Alanna Wagher, ’16, M.S. ’18, is a gifted scholar. She graduated summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in communications disorders — then excelled in Southern’s highly regarded graduate program in the same discipline. Still, she admits to being nervous about applying to the U.S. Fulbright Student Program. “There were people who had tons of opinions about the feasibility of me getting this grant, especially considering the notorious cut-throat competition,” says Wagher.
To be sure, “Fulbrighters” are a uniquely accomplished group. Thirty-seven have served as heads of state or government, 86 received Pulitzer Prizes, and 60 were Nobel Prize winners.
Wagher is now a member of the prestigious Fulbright alumni club, having spent the 2018-19 academic year in the Netherlands as a Fulbright scholar through the English Teaching Assistant Program. In addition to teaching, she collaborated with Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences on her research, which was inspired by her experience as a Southern student. Wagher minored in Spanish at Southern and used techniques from the world of speech-language therapy (her major) to correct her pronunciation. She wondered: would others studying a foreign language benefit from similar techniques?
In the Netherlands, Wagher tested her theory, working with Dutch students who were studying English as a second language. The goals included evaluating the effectiveness of speech-language therapy techniques at 1) reducing foreign-accented speech and 2) improving students’ comfort and confidence as English speakers. The Dutch students perceived that speech-language techniques were beneficial in both areas. “The study [also] aimed to establish evidence-based standards for the evaluation and treatment of bilingual children with speech sound disorders,” notes Wagher, who presented her findings at a United Nations-sponsored educational conference in Amsterdam.
“I feel really blessed to have been able to research a topic that I hope will benefit bilingual children and adults,” she says. Of course, the benefits of the experience were highly personal as well. “Overall, I think one of the biggest takeaways of this experience has been the importance of believing in yourself, especially as a young woman,” says Wagher. Her advice to other would-be “Fulbrighters”: “I would definitely encourage more students to apply.”