Sophia Clark, a master’s degree candidate in German studies at California State University, Long Beach (CSULB), has received a Fulbright U.S. Student Award to conduct research in Vienna, Austria, during the 2013-14 academic year.
A student scholar of Austrian science fiction and fantastic literature, Clark will study narrative theory and practice in Austrian short prose works while on her Fulbright experience.
”I am ecstatic that I will be able to travel to Vienna to carry out my research project and very honored for having received this prestigious grant,” said Clark, a Norwalk resident and 2004 graduate of Norwalk High School. “I am also extremely grateful for the critical guidance and support that I have received from the Romance/German/Russian Languages and Literatures Department and German Program at Cal State Long Beach.”
The Fulbright award is one of just three recent honors for Clark. Earlier this spring, she accepted an offer of full support from Vanderbilt University’s Ph.D. program and received a German Consulate L.A. Teaching Award to teach at the German Summer School of New Mexico this summer.
The Fulbright U.S. Student Program provides grants for individually designed study/research projects. During their grants, Fulbrighters meet, work, live with and learn from the people of the host country. The program facilitates cultural exchange through direct interaction on an individual basis in the classroom, field, home and in routine tasks, allowing the grantee to gain an appreciation of others’ viewpoints and beliefs, the way they do things and the way they think.
Clark’s attraction to science fiction and the fantastic is long-standing one, including literature, film, television, comic books and video games.
“I became fascinated with the connections between the short prose texts I was studying in my German courses and the narrative strategies in modern science fiction,” she recalled. “I read my first pieces of Austrian science fiction in a German course at CSULB yet encountered very little academic material on the subject. So, I decided that this would be an important area to investigate further.”
Clark, who earned bachelor’s degrees in German and studio art as a double major and was a President’s Scholar at CSULB, plans to interview several Vienna-based authors and publishers of German-language science fiction and fantastic literature. She said she also will receive guidance from a faculty member at the University of Vienna and have access to university resources.
“A few years ago, I had Sophia Clark as a student in a first-year French course, and I was impressed with her then,” noted Markus Muller, chair of CSULB’s Romance/German/Russian Languages and Literatures (RGRLL) Department. “To be honest, having followed her throughout the years, I am not a bit surprised that she received this Fulbright scholarship. She simply earned it by working hard and by being focused and determined.”
Muller went on to give credit to faculty members in CSULB’s German studies program who provided Clark with the guidance she needed to reach this level.
“CSULB’s German studies program has a history of attracting talent and for graduating highly competitive instructors and Ph.D. candidates. After all, this German program ‘co-produced’ the university’s first Rhodes Scholar,” Muller pointed out. “In my mind, Sophia Clark is the most accomplished graduate student in German that has graduated from CSULB in all the 12 years that I have been here and she will make a great contribution to this profession once she receives her Ph.D. from Vanderbilt.”
Clark thanked her department and expressed special appreciation to Muller and two other CSULB German faculty members, Jeffrey High and Nele Hempel-Lamer.
Hempel-Lamer believes mentoring students is fundamental to their success, but she also noted that success also depends on the students.
“Committed faculty mentoring is a key component in this or any university student’s success story, but so is the student’s ability to recognize opportunity and his or her willingness to work hard,” Hempel-Lamer said. “Sophia Clark is simply exceptional, and it was easy for her faculty to write her glowing letters of recommendation in support of graduate school and fellowship applications and rank her at the top of every evaluation scale.
“Sophia recognizes the need for students to be actively involved in their education in addition to being stellar in the classroom,” she added. “She served as the president of the German Club, petitioned for ASI grants to fund guest lectures, organized graduate and undergraduate student conferences, and always made herself available to help with program building and scholarly projects. Her resume looks like that of an assistant professor.”
Clark said she owed much of her involvement in the campus community as an undergraduate to the President’s Scholars program and the Leadership Academy. She participated in and coordinated several conferences and academic events with the German Club, which she noted is a member of the very active and engaged College of Liberal Arts Student Council. Being involved on campus was important, she said, and she dedicated her time at CSULB to academic pursuits, teaching and study abroad.
Clark explained she chose CSULB for the strength of its undergraduate and graduate program in German. “I completed my double studio art and German B.A. degrees at CSULB, so I was already familiar with the quality of training and advising the German program had to offer,” she said. “I decided to come back for my M.A. and it was the right choice. I hope that my original research will contribute to the growing academic interest in German-language science fiction in the fields of German studies and comparative literature.”
Even before heading off on her Fulbright experience, however, she will teach this summer at the German Summer School of New Mexico, an honor that High pointed out will serve Clark well in her chosen field.
“To be selected as an instructor is an honor and we are thankful that the German Consul in L.A. has chosen to support CSULB M.A. candidates with a summer teaching award to this end,” High said. “When one looks at the number of graduate students who taught at Taos and went on to become important German professors, it is clear how significant the experience is.
“Sophia Clark will teach intermediate German and be co-responsible for some 18 hours of daily activities from scholarly and cultural events, to hiking and volleyball, to producing student films, to tutoring,” High continued. “Her selection closes a remarkable circle. I had her as a student in Taos when she was a first-year German student and her rise to instructor there speaks well of the Summer School, though it is more evidence of her talent as a teacher and dedication as a scholar. Sophia is a natural teacher-scholar, and I don’t find it terribly surprising to see such an unusually mature, tolerant and cheerful work ethic result in success.”
The Fulbright U.S. Student Program is the largest U.S. exchange program offering opportunities for students and young professionals to undertake international graduate study, advanced research, university teaching, and primary and secondary school teaching worldwide.
Fulbright U.S. Student alumni populate an entire range of professions and include ambassadors, members of Congress, judges, heads of corporations, university presidents, journalists, artists, professors, and teachers. Bose Corp. founder Amar Bose, actor John Lithgow, composer Philip Glass, opera singer Renee Fleming and economist Joseph Stiglitz are among notable former grantees.