AN INTERVIEW WITH FULBRIGHT ETA CLAIRE KIRCHOFF ’17

Claire Kirchoff ’17

Alumna Claire Kirchoff ’17 recently received notification that she will be serving as a Fulbright ETA in Nepal next year! While at Roanoke College Kirchoff studied psychology and spent time working with Dr. Powell in her research lab. In this post, Kirchoff discusses with a student assistant what she has been up to since graduating from Roanoke College, how she learned about the Fulbright program and advice she has for students considering applying to Fulbright or any other research/internship opportunity.

Can you please tell me a little about yourself?

I am from Nashville, TN and moved back here after college and graduate school in Virginia. I have a dog named Kona who just turned 1 at the beginning of March, and he is being trained as a therapy dog. Currently, I am finishing up the coursework and supervision hours (well, not anymore #covid) for my School Counseling licensure, at the end of which I plan to pursue elementary school counseling positions (following the Fulbright, of course.) I have never held a job that did not involve children or youth in some capacity, and I have always been drawn to education and mental health, though I took a roundabout way to get to where I am now.

What have you been doing since graduating from Roanoke College?

In reference to my last comment above, I told my advisor (Dr. Powell) that I had zero intentions of going into school counseling and that it was the last thing I wanted. Things change, clearly, and 4 years after putting my foot down, here I am about to be a licensed school counselor. Because I thought I didn’t want to go into counseling, I chose a graduate program without a licensure track, which, in hindsight, was poor planning. Immediately after college (2017-18), I attended the University of Virginia for a Master’s in Education, Educational Psychology – Applied Developmental Science (it’s a mouthful, I know.) While I was there, I took just about every opportunity I came across. I worked in a research lab studying the implementation of social-emotional curriculum interwoven with standard science curriculum, I wrote and implemented curriculum for a multi-week summer environmental science and service-learning program for high school students on a Native American Reservation in South Dakota, helped create a mental health team at a summer camp for youth with chronic health conditions (this has a nod to my undergraduate research study, “Emerging Adults’ Perceptions of Peers with Chronic Health Conditions”), I tutored ESL students at a local middle school, and I took as many courses as would fit into my schedule.

Claire Kirchoff’s group while in South Dakota (which included 2 UVA undergrads) at the end of their summer program

(2018-19) After graduate school (literally a week after), I started a year as an AmeriCorps service member in Nashville at a nonprofit serving a very low-income community. Moving back to Nashville was a tough choice because I loved my time in Virginia so much, but it’s home and I’m happy to be back. During my AmeriCorps term, I worked in the K-8 education department at the nonprofit, and I was placed at a middle school in the community (it was actually a charter school drawing students from all over Nashville, so it was very diverse and had a wide spectrum of academic and social-emotional needs). The K-8 education program implements after-school enrichment programs at several schools in the community, and I was basically in charge of the implementation of my school’s after-school programming. I collected and analyzed testing and progress report data, designed reading and math enrichment curriculum for differentiated levels of need, and organized outside community partners for enrichment activities (other nonprofit partners like artists, musicians, science shows/experiments, and volunteers like Vanderbilt football and soccer players, student groups, and others.)

UVA Graduation – Claire with several friends from her own program as well as other friends she made along the way

This year (2019-20), I have been working to complete my supervision hours in school counseling at two local schools with similar levels of socioeconomic challenges, but both are very rural schools, which I was not super used to. I started at an elementary school and had the time of my life. This semester, I was at a middle school in the same community as the elementary school, and having a great experience, then my internship was cut short in early March, just like everyone else in the country/world. Since the schools closed, I went back to working at my part-time job as a preschool teacher at a private pre-k center. We actively try to keep our daily routines as normal as possible for the sake of the kids, but each day they become a little more aware of the issues, and I often hear the older kids saying things like “the sickness” or attempting to say the word coronavirus. It’s a daily battle to keep surfaces clean and kids happy, but we make do and push through.

How did you learn about Fulbright and this opportunity?

I knew about Fulbright in college when I had friends applying (my graduation year there were 6 Fulbright winners and I was friends with 4 of them). What I didn’t know then was that I, too, could apply if I wanted to. These types of opportunities weren’t really advertised to me when I was in college. I wasn’t super eligible to apply right out of college like my friends were, but my experiences and education since college has made me a better candidate for the grant.

Why did you choose Nepal?

There are a few reasons why I chose Nepal. First, I am one of the biggest culture nerds you’d ever meet. I attempt learning new languages for fun when I’m bored, I read books about other countries, cultures, and religions, and actively seek out cultural experiences in my life. When I was thinking about the Fulbright and Jenny Rosti was hounding me to pick a country, Nepal just kept creeping up on me. It stuck with me and I felt the draw to apply.

Secondly, when I was in graduate school, I tutored ESL students at a middle school in Charlottesville. Many of these students were from far-flung areas of the globe, mostly the Middle East and, surprising to me, Nepal. I had never met anyone from Nepal, nor had I thought too much about the country in my life, other than knowing about Mts. Everest and Annapurna. It was really these kids and their stories and culture that led me towards choosing Nepal as my Fulbright application. Side note: I actually wrote a paper about those kids for one of my grad courses, I interviewed them about their experiences immigrating to the US and acclimating to US culture and schooling. It was very interesting and helped me better understand how immigrant students view American schooling and what I, as a school counselor, can do to help them.

Thirdly, and this is the last big reason, is that I want to (someday, hopefully, in the next 5 years or so) go back to school for a Ph.D. in Educational Psychology with a focus/concentration in anthropology (some schools have dedicated Educational Anthropology programs, but the others have Ed Psych with cross-curricular study in which anthropology is encouraged as an option). As a course of study in my future Ph.D., I want to study how education (non-traditional and traditional ways of viewing education) blossoms even in the least Westernized corners of the world, and how folklore and storytelling are integrated into childrearing as a form of education for those without access to Westernized education. Because of this interest in education’s evolutionary roots, I figured Nepal would be a good place to start.

Can you give any advice for those interested in applying for the Fulbright, or for research/internship experiences in general?

This is a Dr. Powell-ism that has stuck with me since I was a wee duckling in her lab: trust the process. If you put your all into it and you really want it, it will happen for you, even if it doesn’t happen the way you planned. Dive in, give it your 100%, and trust that everything will shake out the way you need it to (but it might not be the way you want it to.)

Take-aways: Trust the process. Be kind to yourself. You’re capable of more than you think.

Dr. Powell was also asked to speak on this accomplishment and stated:

“I’m extremely proud of Claire – what she accomplished as a student at Roanoke and all that she has achieved since! I’m confident that her training and applied experiences have prepared her to succeed as an ETA in Nepal. I’m looking forward to seeing her posts and hearing details about her adventures as a Fulbright when she returns to the states. “
Thank you, Claire, for taking the time to answer our questions and congratulations again on receiving Fulbright! We look forward to hearing about how it goes in the future and will continue to cheer you on!

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