Excerpt from Gannon Magazine, Summer 2012
By Audrey Starr, Editor
Alumna Terri Motraghi ’10 knows a thing or two about firsts: She was the first in her family to go to a four-year college, and she made her first trip overseas as a junior at Gannon. Now, she is representing the University again as the school’s first reported graduate to be named a Fulbright scholar. Gannon Magazine talked to her about what happened when she caught the travel bug, why she’s about to spend 10 months in New Zealand and how her decision to study abroad changed her life.
You spent your junior year studying abroad at the University of Oxford in England as a visiting student of psychology. How was your life different after this experience?
In my case, studying abroad during my undergraduate years changed almost everything about my life. I changed my major, met my husband, went on to earn my master’s degree abroad and was inspired to apply to the Fulbright Program. This chain of events only happened because I studied abroad during my time at Gannon.
Did you catch the travel bug?
Definitely! During my year abroad, I traveled to 11 countries. We had eight weeks of class followed by six weeks of vacation, so there was a lot of time between terms, and it was very affordable. For instance, I got a round-trip ticket to Ireland for about $10, so we made it a point to take a lot of weekend trips or short trips around Europe. Since graduation, I’ve been to Morocco, Portugal and Mexico, and domestically I’ve visited 21 states.
You returned to England after graduation to pursue a master’s degree—and still found a Gannon connection.
That’s right! I moved to the United Kingdom to pursue a Master of Science degree in child development and education at the University of Oxford. During this time, I was also the visiting student adviser at St. Edmund Hall for American undergraduate students studying abroad, including Becky Perry ’11. I provided emotional, social and academic support to students—
one day I would be organizing a pub trip, the next I would be comforting a homesick student or offering to read over essays.
Since then, what have you been up to professionally?
I’ve been working with U.S. combat veterans, first at the VA Center of Excellence for Research on Returning War Veterans in Waco, Texas, and most recently in San Francisco, Calif., at the
VA Medical Center, where I am a study coordinator and diagnostic clinical interviewer for a research study examining the effects of an intervention for veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder.
You received word in February that you were one of nine individuals awarded a Fulbright grant to New Zealand during the upcoming year. Tell us more about this program.
The Fulbright Program is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and provides funding for students, scholars, teachers and professionals to undertake graduate study, teaching and advanced research abroad for one academic year. I’ll be doing the latter, but also plan to audit psychology and education courses at the University of Canterbury. Each year, about 8,000 students apply to the Fulbright Program. The most competitive programs are in English-speaking countries, so New Zealand was particularly difficult—I believe around 10 percent of applicants received the award.
What will your research focus be?
My project will look at how young children were affected by the recent earthquakes in Christchurch, New Zealand. Specifically, I will examine educational, health and behavioral outcomes in preschool-aged children. The earthquakes were pretty devastating. Schools and homes suffered substantial damage, and much of the city is still sectioned off. Previous research suggests that children who survive natural disasters might develop heightened physiological responses such as higher blood pressure and heart rate, and teachers have reported that children have been having a lot of behavioral problems. So, I will be looking at how children have adapted to all of these changes and comparing my findings to national norms.
I love traveling and being immersed in different cultures, so I knew I wanted to apply for the Fulbright as an undergraduate student. I met with Mark Jubulis, associate professor of political science and the Fulbright adviser at the time, several times, and he was very supportive of my application. More than anything, the opportunities that Gannon gave me to study abroad were thebiggest preparation. Having already lived in another country certainly gave my applicationa boost.
Also, I think Gannon fosters a sense of exploration and open-mindedness that prepares students for undertaking journeys like this. The type of education I received at Gannon, both inside and outside the classroom, helped me adapt to the global world. Gannon offers so many opportunities in terms of studying abroad, service-learning trips and simply classes that teach cultural sensitivity. I think students will be much more competitive in the world economy if they seek out these kinds of experiences.
So, if you could live anywhere, where would it be?
That’s the million dollar question! At this stage in my life, I have a hard time answering that. The older I get, and the more international traveling and moving I do, the more I think about settling down in coming years. I’m a native of West Sunbury, Pa., and my husband (who’s British) and I have talked about returning to the east coast one day. San Francisco is a great place to live though, so it’s hard to say for sure. We’ll have to see where life takes us!
But wait, there’s more! Head over to the magazine’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/GannonMagazine to read about the University’s two Fulbright faculty, and three new study abroad endowments that are helping financially support more study abroad GU students than ever. Read more of the Gannon Magazine Summer 2012, and other, issues online anytime at www.gannon.edu/magazine.