Secondary ed major is third to win Fulbright

Brian Rentfro
Brian Rentfro

Brian Rentfro, a senior secondary education major from Swansea, Ill., has received a Fulbright Scholarship. Next fall, he will be traveling to Germany, where he will live and teach English to German students for 10 months.

This will be his second time in Germany for academics. In spring 2010, Rentfro participated in UNL's Deutsch in Deutschland program, a seven-month study abroad program during which students are placed in German language courses based on their speaking level. The complete immersion helps improve students' fluency in the language, as well as their cultural knowledge.

"Studying in Germany pushed me to see the world through a new, more refined lens," Rentfro said. "I will forever be grateful to have been able to take part in that semester abroad."

Studying abroad clarified that the German language and culture was one of his passions. He said his infatuation with the country grew while studying there.

Rentfro student-teaches at Lincoln Southwest High School, along with working as a member of the custodial staff in the Abel-Sandoz residence complex. He said his custodial job helped inspire him to learn new languages.

"Not many people get to practice Spanish, Russian, German and English where they work," he said.

Being a member of both Stammtisch and Lincoln clubs has helped Rentfro become active in the German-speaking community on campus. Stammtisch is a German conversation table led by graduate students from UNL's German department. Stammtisch has been around for several years, while Lincoln, the university's German club, was created just this year.

"Brian is linguistically gifted," said Aleidine Moeller, a professor of teaching, learning and teacher education. "He has achieved a near-native German language proficiency, despite the fact that he began his study of German during his college career."

Considered an innovative teacher, Rentfro has tutored both Spanish and German students at the university. He incorporates world issues, current events and online newspapers into his teaching to help students learn byconnecting to content.

"He is an intellectually curious individual who thinks deeply and critically about world issues and has the skills to bring these to the language classroom through interactive and engaging learning tasks that motivate his students," Moeller said.

For students who might look at English teaching scholarships, Rentfro suggests practicing the language as much as possible. He recommended finding groups on campus that encourage speaking, and studying abroad in countries where that language is the primary language.

"It is so much easier to learn another language when you spend time speaking it as often as you can," he said.

The Fulbright Program, established in 1946 and funded by the U.S. Department of State, is designed to foster understanding between the United States and other countries. The U.S. Student Fulbright program gives recent graduates, graduate students and young professionals the opportunity to conduct research, study or teach in one of the 155 countries that the program operates. The Fulbright program is the flagship international education program sponsored by the U.S. government. About 8,000 grants are awarded annually, and about 1,600 of those grants are awarded to U.S. students. This is the third UNL student Fulbright announced this spring.

— Haley Whisennand, Honors Program