issued by Sacred Heart University:
FAIRFIELD – Kelly Leather, a member of the class of 2011, has been named Sacred Heart University's first-ever student Fulbright Scholarship winner. She will be spending nine months in Albania beginning in October.
“Now that I’m past graduation, it’s finally starting to hit me, and I’m so excited,” said Leather, who is from Matawan, N.J. “I’ve never been abroad before, and I’m a little nervous about going for nine months, but I’m also thrilled.
Leather will be continuing the work of Dr. Bob McCloud, whose research on technology in the Albanian public school system was funded by a World Bank grant. He originally visited greater Albania as a two-time Fulbright Scholar in Kosovo.
Upon his return to Sacred Heart, he decided to start a program to encourage students to apply for Fulbright Scholarships. He also worked with the Ministry of Education & Science in Albania to apply for a World Bank Grant that is being used to implement technology in grades K-12 in schools there. “It’s a five-year plan, and Kelly will continue that work while she is there,” he said.
McCloud could not be happier that Kelly has won the scholarship. “She is the ideal candidate. A Fulbright winner is supposed to be a citizen ambassador, and Kelly will fulfill that role extremely well,” he said. “She has all the right skills to be successful. She is the perfect person to pave the way for future winners from Sacred Heart.”
Leather said she would not be as confident heading into this experience without McCloud’s guidance and experience. “He has told me that his experiences as an American in Albania have all been positive. It makes me feel much more comfortable knowing they will be welcoming.”
Leather will attend an orientation in Washington, D.C., in July. Once she gets to Albania, she will work for the Ministry of Education & Science with McCloud’s colleague, Ardiana Sula, who McCloud describes as “an excellent mentor for Kelly.”
Among the things she hopes to accomplish include developing English content for the country’s national digital library, overseeing an experiment using e-book readers (such as the Kindle or Nook) as textbooks and evaluating the effectiveness of using games to teach math to seventh- and eighth-grade students.
“Dr. McCloud has shared so much with me about his experiences in Albania. I am looking forward to sharing my experiences with him,” Leather said. “I’m blessed to have people like him who are just as excited about this opportunity as I am.”
Leather, who graduated from Sacred Heart in May with dual majors in political science and religious studies, expects her experience in Albania to be just the beginning of a lifetime working with children. She credits Sacred Heart and its faculty and staff with preparing her for her year abroad.
“It’s amazing how you change and grow in college. After four years there, you are so much more willing to take chances and try new things,” she said. “I can’t speak more highly of Sacred Heart. I wouldn’t be where I am without my experiences there. It’s so hard to move on, because I love it so much. Everyone there is so supportive of any dream you might have. The professors were always willing to help – whether you were applying for an internship or finishing a paper. It’s amazing to have an entire group of people who only want the best for you.”
She said she is also grateful for the many opportunities for community service she found at college. “Those experiences opened up new worlds and opportunities to me, and it’s something I plan to continue throughout my life.
“I feel very fortunate and blessed. I know this is an amazing opportunity, and I am honored to receive this scholarship,” Leather concluded. “I’m excited to see what doors will open for me when I get back, but for now I’m focused on enjoying the experience in Albania, working hard there and making a difference.”
The Fulbright Program is the flagship international educational exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government and is designed to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and those of other countries. With this goal as a starting point, the Fulbright Program has provided hundreds of thousands of participants — chosen for their academic merit and leadership potential — with the opportunity to study, teach and conduct research, exchange ideas and contribute to finding solutions to shared international concerns.
The program was established in 1946 under legislation introduced by then-Sen. J. William Fulbright of Arkansas. The Fulbright Program is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. Currently, the Fulbright Program operates in more than 155 countries worldwide.
Photo: Sacred Heart University graduate Kelly Leather, class of 2011, with SHU President John J. Petillo. Photo by Tracy Deer-Mirek