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UW-Stevens Point graduate wins prestigious Fulbright Grant

May 18, 2022
Sara Kalkhoff holds a globe
International studies and political science major Sara Kalkhoff has won a prestigious Fulbright Grant.

When University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point May graduate Sara Kalkhoff is on your trivia team and the topic is geography, there is a good chance you are getting the answer right. Kalkhoff, an international studies major, plays with her team, the Crazy Rat Ladies, during Tuesday Trivia Night at the Basement Brewhaus on campus. 

Kalkhoff has always been interested in learning about her world. She traveled abroad during her sophomore year at UW-Stevens Point, studying international relations in Nairobi, Kenya. The learning experience in a diverse culture ignited her passion to pursue more global involvement, along with her political science major. 

Kalkhoff, who is minoring in teaching English as a second language, soon will get a rare opportunity to teach at the university level, on a U.S. Fulbright Student Grant in Rwanda.

At the encouragement of her adviser, Valerie Barske, professor of history, Kalkhoff applied for the prestigious Fulbright Program last fall. Awarded to only 20 percent who apply, it provides transportation to the host country, lodging and a teaching grant for nine months. She will work as an English teaching assistant in Kigali, the capital of Rwanda.  

“People’s first reaction is always, ‘are you going to be safe?’  I hope to make connections and dispel those misconceptions about the country,” Kalkhoff said.  

UW-Stevens Point ESL lecturer Sara Williams, who has worked and lived long-term in West Africa, said Kalkhoff is as prepared as she can be after her previous study in Kenya. She said she has realistic expectations and can deal effectively with fewer resources or working through periods of cultural stress. 

In the grant application, Williams and Kalkhoff worked together to highlight those personal aspects that would make Kalkhoff a strong candidate for the Fulbright Program. It was the first time Williams had been involved in a U.S. Fulbright application on behalf of a UW-Stevens Point student.

“It’s just such a rich learning experience, having your interpretation of the world expanded,” said Williams. “You are able to help students and you are transformed yourself in a fundamental way.”   

Leaving Stevens Point this month will be bittersweet for Kalkhoff. The Mequon native has remained a part of the International Club on campus since her first year on campus. She is president of Pi Sigma Alpha, the national political science honors society, and a member of the Gender-Sexuality Alliance. Kalkhoff was involved in student voting advocacy and shared her interest in teaching by tutoring both on and off campus.  

“I had a few opportunities to tutor, in the Tutoring Learning Center, in writing and as a teaching assistant for philosophy class,” she said. “I love to learn, and I learn a lot from teaching.” 

While her first interest when enrolling at UW-Stevens Point was in wildlife ecology, Kalkhoff said the teaching environment and thought-provoking discussion in a comparative politics class with Political Science Professor Jennifer Collins sparked her enthusiasm for global politics. 

Collins shows undying support for students, Kalkhoff said. “She cares deeply about the wellbeing of her students, and it shows in her teaching.”

Kalkhoff’s connections with faculty at UW-Stevens Point have pushed her to keep exploring and taking on challenges in her educational journey. Her faculty mentors are optimistic about where the future will take her.   

“Sara is an outstanding student with deep intellectual curiosity,” said Collins. “She is an excellent researcher and writer and is eminently capable of engaging with complex texts and ideas. She thinks deeply about things and also cares about others and making a positive impact on the world around her.” 

For her outstanding academic work and leadership, Kalkhoff is also the recipient of every senior-level award she could earn this semester: the Distinguished Achievement Student Award from the Department of History and International Studies, the Chancellor’s Award and Albertson Medallion Award, the highest student honor at the university. Plus the honor of the Fulbright selection.

“I wasn’t expecting this level of recognition, it’s a little crazy,” she said.   

Kalkhoff plans to attend graduate school and will likely stay in an educational role.