Graduating Senior Will Journey to Slovakia for Fulbright Teaching Assistantship

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Brenna Ritzert ’17 has a mantra: “Yes, I’m shooting for the stars,” she says, “but you’d better believe I’m also aiming much higher than that.”

These sky-high aspirations have paid off. Ritzert, an English major with a sociology minor from Chicora, Pennsylvania, has earned a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship (ETA) position in Slovakia. After graduation, she’ll spend a year in the town of Trebišov teaching English to students at a local high school and representing the United States as a cultural ambassador.

“I’m so excited to take this new step in my life and see more of what the world has to offer,” says Ritzert.

The Fulbright Program is one of the most competitive scholarship opportunities in the United States. Approximately eight students per year are selected for the Fulbright ETA in Slovakia. Ritzert is one of the few to make it through Fulbright’s highly selective application process, which is based on academic excellence and personal accomplishment.

Ritzert applied for placement in Slovakia because of her family’s heritage and is looking forward to learning even more about the country’s culture.

“My great-grandparents actually emigrated from Slovakia,” Ritzert says. “So I have very fresh roots there.”

During her time as an undergraduate, Ritzert has racked up a number of achievements. In addition to working as a tutor in the SJU Writing Center, Ritzert manages the distribution of The Hawk student newspaper, plays on the women’s rugby team, earned acceptance into Sigma Tau Delta English honors society, and studied abroad in Tokyo, Japan, as a sophomore. Currently, she’s writing a 300-page novel as an independent study project.

“I don’t like to limit myself,” Ritzert says.

Ritzert’s novel, The Detective of Craterwell, began as a Summer Scholars project in 2016 with Tom Coyne, M.F.A., assistant professor of English, who was impressed by her “diligence and commitment.”

“Brenna succeeded with impressive results,” says Coyne. “She did the work with discipline and passion.”

A first-generation college student, Ritzert attributes much of her academic success and growth to the people she’s encountered at Saint Joseph’s.

“It was really ‘St. Joe’s or bust’ for me,” Ritzert says. “I didn’t want to go anywhere else, and now that I’ve met so many amazing faculty members and look at how much I’ve grown as a writer and an individual, I know it was the choice for me.”

Coyne agrees.

“She has a great why-not attitude that seems entirely unafraid,” says Coyne. “Brenna is proof of what happens when you don't settle for an ordinary college experience.” 

While Ritzert has always been interested in writing, it was her love of tutoring English as a Second Language (ESL) students in the Writing Center that inspired her to apply for the Fulbright ETA.

“Every time I come back from a Writing Center appointment where I’m working with an ESL student, I always have this huge smile on my face and this sense of fulfillment,” Ritzert says.

Her passion for helping others learn new languages was increased when she began enrolling in linguistics courses at SJU, such as Teaching Language at Home and Abroad, taught by Jennifer Ewald, Ph.D., associate professor of linguistics.

“We learned communicative language teaching, which is when you instruct the class completely in the second langue,” says Ritzert. “So even though my degree isn’t in education, I think that’s really prepared me for what I’ll encounter abroad.”

Once she completes her placement in Slovakia, Ritzert hopes to pursue the Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) SJU Program or an M.F.A. in creative writing. For now, however, she’s focusing on her newest adventure with the Fulbright Program.

“I really want to make Slovakia a home,” says Ritzert. “Even though it doesn’t feel real, I’m looking forward to the transition.”

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