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During the spring of her senior year, Emily Ruhl ’13 landed a job that merges all of her passions. As a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant (ETA), she’s able to merge her interests in teaching, environmental research and conservation, and world travel.
Ruhl’s path started in the Environmental Studies department, where she took a number of classes with Prof. John Commito. Through his courses, she conducted fieldwork at the Assateague Island National Seashore, in the Outer Banks, on the barrier island in Maryland, and in rural Maine. In these courses, she not only dove into field data collection with a “smile on her face,” recalls Commito, but also developed a knack for data analysis back in the lab.
“That’s when I knew for sure that Emily was destined for greatness,” joked Commito. “Data nerds are a rare breed indeed!”
Ruhl’s work ethic and positive attitude earned her faculty’s trust, and she was given the opportunity to serve as a Peer Learning Associate. She quickly discovered a second passion for environmental education, and has spent two summers at the North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island leading marine science and conservation public programs, as well as weeklong camps for children.
While interning on Roanoke Island, she also volunteered with the Network for Endangered Sea Turtles and the Marine Mammal Stranding Network. These experiences allowed her to carry her fieldwork and coursework into on-the-ground conservation efforts—inspiring her to continue studying connections between environmental education, research, and conservation.
Finally, during a semester abroad in Tanzania, Ruhl discovered a passion for travel. “After studying abroad in Zanzibar, my love of exploring different parts of the world and immersing myself in other cultures really blossomed,” she said. It was after that trip she decided she wanted to go abroad again after graduation.
Ruhl decided to merge her passions by applying to the Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship program in Malaysia. “Malaysia is one of the most biologically diverse areas on the planet,” she notes, “and one of only two countries that are home to wild orangutans.”
Unfortunately, this biodiversity is being threatened by expanding logging and palm oil production practices.
“It is my goal to learn more about the environmental threats facing Malaysia’s ecosystems, how we are all connected to this degradation, and how to be a more environmentally conscious citizen.”
Upon hearing Ruhl’s plans, Commito connected her with assistant provost for scholarship Maureen Forrestal. Through Forrestal’s advising, Gettysburg students like Ruhl have earned 17 Fulbright grants, four Goldwater scholarships, an NSF graduate fellowship, and a Rhodes scholarship. “Maureen was such a great asset,” said Ruhl. “It was definitely a long process which required a lot of patience, but obviously I am ecstatic with the outcome.”
This January, Ruhl is among the first Fulbright English Teaching Assistants to be placed in the Malaysian state of Sarawak, located on Borneo Island. This site placement is not only a great honor, it’s also a great match for her academic and environmental interests. While Sarawak is a geographically and biologically diverse location, it is also a major site for deforestation and monoculture palm oil plantations that have threatened many native species—including the orangutan.
“I feel so incredibly lucky to have been chosen for this opportunity,” she said. “I’m energized and ready to get my hands dirty and to learn everything I can about Malaysia and my students.”
As part of her placement, Ruhl will spend approximately 20 hours per week in the classroom, and is encouraged to spend another 5-10 hours per week engaging her students through extracurricular activities. She already has plans for an environmental club that will expose students to species identification, water quality testing, and topics such as overfishing and waste management through field trips to local rivers, wetlands, and mangrove forests.
To learn more about Ruhl and follow her experience as a Fulbright scholar in Malaysia, visit her blog, Eastward.
Posted: Tue, 4 Feb 2014