Lydia Benkert, a 2012 graduate from Grand Valley’s theater program, is the first Grand Valley graduate to receive a prestigious U.S. Student Fulbright Study/Research Fellowship.
Benkert, a Spring Lake native, will travel to Ghana from August 2014 to June 2015 where she will study at the University of Ghana. After a semester of studying and researching, she will move to Winneba to live and volunteer at a school called Challenging Heights, a non-governmental organization founded by James Kofi Annan, a former child slave and recipient of the 2008 Frederick Douglass Award by Free the Slaves, which educates children rescued from fishing villages near Lake Volta where they are forced to work as slaves. Benkert will interview people and conduct research while writing a play that will focus on child trafficking, a large problem in the area. The play will be performed by students at Challenging Heights.
“The play will be used as an educational tool for the communities of Winneba and other villages that would like education about child trafficking,” Benkert said. Benkert believes performing a play will have an impact on how people living in the area think about the problem of child slavery and trafficking. “Showing audiences instead of telling them about issues like this makes the material more personal and relatable since it is right in front of them,” she said.
This will be Benkert’s second trip to Ghana. She first studied in the country two years ago, when she spent seven weeks in Accra and Winneba as part of the Grand Valley Frederik Meijer Honors College service learning study abroad program. There, she volunteered at Challenging Heights where she conducted an after-school theater program and fell in love with the children of Ghana.
When she returns to the U.S., Benkert hopes to have her play performed in the U.S. and plans to pursue a graduate degree in applied theater or theater for youth. She wants to use theatre as a means to inspire social change. “I want to continue to use theater to educate communities about different issues and to build confidence for the people performing,” Benkert said. She credits the education and support from faculty she received at GVSU as well as the variety of experiences she participated in both at GVSU and within the West Michigan community for positioning her to receive a U.S. Student Fulbright Study/Research Fellowship.
The Fulbright Program is the flagship international educational exchange program of the United States. Students will represent the U.S. as a cultural ambassador while overseas, helping to enhance mutual understanding between Americans and the people of other nations. Students will join more than 100,000 Fulbright U.S. Student Program alumni who have undertaken grants since the program began in 1948.
The application cycle for the 2015-16 academic year opened May 1. Students and alumni interested in pursuing U.S. Student Fulbright Scholarships should contact Amanda Cuevas in the Frederik Meijer Office of Fellowships, 230 Mary Idema Pew Library, (616) 331-2699 to discuss and prepare for the application process. The campus deadline for applications is Friday, September 26, 2014. Complete award details can be found online at http://us.fulbrightonline.org/.