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Robertson earns Fulbright teaching assistantship

April 2010    


Helen Hunter Robertson will spend seven months in Toulouse, France.

Given her background as a foreign language education major emphasizing French, Helen Hunter Robertson derived plenty of enjoyment from a month spent studying abroad in Paris two years ago. The only disappointment involved the prevalence of English being spoken around sites such as the Eiffel Tower and along the Champs Elysees.  

"Whenever I've traveled around France, I'd hear so much English,'' said Robertson, a Mobile, Ala., native who will graduate from Auburn in May. "I wanted to go someplace where [the locals] wouldn't [speak English].''

A Fulbright-French Ministry of Education Teaching Assistantship will enable Robertson to fully immerse herself in the country's language and culture for seven months during the 2010-2011 academic year. Robertson will be placed in the Academie de Toulouse, where she will be assigned to one more schools in the Toulouse region of southern France.

Robertson's classes in the College of Education and College of Liberal Arts have prepared her to teach French to American students, which she has done during a spring 2010 internship at Hardaway High School in Columbus, Ga. The Fulbright assistantship will hone her skills in other ways. During her seven months in Toulouse, Robertson will provide assistance in teaching English to French students at the secondary level.

"Most of [the teachers] are excited to have an assistant and will utilize you as much as possible,'' said Robertson, who will begin her assistantship in October and return home in May 2011. "I can help with conversation if they have times for English conversation or culture days or if they can't understand a particular grammar concept.''

Robertson, the only Auburn student to apply for the Fulbright assistantship, earned the prestigious appointment after completing a highly competitive process. Each year, the Fulbright Scholarship program and the French Ministry of Education offer 50 Fulbright-French Ministry of Education teaching assistantships. Applicants must submit a detailed project proposal, a personal statement, three letters of recommendation and a letter certifying their fluency in French. Robertson's credentials were also examined during an interview with a campus-wide selection committee composed of professors from different disciplines.

In a typical year, there are more than 500 applicants for 50 assistantships. The recipients earn a $1,200 monthly stipend.

"I was highly impressed by Helen in the interview, as well as in her application materials,'' said Dr. Ralph Kingston, an assistant professor of history at Auburn who served on the Fulbright selection committee. "We talked a good deal about the time she spent in Paris, and her experience working with high school students learning French in Columbus. At one stage of the interview, I even switched to speaking French and she didn't skip a beat.

"She was smart, motivated and keen to take what she had learned at Auburn into the community.''

Dr. Paul Harris, associate director of Auburn's National Prestigious Scholarship Office, said Robertson's letters of recommendation and the response from the campus selection committee were outstanding. He also said Robertson's plan to work with youth groups in France as a way to enrich her Fulbright experience was impressive.

"Helen Hunter had to demonstrate mastery of her subject matter, teaching French language, as well as demonstrate a commitment to teaching a diverse group of students,'' he said. Robertson said her lab and internship experiences have proven invaluable in learning how to present material to high school students. Dr. Sue Barry, associate professor and coordinator of secondary foreign language education in the Department of Curriculum and Teaching, said Robertson's educational background likely helped her stand out from many other Fulbright applicants. "A lot of [applicants] wouldn't have had the teacher education training that we provide in this department,'' Barry said. "Everything she's learning involves how to teach language, specifically a foreign language. She should have all the tools she needs in order to do a good job. "I do think the pedagogy training she gets here, and the content-specific programs we have, probably helped give her a real edge.''

Although Robertson plans to teach French to high school students when she returns to the U.S., she's open to the possibilities the Fulbright assistantship will create.

"The program is perfect for me,'' she said. "I'm definitely willing to give it a try.'' No matter what career track Robertson chooses, Barry said her experiences in France will make her an even better and more credible educator. "She will have all of that cultural knowledge that you can only get by living there for an extended period of time,'' Barry said.

Last Updated: May 17, 2011

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