BUCKHANNON — After a two-year drought, West Virginia Wesleyan College has another Fulbright Scholar.
Mason Winkie, a senior biochemistry and psychology major and honors minor from Bridgeport, is the college’s 14th Fulbright Scholar.
During an announcement at the college Thursday, Winkie said, “To get the Fulbright is a very rewarding and humbling experience for me. When I first found out, I can’t even explain the sheer excitement that I had.”
After emailing faculty to let them know of the honor, Winkie said he was too excited to focus and actually skipped his next class, something he is not prone to doing.
Winkie’s Fulbright Scholar award is the result of months of hard work.
“From day one, the best part about this whole experience was everybody was there to support me through the whole process,” he said.
He interviewed with a campus committee and said he was initially nervous and scared.
“They took what I was saying and said, ‘You are doing really well, but you could be so much better,’” he said.
With a lot of hard work from Dr. Jordan Kuck, assistant professor of history and international studies and the campus Fulbright advisor, and some support from Katie Loudin, associate director of community engagement and leadership development and a member of the campus Fulbright committee, Winkie achieved his goal.
In the process, he will be deferring another goal for a year.
“I’ve already been accepted to WVU Medical School,” he said. “I will defer for a year and come back.”
Instead of diving into medical school, Winkie will spend Sept. 1, 2017-June 30, 2018 using his English Teaching Assistant Award in the Czech Republic to help students learn English and more about American culture.
His maternal grandfather’s family immigrated to the United States from the former Czechoslovakia, which drew Winkie to want to work in what is now the Czech Republic.
“My grandfather’s family actually immigrated from the former Czechoslovakia, and it was right after the war and the onset of another war,” he said. “They came to America — first my great-grandfather, and then after a couple years of establishing himself, he sent for my great-grandmother. They had my grandfather here.”
Winkie believes his experiences in another country will help make him a better doctor, particularly in patient interaction, which he feels is very important.
“My goal for the Fulbright is by learning more about different cultures and actually being able to experience life from different perspectives I will be better able to treat different patients, especially from a multicultural background,” he said.
Winkie’s time at Wesleyan has been spent taking advantage of many opportunities afforded him.
He has volunteered as an English as a Second Language tutor, a Bobcat Outdoor Orientation Trip camp leader, a member of WE LEAD’s Appalachian Experience Interest Team and served as a student representative for the Board of Trustees Enrollment Council.
“I can’t tell you how happy I am to have attended Wesleyan and get to this point with all of their help,” he said.
One of Winkie’s first experiences with teaching came on Wesleyan’s campus when he helped teach a freshmen course under the oversight of a faculty member.
“I was in charge of preparing the final, grading the finals, doing class assignments and led a couple classes myself,” he said.
Since then, Winkie has also volunteered at the elementary, middle and high school levels.
“I feel pretty comfortable with the teaching part,” he said.
During Winkie’s junior year, he studied abroad in Northern Ireland.
“I was housed with a lot of international students, and in that situation, English was definitely the minority language. The cool thing about that is you get the immersion so when I go to the Czech Republic, being fully immersed in the language — hopefully over time I will be able to master it and blend in pretty seamlessly.”
Kuck said he would use Winkie’s experience and success to further the Fulbright Scholar recruitment on campus.
“We worked extremely hard together in a collaborative process along with [Loudin] and others on the committee insuring that Mason made his very remarkable story clear to the Fulbright committees in D.C., New York and Prague,” he said. “I think in particular Mason’s very remarkable commitment to the public sphere, to community service, to representing our country in this very contentious and volatile time period is what we really wanted to make clear to the committee.”
Through Winkie’s experiences, Kuck said he wanted to encourage more and more students on campus to consider the opportunity.
“It’s not an easy application process,” he said. “It takes many revisions and also to make clear that indeed students from Wesleyan, students from West Virginia can get these very prestigious prizes.”
Loudin traveled to Thailand for her Fulbright Scholar program.
“I know Mason because he is in WE LEAD, which is the group I advise here on campus,” she said. “I really wanted him to highlight how he has gone above and beyond to engage in the community. In those first drafts of his essay, I told him he needed to highlight that more. I was given great advice by Dr. Saunders, who was my Fulbright advisor, and I think they look for what you are going to bring as a person and as an applicant beyond teaching English, which they teach you how to do.”
“Mason, being a science major, feels very passionately about STEM and making sure kids, especially young girls, are involved in STEM,” she said.
Winkie had this idea to teach about women who have made contributions in STEM and developed that a little bit more for the application process.
Loudin said she told Winkie, “You are obviously a great candidate, but everyone else applying for Fulbright is a great candidate too, so what are we going to do to help you stand out?’ I just helped him highlight what he had already done.”
With her own experience, Loudin said she has a few words of advice.
“The first thing is, I wasn’t really ready for how much the culture would impact me,” she said. “I wasn’t ready for such a literally foreign experience, so I would tell him to keep an open mind.
“The best experiences I had were when I tried to strip my American expectations off of a situation and be as open minded as possible. It’s really hard to do when you are a 22-year-old, but if he can keep his mind open and keep his expectations about what things are supposed to be on this side of the ocean, then I think he will do really well.”
Dr. Boyd Creasman, interim president, said, “Wesleyan has had over the years quite a number of Fulbright Scholars. We had a great run of 13 Fulbrights. We had a couple years where we did not have a Wesleyan student prevail in this very competitive honor but we are delighted that Mason Winkie put us back on the winning streak. It’s such a great honor and I honestly can’t imagine a better young person to represent our college and to represent our nation as a Fulbright Scholar.”