3 Cornellians awarded Fulbrights

It’s springtime at Cornell College, when flowers and Fulbrights appear. Two Cornell seniors and Michelle Ngirbabul, a 2016 graduate, have received placements through the flagship U.S. international educational exchange program. A total of 16 Fulbrights have been awarded to Cornell graduates in the past 12 years. In addition, two Cornell faculty received Fulbright Awards in the past two years.

Yiyari De La Garza ’17, a Russian and international relations major from Coral Springs, Florida, will teach university students in Georgia. She will be one of only four Fulbright English Teaching Assistants in the former Soviet republic.

Sydney Strunk ’17, a Spanish and biochemistry and molecular biology major from Ottumwa, Iowa, will teach university students in Colombia.

Yiyari De La Garza: Georgia

Yiyari De La Garza, awarded Fullbright
Yiyari De La Garza ’17 will teach university students in Georgia.

De La Garza’s parents are Mexican immigrants, and she says she’s always been an ESL teacher. “Growing up we were all learning English in my household,” De La Garza said. “As my father was moving from more manual positions to more supervisory positions in construction, he’d give me an email to revise for grammar. I’ve done that since I was 10. A month ago he sent me one of his instruction manuals to edit.”

She had an internship with the Iowa Democratic Party and volunteers as a translator at the Cedar Rapids legal aid clinic for immigrants.

She met Professor of Russian, Lynne Ikach, her first day on campus during orientation. “A few days later she helped me pick my first class. She’s helped me from basic 101 Russian to my capstone project and Fulbright application,” she says. “I had heard liberal arts schools had smaller classes, more scholarships, and a tighter-knit community. I searched online and found Cornell and it has given me many opportunities.”

She also credits Professor of History Robert Givens and Writing Studio Director and Director of Fellowships and Scholarships Laura Farmer with providing ongoing support and motivation. She plans to pursue graduate school in international security.

Sydney Strunk: Colombia
Strunk has teaching experience as a Spanish and chemistry tutor and a volunteer at the Catherine McAuley Center in Cedar Rapids as an English tutor for immigrants.

Sydney Strunk '17 will teach university students in Columbia.
Sydney Strunk ’17 will teach university students in Columbia.

At Cornell she seized the opportunity to participate in several distinctive programs.

  • She was a Dimensions Fellow in Orthopedic Research at Children’s Hospital Colorado in Aurora, underwritten by the college’s Dimensions Program for Health Professions and administered by the Cornell Fellows program.
  • She was selected to assist in the medical mission Operation Walk in Havana, Cuba. Cornell students have participated in Operation Walk since at least 2009.  
  • She studied in Guatemala the summer before her sophomore year through the college’s partnership with Juan Sisay School, earning Spanish credits, serving an internship, and staying with a host family.
  • She conducted research with Assistant Professor of Chemistry Jai Shanata ’05.  

“There are so many opportunities I learned about from my professors,” Strunk says, citing in particular her advisors Professor of Biology Craig Tepper and Professor of Spanish Marcela Ochoa-Shivapour. “ My professors have given me a lot of confidence in my academics and in pursuing my future career goals. You can make a really strong connection with your faculty here, something I love about Cornell.”

Like De La Garza, Strunk praised Farmer for expert assistance in preparing her application.

Strunk will apply to medical school in a few years and hopes to use her Spanish in a medical setting.