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Three Cronkite Graduates Win Fulbright Awards to Study Abroad

June 4, 2019
Fulbright

Cronkite graduates (from left to right) Mia Armstrong, Jakob Wastek and Rebecca Spiess are spending the next academic year abroad to study, teach and conduct research in Mexico and Germany as part of the Fulbright program. (Photo by Marcus Chormicle/Cronkite School)

Three recent graduates of the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University are recipients of prestigious Fulbright awards to study and work abroad.

Rebecca Spiess, 20, and Jakob Wastek, 22, are heading to Germany, while Mia Armstrong, 21, will be based in Mexico during the 2019-2020 academic year.

The Fulbright program, sponsored by the U.S. State Department, is the government’s flagship international educational exchange initiative, sending students, teachers, professionals and scholars to study, teach, lecture and conduct research in more than 155 countries and bring foreign students and academics to the U.S. The program was created in 1946 to increase mutual understanding between Americans and people of other countries.

“It’s very unusual for three students from one school to be selected for this highly competitive program – in fact, we don’t know of another time it has happened,” said Cronkite Dean Christopher Callahan. The school has had a total of four other Fulbright award winners in the past decade.

ASU’s Kyle Mox, director of the Lorraine W. Frank Office of National Scholarships Advisement and associate dean of Barrett, The Honors College, agreed with Callahan that it’s rare to have three winners from one school in the same year. “But given the skill set that Cronkite teaches and its emphasis on global engagement, Fulbright is an ideal next step for motivated students,” he said.

The three recipients all graduated in May with summa cum laude honors from Cronkite and Barrett. They will join 21 other ASU students who were named Fulbrights for the 2019-2020 academic year.

ASU is among the top schools in the country for Fulbright scholars, Mox said.

Cronkite’s winners took different paths to becoming Fulbrights and will pursue different goals for their year abroad:

Mia Armstrong: Teaching English and storytelling in Mexico

Armstrong, who graduated with dual degrees in journalism and global studies, previously interned at the U.S. State Department in Madrid, Spain, at the U.S. House of Representatives, and at Slate Magazine. She also worked for The State Press, ASU’s independent student news organization, and taught writing and journalism to Arizona prison inmates.

Armstrong recently won a national contest to accompany New York Times Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Nicholas Kristof on a reporting trip to Guatemala and Paraguay. She will intern this summer at The Marshall Project, working on criminal justice issues before starting her Fulbright in Mexico.

Armstrong said she wanted to study international relations even before she knew she wanted to be a journalist. She plans a career combining the two.

“Growing up in Flagstaff made me hungry to see more of the world and to get to know people with totally different experiences than my own,” Armstrong said. “Then I spent a semester studying abroad in Mexico City, and I immediately fell in love with the country.”

Armstrong is awaiting her specific assignment in Mexico, but she knows she will be placed at an educational institution where she will teach English. She also will work on a community-based storytelling project.

Rebecca Spiess: Research and reporting on immigration in Berlin

Spiess will spend nine months in the Young Journalists Program based in Berlin, spending half the year on immigration research, followed by an internship at a German news organization.

Spiess, who has dual U.S. and Swiss citizenship, lived in the German-speaking part of Switzerland until she was 6. Her brother and father still live there, and she visits often. She grew up in Prescott with her mother and stepfather.

At Cronkite, she reported stories along the U.S.-Mexico border for Cronkite News, the student-staffed news division of Arizona PBS. During her Fulbright year, she plans to continue focusing on immigration issues, studying how Germany is coping with shifting demographics. She will conduct in-depth interviews with residents of the Neukölln district of Berlin, which has a large immigrant population from the Middle East and Africa.

As a student, Spiess won a national Hearst Journalism Award as well as awards from the Society of Professional Journalists and the Arizona Press Club for immigration-related stories.

She was co-editor-in-chief of the Downtown Devil, the student-run online news organization that focuses on coverage of downtown Phoenix. She also completed an internship at The Arizona Republic.

Jakob Wastek: Teaching in Germany

Wastek, a Scottsdale, Arizona native who studied broadcast journalism, video production and editing at Cronkite, will be teaching English in the Rheinland-Pfalz area of Germany.

As a student, Wastek gravitated toward stories about social, political and technological change. The summer after his sophomore year, he studied social identity during a Fulbright UK Summer Institute in Dundee, Scotland. That experience also fueled his desire to do a full year as a Fulbright.

“I loved the experience and have always wanted to go to Germany,” he said. He plans to make documentary-style films about his Fulbright experience.

Wastek has studied the German language for eight years and has relatives who live in the country.

At Cronkite, he worked as a producer for the science TV show “Catalyst,” which airs on Arizona PBS. He also completed internships at WGN-TV in Chicago, Crew West production company in Phoenix, and Naperville Community Television (NCTV17) in Naperville, Illinois.

After his Fulbright year, he plans to work as a video producer for longer-form news videos and documentaries.

The Fulbright fellowship “will help me by giving me a better perspective of the world, while also allowing me to better determine what type of video production I want to do,” he said.

In another Fulbright program, Cronkite student Kylie Cochrane of Scottsdale will study this summer at the Fulbright UK Summer Institute at the University of Bristol. She plans to explore the intersection of arts, activism and social justice.

Other Cronkite students who have won Fulbrights over the past decade include:

  • Elizabeth Blackburn – Kazakhstan (2016-2017), has remained in the region, doing volunteer work in education and girls’ rights in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.
  • Kyle Renick – Taiwan (2014-2015), a writer and teacher in Los Angeles
  • Dustin Volz – Indonesia (2012-2013) is a reporter for The Wall Street Journal, covering cybersecurity and intelligence.
  • Lauren Gambino – United Kingdom (2011-2012), the Alistair Cooke Award in Journalism for graduate study at the University of the Arts, London, is a political correspondent based in Washington for The Guardian.