BSU Honors Program celebrates Fulbright semi-finalists, acceptances to top graduate programs

By Marina Smoske, Editor-in-chief

The BSU Honors Program is pleased to celebrate the phenomenal achievements of four of its standout students, William Tringali, Aaron Roberts and Len Sprague of the class 2016, as well as graduate student John Bonanni.

On the heels of celebrating the research of Fulbright recipient Michael Verlezza, ’14, BSU now boasts three Fulbright semi-finalists with Tringali, Roberts, and Bonnani.

Sponsored by the US Department of State, the Fulbright Program offers prestigious grants for students and faculty to teach, study, and conduct research abroad

When asked about their academic journeys and the application process, it is clear that the ambitious semi-finalists’ success is both personal and professional.

Tringali presenting a past project : “Queer Monstrosity and the Cultural Rhetoric of the Vampire” credit: BSU Honors Program

Tringali, an English and Cultural Anthropology double major with minors in Women’s and Gender Studies and U.S. Ethnic and Indigenous Studies, endeavors to study the recent emergence of millennial LGBT culture in South Korea.

“In the past year, South Korea had the biggest Pride Parade in its history,” explains Tringali. “What I want to know is: What’s changed? What is currently changing? And how did it happen?”

Due to the longstanding hostile climate towards homosexuality in South Korea, Tringali notes that queer studies requires attention in the form of research.

“The subject exists, but it’s buried within other disciplines. There’s definitely a need for more research in that area.”

After months of intensive study and a rigorous application process, Tringali feels that he has gained confidence and fulfillment from the experience.

“It was grueling, but rewarding, and I’m proud. I grew up during the process, I was definitely naïve starting out. Physically, I will kick down anyone’s door and demand time, but in this case it was a matter of persistence,” Tringali notes. “Sometimes giving up something isn’t really giving it up, it’s finding alternatives.”

When asked to give advice to students interested in pursuing such opportunities, Tringali recommends taking opportunities as they come, much like how undergraduate research has opened doors for his academic career.

“I got so much in life just by showing up,” says Tringali in his signature brand of humor. “That’s the first step: just show up. The worst thing anyone can say is “no.’”

Like Tringali, Aaron Roberts is reaping the benefits of involvement and self-exploration, which led him to his Fulbright dream of exploring the meaning of masculinity through dance in Australia at the University of Queensland.

Roberts will also complete his thesis in movement studies.

Having grown up in a conservative Christian household, as well as having served in the US Navy, Roberts was exposed to attitudes about masculinity and his own sexuality that left him pondering the implications of gender throughout his education, both to himself and to society.

“We talk a lot about what masculinity is not, but we don’t really talk about what it is,” says Roberts, a Dance major. Explaining that the power structure we live in both elevates men and suffocates men, Roberts took a circuitous journey to fully experiencing his passions- dance and performing.

For his ATP grant this past summer, Rogers choreographed and performed a dance on the same themes, prompting him to consider applying for the Fulbright. His honors thesis will also be in movement studies.

If awarded the Fulbright, Roberts intends to further research and deconstruct the concept of masculinity; he especially desires to speak to aborigine peoples of Australia for their perspective on the topic, hoping to start a dialogue of that social construct that is readily-accepted around the world. He has been in contact with academics in Australia to aid him in the process.

Another exciting achievement is Len Sprague’s acceptance into two prestigious graduate programs. Sprague, a Chemistry major with an environmental concentration, has been accepted into doctoral programs at both Brown University and the University of Cambridge in England.

Sprague initially applied for the distinguished Gates Cambridge Scholarship to fund his studies at Cambridge. While he was disappointed to have not been awarded the scholarship, his enthusiasm rebounded when he found that he had still been accepted to Cambridge, as well as being offered a full scholarship and stipend at Brown University.

BSU senior Len Sprague has been accepted to the University of Cambridge and Brown University

In his time at BSU, Sprague has built an impressive resume and has participated extensively in undergraduate research and other opportunities within his field. He has completed funded research in both Mathematics and Chemistry. He has also worked extensively as a lab technician and as a PAL (Peer Assisted Learning) in organic chemistry.

Originally an aviation major, Sprague’s switch to chemistry enabled him to explore his passion of renewable energy. While he felt that aviation did not best suit his personality, “taking care of the world’s environment did,” Sprague notes.

In graduate school, Sprague aspires to continue on a similar path.

“With proper planning, I will work with newer technologies such as BPV (biophotovoltaics), and the furthering of current energy sources,” he explains.

Tringali, Roberts, and Sprague credit the Honors Program, as well as their academic departments, advisors, and mentors as integral to their success.

“Being a part of the Honors Program has been the key to opening these opportunities to me. The support I received from not only Amy Couto and Dr. Teresa King, but all the faculty who work with the Honors Program and the students involved has placed me in a motivating environment, pushing me to reach further than I may have dared without it,” said Sprague.

All four scholarship applicants received support from the Fellowships Advisory Board, a group of faculty and staff dedicated to advising students on their national scholarship and fellowship aspirations. The Fellowships Advisory Board members include Dr. Teresa King (Chair), Dr. Alba Aragon, Amy Couto, Dean Paula Krebs, Dr. Saritha Nellutla, Dr. Deborah Nemko, Dr. Magaly Ponce, Dr. Jennifer Sarver, Dr. Jenny Shanahan, Dr. Ellen Scheible, and Dr. Wing-kai To.

Energized by his accomplishments and by the support he received, Roberts hopes that these recent successes galvanize other students to follow their passions.

“A lot of people think that because we’re a state school, we’re not up to the Ivy League standard with a chance at something like a Fulbright,” Roberts says. “The truth is, there are many brilliant people here who don’t know how brilliant they are!”

Sprague echoes this sentiment, “If you work hard for it, find your passion, and go at it with everything you could possibly muster, nothing is out of reach. If you truly want it, prepare yourself for it by taking beneficial opportunities along the way, then you learn that the unattainable may be closer than you think.”


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