Biology major and neuroscience minor Ally Siegel ’16 was sure of one thing after she graduated. She wanted to travel and experience various cultures around the world.
During the summer—following Siegel’s sophomore year—she interned in Kenya through the Center for Public Service. Siegel worked at the Kisumu Medical and Education Trust and lived with a host family. The experience was enriching and Siegel loved becoming a part of the local community.
Siegel was certain she wanted to live and work within a culture very different from her own. So when she found out Prof. Matthew Kittelberger was headed to Malawi as a Fulbright Scholar for a year to teach an animal physiology course at Chancellor College in Zomba, she asked if she could help with the program for a few months.
Throughout Siegel’s time as a student, she developed a close relationship with the Kittelberger family. She took both Cell Biology and Neurobiology with Kittelberger, taught his two children to climb at the DEN, and did research with him at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Cape Cod.
“Without an ongoing mentor relationship with Dr. Kittelberger, I doubt I’d have felt able to suggest joining his family in Malawi and asking to volunteer as a teaching assistant in his lab course,” Siegel said. In reflecting on her Gettysburg experience, she commented, “The professors at Gettysburg create opportunities to learn— that can happen outside the classroom just as much as inside. They show an openness to building relationships that extend beyond courses and graduation.”
In Malawi, Siegel is helping design and run a new set of neurophysiology labs to study how insects, especially cockroaches, encode sensory information. With a grant from the Grass Foundation aimed at supporting under-resourced institutions with neurophysiology teaching materials, Kittelberger has been able to purchase the equipment needed.
The labs Siegel is helping to design are intended for Malawi public schools with very limited resources, and will be sustainable after she leaves. Many of the students within the lab course are training to be secondary school teachers; the practical experiences these students are gaining through their work with Kittelberger and Siegel will enhance the hands on learning they provide in their future classrooms.
Through the Gettysburg Recreational Adventure Board (GRAB) programs, Siegel acquired skills she didn’t expect to find in college, including grit and practical optimism. “Without the grit learned from hiking mountains in the rain and rappelling into cricket-infested caves, I would struggle with Malawi’s daily power outages and communicating with the two words of Chichewa that I know,” said Siegel.
In addition to everything she’s learned from working and interacting with the students, Siegel is also learning daily about living in Malawi’s culture. She now knows how to shell and dry beans, wash clothes by hand, and take care of chickens. Siegel is enjoying her learning in Malawi, inside and outside the classroom, and hopes to apply her experiences when she pursues a career in teaching science in the future.
The Fulbright Program, which aims to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries, is the flagship international educational exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government; it is overseen by The United States Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. Fulbright alumni include 58 Nobel Laureates, 82 Pulitzer Prize winners, 31 MacArthur Fellows, 16 Presidential Medal of Freedom recipients, and thousands of leaders across the private, public and non-profit sectors.