Eight from the College Receive Fulbright Scholarships

Fulbright winner Tracy Gosgriffe
Fulbright winner Tracy Gosgriffe
Sanjay Suchak / UVaToday

Eight scholars from the College and Graduate School of Arts and Sciences – four graduate students and four graduates – have received Fulbright Scholarships to study and work abroad for the 2014-15 academic year.

Three alumni will teach English as a second language in Spain, Turkey and Argentina. A 2009 alumna will investigate the Rwandan genocide. Three graduate students will further their art history research in Italy, Germany and Cyprus on topics ranging from the Renaissance painter Raphael’s frescoes in the Vatican to how St. Joseph’s cult shows up in the art of Germany, to images of birds in ancient Cypriot culture. The fourth graduate student will study how cultural ideas about cleanliness influence sanitation work in India.

The Fulbright U.S. Student Program is a federally sponsored international educational exchange program designed to increase mutual understanding among Americans and people of other countries. The U.Va. awardees are among more than 1,700 U.S. citizens who will travel abroad for the 2014-15 academic year through the program.

“Receiving eight Fulbright awards is a testament to the high-impact educational experience students are receiving at the University of Virginia,” said Brian Cullaty, director of undergraduate research opportunities at the Center for Undergraduate Excellence. “The awardees have not only engaged in the academic life of the University, but thought deeply about the global context in which they live.”

This year’s winners are:

Audrey Birner, 22, of Denver, Colorado, who graduated in May with a double major in Spanish and comparative literature in the College of Arts & Sciences, will be an English teaching assistant in Spain.

Birner ran an English as a second language class for University dining hall employees and helped immigrants with their conversational English. She was a Miller Center intern and volunteered at local elementary schools. An Echols Scholarand Rare Books School fellow, she was a member of the Jefferson Literary and Debating Society and the Raven Society.

She plans to pursue a graduate degree in Latin American studies and work in business or marketing using her knowledge of language and culture.

Sabeen Ahmed, 22, of Richmond, a 2013 graduate with a double-major in Spanish and philosophy, will be an English teaching assistant in Turkey.

“Having fallen in love with Turkish language and culture during my visit last summer, I knew I wanted to one day return,” she said. “Turkey’s continuing democratic transition and unique political history lie at the heart of my research interests.”

A graduate of Maggie L. Walker Governor’s School for Government and International Relations in Richmond, Ahmed had received a critical language scholarship for Turkish in 2013. Her research has been published several undergraduate journals. She will defer her enrollment at Vanderbilt University while she works in Turkey.

Melissa Batchelor Warnke, 26, of Lakeville, Connecticut, a 2009 graduate in political and social thought andAfrican-American and African Studies, will continue her interdisciplinary studies in Rwanda.

“My research will examine memory culture and foreign direct investment in Rwanda,” she said. “In college, I customized my course of study to focus on genocide and learned everything I could about Rwandan history, transcultural memory, intergenerational trauma and memorial design. I traveled to Rwanda for the first time in 2008, funded by a Harrison Research Grant. Immersed in my undergraduate thesis work, I realized that the story I wanted to tell about Rwanda had broader relevance. I spent the next six years mulling the topic over and tweaking it in my mind.”

At U.Va. Warnke was executive vice president of the Student Council, chair of the Day of Dialogue on Race, forum chair of the Take Back the Night committee, and a member of the Raven Society. She received several awards and scholarships, including a 21 Society Award.

Since graduating from U.Va., Warnke has worked in the Africa office of George Soros’ Open Society Foundations, in the Google Creative Lab and as a freelance writer, researcher and editor.

Alicia M. Dissinger, 28, of Marysville, Pennsylvania, a rising fifth-year Ph.D. candidate in classical art and archaeology will study in Cyprus. Her dissertation focuses on images of birds in ancient Cypriot culture.

“Representations of birds in Cypriot art have been not fully studied and a more comprehensive understanding of how ancient Cypriots regarded and understood various birds helps us today to understand and gain insight into their culture,” she said.

Dissinger is president of the Art History Graduate Association, a member of the Archaeological Institute of America, theGolden Key International Honor SocietyPhi Beta Kappa and the American Society of Oriental Research. She also received the Linder Endowment, among other fellowships and grants. She plans to teach at the college level.

Sam Atkeson, 21, of Falls Church, who graduated in 2014 with a double major in political and social thought and Spanish, will teach English in Argentina.

“I’m excited to spend a year as a complete stranger in a world so different from my own,” he said. “I think it will be an eye-opening, formative experience that will prove valuable in unexpected ways and for years to come.”

Atkeson was a Jefferson Public Citizen, a University Guide, a Sustained Dialogue moderator and a program director for Madison House’s English as a second language tutoring program. He was also a member of Phi Beta Kappa.

Jacqueline Cieslak, 25, of Albuquerque, New Mexico, a doctoral candidate in anthropology, will study in India.

“My doctoral research explores the relationship between cultural ideas about cleanliness, the social relations that produce it, and sanitation development work in India,” she said.

She is a member of U.Va.’s Center for Critical Human Survival Issues. She plans a career in higher education.

Tracy Cosgriff, 28, of San Francisco, California, is a fifth-year Ph.D. candidate studying Italian Renaissance art and architecture. She will spend the year in Italy doing research for her dissertation on Raphael’s frescoes in Pope Julius II’s private library at the Vatican, proposing a single theme to unify the disciplines represented by the paintings and explain their collective meaning.

A fresco by Raphael in Pope Julius II’s private library at the Vatican
Fulbright scholar Tracy Cosgriff is studying Raphael’s frescoes in Pope Julius II’s private library at the Vatican, proposing a single theme to unify the disciplines represented by the paintings and explain their collective meaning.

“By resituating the room, its images and its texts within the literary milieu that defined the Julian court, I will demonstrate that Raphael invented a lofty new pictorial rhetoric, one that extols the history of the Catholic Church, announces the New Jerusalem and proclaims the theme of Julian Justice,” she said.

Anne L. Williams, 27, of Norfolk, a Ph.D. candidate in art and architectural history, will be researching late medieval and northern Renaissance art in Germany for her dissertation on “Sanctity and Satire: St. Joseph and Humor in Northern European Art, ca. 1300-1530.”

“My dissertation reveals the beneficial role of humor for the early modern development and appearance of St. Joseph’s cult in the art of Germany and the Low Countries,” she said. “I argue that scholars have treated the power and purposes of humor in the early modern period too categorically. The laughter stimulated by Joseph’s representations created a pathway for popular identification with the model figurehead of domestic responsibility, parenthood and piety, and is thus integral to – in fact, inextricable from – his veneration as a cult figure.”

Williams, whose goal is to teach in academia, has taught courses as adjunct art history faculty at University of Richmond. She has been a Dolores Zohrab Liebmann Fellow  and participated in the Mellon Teaching Seminar for Excellence in the Humanities and the Mellon Dissertation Writing Seminar.