September 3, 2008    

AMHERST, Mass. — Four more members of Amherst College’s Class of 2008 have received prestigious awards for study and teaching abroad during the 2008-09 academic year. Sarah Craver ’08, Robyn Pront ’08 and Erika Sams ’08 were awarded French Government Teaching Assistantships, while Amanda Gibson ’08 received a J. William Fulbright Fellowship.

“It’s wonderful that our graduates continued to be recognized with these awards,” said Denise Gagnon, the college’s fellowship coordinator, adding that in May, four members of the Class of 2008 were named Fulbright Scholars, five received Fulbright Teaching Assistantships and another senior was awarded a French Government Teaching Assistantship. “I know all of them will go out into the world and help create positive cultural exchange.”
What follows is some brief information on each recipient and her plans.

Sarah B. Craver

During her undergraduate years, Craver, a French major from Framingham, Mass., worked as a resident counselor, served as a choreographer and dancer for the Amherst Dance group and participated in Beyond Bodies, an organization that promotes healthy eating and positive body image and raises awareness of eating disorders. She also tutored middle schoolers and struggling high school students; helped French preteens with English grammar and worked in dance studios in Massachusetts, New York City and Paris. In addition, she spent two semesters in Paris on a study abroad program. After finishing her French Government Teaching Assistantship, she plans to continue teaching overseas and eventually to return to the United States and teach French stateside. An avid dancer, she hopes to teach dance to young students at local studios during her time in France.
Amanda Gibson
Gibson, a biology major from McLean, Va., received a Fulbright grant in support of her project titled “Evading the Germ: The Origins of Disease and the Evolution of Host Avoidance Mechanisms.” Based at a laboratory at L’Université Paris Sud 11 in Orsay, France, she will explore how ecological factors affect the spread of illness by examining the fungal pathogen Microbotryum violaceum, which causes a common disease in plants (though it’s harmless to humans). The experience will build on her studies at Amherst; her Fulbright project is an extension of a project funded in part by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute that she conducted for biology professor Michael Hood. In addition to her work in the lab, she rowed for the crew team, volunteered for the Emergency Medical Service and participated in several student productions of the Vagina Monologues at Amherst. She tutored undergraduate chemistry students as well as local high schoolers in a variety of subjects and won several awards for her academic achievements. She also served as a research volunteer at the Table Mountain National Park and the University of Cape Town, South Africa, and interned at the NIH’s National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases. She plans to obtain a doctorate in the population biology and evolutionary ecology of infectious disease and then either to teach biology at a liberal arts college or to join an organization that works to predict and control epidemics among humans and animals.

Robyn Pront
Pront, an English and French major from New York City, served as the president of Amherst’s French theme house; held the position of publicity chair for Hillel, the college’s Jewish student organization; participated in the Karate Club; and played varsity volleyball during her undergraduate years. She also spent a semester as an English teaching assistant while studying abroad in Paris. Although her plans are not definite, she intends to spend several years in France perfecting her language skills and perhaps obtaining a master’s degree in French literature after completing her assistantship. She then hopes to return to the United States to pursue a career in publishing or work toward a doctorate in either French literature or comparative literature.

Erika Sams
At Amherst, Sams, who double-majored in history and French, worked as an academic peer mentor, helped raise money and send supplies to Hurricane Katrina-ravaged Louisiana and served as a senator for the Association of Amherst Students. The Alexandria, La., native also studied in Paris for a semester and taught French skills to children in 2nd through 5th grades. Already accepted to Boston College’s law program, she will defer enrollment for a year and begin law school when she returns from France in 2009.

About the French Government Teaching Assistantship

The French Ministry of Education and the Cultural Services at the French Embassy offer approximately 1,500 such teaching assistant positions in French primary and secondary schools, as well as in various French teaching colleges in all regions of France and in various French holdings. According to its Web site, the assistantship is an opportunity to spend six to nine months in France, learn about contemporary French society, master the language through linguistic immersion and gain valuable teaching experience.

About the Fulbright Program

Congress created the Fulbright Program in 1946 to foster mutual understanding among nations through educational and cultural exchanges. Senator J. William Fulbright, sponsor of the legislation, viewed scholarship as an alternative to armed conflict. Today, the Fulbright Program—the federal government’s premier scholarship program, funded by an annual Congressional appropriation and contributions from other participating countries—allows Americans to study or conduct research in more than 100 nations.