Reinhardt University adjunct professor and Carmel Elementary School teacher Merry Willis will find herself studying abroad for six months in New Zealand next year.
The trip is part of her prestigious Fulbright Distinguished Award in Teaching Grant given by the United States Department of State and the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board. She will be learning about how technology impacts student learning throughout the country, focusing on classroom resources, collaborative relationships and cross-cultural professional development for teachers.
Upon receiving notice of her assigned advisor, Dr. Louise Starkey, distinguished senior lecturer in the School of Education at Victoria University of Wellington, Willis said, “I am so excited about collaborating with and working with Dr. Starkey to complete my inquiry project ‘Sharing technology globally: Creating professional learning to impact student achievement.'”
Preparing for a six-month trip, she said, has been quite daunting. Wellington, New Zealand, where she will be living, suffered an earthquake in November, decimating some of the areas.
“It caused lots of damage to housing, including the flat that I had arranged to rent,” Willis said. “However, I am working on a plan C (plan B already fell through), and I am confident that will resolve itself quickly.”
As she continues to work on securing housing, Willis also is navigating through paperwork for ethics approval and clearance to visit schools, among other things.
“I have also formed my ‘bucket lists’ both of professional and personal goals while I am in New Zealand. New Zealand is such an amazing country that I could just keep adding to both lists. One thing is for sure – I will not lack for things to do while I am abroad.”
Willis’ flight leaves Jan. 29 and she will arrive in New Zealand in February. She will go into orientation with other Fulbright scholars Feb. 2-3 so she can learn about the culture and history of the area. In addition, there will be a welcoming ceremony known as a pōwhiri (a Māori welcoming ceremony involving speeches, dancing, singing and greeting). She will stay overnight in the Waiwhetu Marae (Māori meeting ground).
Willis, who joined Reinhardt as an adjunct in 2015-16, has been teaching “Technology to Enhance Teaching Strategies in Responsive Classrooms” in the MAT program, will continue teaching that class via Skype, allowing her to pass on what she is learning immediately to her students.
“I am so excited about connecting via Skype with classrooms and teachers in Cherokee County while I am abroad and teaching the MAT Technology in the Responsive Classroom class for RU in Spring 17,” Willis said. “I think they will greatly benefit from my experiences abroad throughout the semester.”
Dr. Cindy Kiernan, dean of the Price School of Education, said Willis is a fabulous role model for candidate teachers, showing them to think outside the box and use technology wisely in the classroom.
“She has been a strong addition to our PSOE faculty,” Kiernan said. “She is extremely innovative in the ways she integrates technology into classroom instruction.”
Willis will not only will be connecting with her Cherokee County School District and Reinhardt students virtually, but she also will keep travel and project blogs. To follow her journey, visit www.merrywillis.com or teachknowlogista.wordpress.com.
About the Fulbright Program
The Fulbright Program is the U.S. government’s flagship international educational exchange program, according to the State Department, and is “designed to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries.” Since its establishment in 1946, the Fulbright Program has given 360,000 students, scholars, teachers, artists and scientists the opportunity to “study, teach and conduct research, exchange ideas and contribute to finding solutions to shared international concerns.” Prominent Fulbright alumni include: Muhammad Yunus, founder, Grameen Bank, and 2006 Nobel Peace Prize recipient; John Hope Franklin, noted American historian and Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient; and Riccardo Giacconi, physicist and 2002 Nobel Laureate.