Clemson University senior Meredith Johnson is traveling to Slovakia this fall as a recipient of the Slovak Fulbright Commission’s English Teaching Assistant award.
The program gives college graduates an opportunity to help teach the English language to high school students in the host country for an academic year. A political science major, Johnson is excited to experience a new culture and learn more about the republic’s education system.
The prospect of teaching in the Slovak Republic is extremely exciting to me due to its international significance as a nation with a rich history and relatively recent transition to democracy, as well as its regional importance as a state with a cultural identity distinct from its neighbors.Clemson University senior and Fulbright Recipient Meredith Johnson
Johnson’s paternal grandmother and grandfather inspired in her a desire to learn. Growing up in a small, rural South Carolina community also gave her insight into the value of access to a quality education.
During her Clemson University orientation, Johnson says she was surprised at how many of her peers spoke about their lack of access to counselors in middle and secondary school. Conversations in classes about nonprofit leadership and public policy further reinforced to her that an inequitable distribution of resources can hold back progress towards student learning.
A study abroad trip to Cyprus when Johnson was a sophomore broadened her understanding of the impact education can have on people in a country with a different way of life than the United States.
“While abroad, I saw firsthand the benefits that education offers to students where political and social unrest are the norm, cementing in my mind the importance of education as a tool for local, national and international progress,” said Johnson. “Having had this cultural experience impact my intellectual framework so greatly, I am excited to engage with a new culture in the Slovak Republic and gain further insights from the Slovak education system.”
After her trip to Cyprus, Johnson focused her growing passion for education onto her extra-curricular activities. She mentored first-year students in the Lyceum Program on campus, an intensive four-year political science curriculum that accepts only ten students from each graduating class per year. She also mentors first-year political science majors and members of her sorority Sigma Kappa and co-leads a new member engagement group. Her service was recently recognized with the Jack Tuttle-Pi Sigma Alpha Service Award by the University’s political science department.
This spring she launched a new student-led journal called The Aurantiaco to create opportunities for undergraduate students on campus to publish and share critical writing on the humanities and social sciences. She’s also a member of the Order of the Omega, an honors society for Greek-affiliated students who demonstrate high leadership standards.
Michael Hoffpauir, a clinical assistant professor in political science and associate director of the Lyceum Program, says he is confident that Meredith’s care for others, combined with her desire to learn and share knowledge with others, will make her a successful Fulbright English teaching assistant.
“When I add Meredith’s intelligence, sense of responsibility and grace to these already enviable qualities, I have no doubt that she will be an excellent representative of the United States, Clemson University and the Lyceum Program as a Fulbright Scholar in the Slovak Republic,” said Hoffpauir.
Last year, Johnson was recognized as a Political Studies Fellow for the Hudson Institute in Washington D.C. She spent her summer in several policy workshops where she learned to study policy issues through a progressive, open-minded and solutions-focused framework.
Johnson plans to pursue a career in public policy after she graduates, with a specific focus on finding solutions to the systemic issues she sees in the country’s education system. She sees her Fulbright experience in the Slovak Republic as an opportunity to further expand her knowledge of different cultural approaches to education.
“I have had the privilege of witnessing two out of three essential perspectives within education – that of the student and that of the policymaker,” said Johnson. “Gaining an additional perspective, that of the teacher, will be instrumental for my career in educational philosophy.”
Johnson is among four Clemson undergraduate students to receive a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant award in 2022, with other recipients traveling to Taiwan, Spain and the Czech Republic.
The Department of Political Science is part of the University’s College of Behavioral, Social and Health Sciences (CBSHS). Established in 2016, CBSHS is a 21st-century, land-grant college that combines work in seven departments — Communication; Nursing; Parks, Recreation and Tourism Management; Political Science; Psychology; Public Health Sciences; Sociology, Anthropology and Criminal Justice — to further its mission in “building people and communities” in South Carolina and beyond.
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