Senior thesis research led to Fulbright awards for two Middlebury alumnae

November 19, 2008

MIDDLEBURY, Vt.-Two Middlebury alumnae are studying abroad with the Fulbright Program in 2008-2009, thus raising the number of Middlebury graduates currently in the program to six.

Sarah Elizabeth Jones '07
is in Moscow studying at St. Andrew's Biblical Theological Institute and the Russian State University of the Humanities, and exploring what it means to be young, Russian, and Russian Orthodox. Jennifer Lee Ware '06 is in Almaty, Kazakhstan, conducting research on the cultural integration into Kazakh society of Chechnyans deported by the Soviet government in the 1940s.

Both Jones and Ware are pursuing the interests they developed while researching and writing their senior theses at Middlebury.

Concurrently, four members of the Class of 2008-Merisha Enoe (China) , Michael Fletcher (Spain), Emily Kim Goldsmith (South Korea), and Caeli Nistler-Schnabel (China)-are also studying abroad on Fulbright scholarships. For a story about the four most recent graduates and their Fulbright awards, click here.

Sarah Jones of Sheridan, Indiana, graduated from Middlebury cum laude with high honors in Russian. During her undergraduate years she was active with the Christian Orthodox Association, Russian and Eastern European Society, Middlebury College Republicans, Students for Life, and Prayz. During her senior year she was a resident assistant in the Russian House.

Currently enrolled in the master of theological studies program at Vanderbilt University, Jones is in Russia pursuing her interest in Russian Orthodoxy during the post-Soviet period. This work is a natural outgrowth of her senior thesis at Middlebury on the life and work of the late Orthodox priest Alexander Men, a leader of religious renewal at the end of the Soviet period.

Jones admires Father Men "for teaching tolerance toward others, the necessity for ecumenical and interfaith dialogue, the responsibility for Christians to reach out to those in need, and, most importantly, that a Christian's first duty is to love." Since arriving in Russia for her Fulbright, Jones has met Men's widow and many of his followers, and plans to launch a blog for young Muscovites to discuss the Orthodoxy.

Associate Professor Tatiana Smorodinskaya was Jones's senior thesis advisor and one of her Russian professors. "After Sarah studied in Irkutsk [with the C.V. Starr-Middlebury School in Russia], she achieved not only a high level of linguistic and cultural proficiency but became seriously interested in the role of the Russian Orthodox church in present day Russian society," Smorodinskaya said. "Her senior thesis took not only excellent knowledge of the language and familiarity with cultural, religious and historical background but courage and persistence in order to write that work."

Jennifer Lee Ware '06
Lee Ware, from Boonsboro, Maryland, completed a double major in Russian and political science at Middlebury, earned high honors in Russian, and graduated cum laude. She arrived in Almaty, the largest city in Kazakhstan, in August and describes it as "truly the crossroads of the world ... a fantastic mix of Russian and Asian, Islam and atheism, East and West, and old and new."

Her project on the integration of Chechnyans into Kazakh society is also a consequence of her senior thesis at Middlebury. As Ware wrote in her Fulbright proposal, "In contrast to the oppression experienced as a minority culture within the larger Russian society, the Chechen population deported from Russia was welcomed by, and in a sense, rescued by its Kazakh hosts. ... My project analyzes the aspects of Kazakh culture that have been integrated into the Chechen community and what aspects have been preserved over the past 60 years."

Ware's academic advisor at Middlebury, Professor Michael Kraus, remarked that "her research is, needless to say, a very sensitive subject, one that most outsiders would shy away from. Even before she journeyed to Kazakhstan, she had already established contacts inside the Chechen community in Almaty, who were enthusiastic about her project. Lee is conducting interviews with survivors of deportations, and connecting with local Kazakh scholars who are receptive to share their expertise with her. Despite the immense challenges of this ambitious and important undertaking, I am confident that she has the scholarly and entrepreneurial talents, as well as the people skills, to succeed."

While at Middlebury, Ware was involved with the Russian and Eastern European Society, College Democrats, German Club, and Women's Rugby Club. After Middlebury she earned a Critical Language Enhancement Award from the State Department for additional training in the Russian language.

The U.S. Department of State and the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs sponsor the Fulbright Program. It operates in more than 150 countries, and in its 62-year history, more than 108,000 Americans have studied, taught, or researched abroad, and about 178,000 people from other countries have engaged in similar activities in the United States.