Gina Russo and Justin Eppley are two recent graduates of IUP’s Robert E. Cook Honors College who have enjoyed outstanding experiences on an international scale.
IUP and Robert E. Cook Honors College alumnus Justin Eppley ’08 had a couple of choice words to help describe his adventures abroad: “Rugged backpacking.” After trips to Ghana, Thailand, and Kenya, Eppley acquired a good sense of how to get around.
“A lot of exchange students still use airport transportation to maximize time and see the main tourist points,” he said. “I decided to go a different route and do not regret it at all. We would often pack up one small sack for a week and head off to some rogue adventure somewhere that included getting to know the people in an authentic context, experiencing some crazy happening or other.”
Four years at the Honors College led Eppley, an Economics major, to three very different experiences studying abroad.
Serving as an IUP representative to the Summer Honors College program during the summer of 2006, he traveled to the African nation of Ghana for a month-long study program on the roots and effects of nation building in the country.
Next stop: Thailand. During the fall of 2006, Eppley studied in Thammasat University’s Economics program. Living in downtown Bangkok, he experienced his first military coup just a month into his stay.
“I remember leaving the university late at night,” he said, “only to witness tanks rolling down the main street near the Thai king’s palace, right across from where I lived. Watching the BBC cover the events live on our television was an incredibly surreal experience.”
The next summer, Eppley completed an internship through the Foundation for Sustainable Development in Mombasa, Kenya.
All three trips not only strengthened Eppley’s cultural IQ but also, he said, “clarified for me what I love about the United States and how we can work to use these good things to bring about effective, smart change in ourselves and our world.
“Studying abroad gives a rare opportunity to exchange ideas and opinions with the world classroom. A promotion of understanding and a simultaneous clarification of your own personal values were the essence of each of these experiences.”
When not trotting the globe, Eppley spent time on his primary passion: the creation and maintenance of EdgeWise, an on-line magazine. It began with a belief that the media had become “a football match of political teams vying for the latest points on the scoreboard.” With the help of some like-minded Honors College students, Eppley developed a concept known as “fusion journalism,” designed to approach one topic each month from six core academic perspectives.
“EdgeWise gave me an awesome opportunity to meet and learn from individuals from the entire university spectrum,” he said.
After interning this summer at McLagan Financials in Connecticut (with Honors College alumnus Tom Bogacz ’05), Eppley in September will enter New York University’s Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service. There, his concentrations will be in Policy Analysis and Social Entrepreneurship.
Most people would rather not be considered a statistic, but for Gina Russo, being one in 279,500 is nothing to scoff at. That is the number of U.S. and international participants in the Fulbright Program since its inception sixty years ago. Russo is, in fact, the tenth IUP student to receive a Fulbright since 1996.
In 2006, Russo spent ten months in Hong Kong, immersing herself in Chinese culture, so her selection as a Fulbright Scholar wasn’t that surprising. “I had heard about [the scholarship] my freshman year and thought it sounded really neat,” she said.
The May graduate of IUP and the Robert E. Cook Honors College is from Lakewood, Colo. She began working with her IUP advisor, Alan Baumler, during her sophomore year to devise a research project. While in Hong Kong, Russo started developing her personal statement and acquiring affiliations in China, a crucial step in the scholarship process.
By the summer of 2007, Russo was in contact with Professor Jin Jiang at East China Normal University (ECNU) in Shanghai, who agreed to sponsor her project. “I began putting together my research proposal,” she said. “The beginning of senior year was just a lot of editing, cutting down, and adding. Then, I got the interview.”
At IUP, Russo had a double major in History and Asian Studies and a minor in Art History. Her full grant scholarship allows her to conduct her own independent research project. After completing the Fulbright, Russo will attend Stanford University, where she plans to pursue a doctorate in history.
“In a sense, when I get to Stanford in the fall of 2009, I will be able to hit the ground running,” she said.
Although she will be affiliated with ECNU, Russo will conduct her research mainly through using the Shanghai Municipal Archives. In the process, she will have opportunity to practice her Chinese. “I will be doing research on education curricula of the 1920s and ’30s and Chinese identity and nationalism,” she said.
Russo credits the Honors College and IUP’s History Department faculty with providing the support necessary to help her reach her goals. “The history classes [at IUP] have really prepared me for creating history, rather than simply learning about it,” she said.
Her gratitude extends to History faculty member Baumler for his guidance and advice. “[He] has read more essays than I could probably count,” she said, “and has truly taught me about being a history professor.” She also worked closely with Baumler’s colleague Wang Xi and with Religious Studies professor Stuart Chandler.
Russo spent much of her undergraduate academic career as a hardworking member of several organizations, on and off campus. She served as editor in chief of The Endnote (IUP’s undergraduate history journal), as a tutor at the Writing Center and the Salvation Army, as a member of the Student Ambassadors, as an accompanist for the Honors College community service choir, and as a writer for EdgeWise magazine.