First Givens Fellows to pursue passions in India, Africa

BOWLING GREEN, O.—If you had the opportunity to study whatever you wanted wherever you wanted, what would you do? Bowling Green State University students Elizabeth Kovar of Willoughby Hills and Martina Hanulova, a native of Slovakia, are pursuing their passion for peace.

Kovar believes in the inner mental and spiritual, as well as physical, benefits of yoga, and would like to teach it to others. Hanulova's interest in peace is evident in her plans beyond college: “My highest goal is to work for the United Nations.”

Both students are able to follow those dreams as the first recipients of a Stuart R. Givens Memorial Fellowship. With the $6,000 fellowship Kovar will train in India to become an Ashtanga yoga instructor; Hanulova will travel to Ghana to work in a Liberian refugee camp.

Modeled after the Burch Fellows Program at the University of North Carolina, the Givens Fellowship recognizes students with passion, imagination and resourcefulness, enabling them to undertake projects that will help them grow personally and intellectually, thereby broadening their educational experience.

Created by Dr. Chris and Ellen Dalton and named in honor of the longtime BGSU history professor and University historian, the Givens Fellowship program allows one or two undergraduates each year to pursue an intense interest in a self-designed experience not possible in a traditional classroom or study abroad program.

“One requirement was passion, and they're obviously very passionate about their interests,” said Chris Dalton, BGSU's senior vice president for finance and administration, after meeting Kovar and Hanulova earlier this month. Ellen Dalton, coordinator of budgets for the College of Musical Arts, noted their common theme of peace, calling them “very impressive young ladies.”

Both women are seniors who intend to undertake their projects this year—Kovar in the summer and Hanulova in the fall—before returning to BGSU and graduating in spring 2008.

Kovar, a sport management major, said she has always been a health and fitness enthusiast and practiced yoga off and on for a few years. She “fell in love with it,” however, during a seven-month study abroad experience at Australia's Griffith University. She has since begun teaching yoga at the BGSU Student Recreation Center. In India, she will take a six-week course that will certify her to teach the Ashtanga philosophy and style.

“I think studying it in India would be the most beneficial experience,” Kovar said, describing her project as learning from the discipline's “founding fathers.”

The Willoughby South High School graduate, who also wants to see the Taj Mahal and Bombay during her stay, would eventually like to follow in her father Larry's footsteps as a business owner, opening her own yoga studio. Kovar credits her mother, Monica Latosky of Willowick, with teaching her the Ayurvedic yoga principles of curing illness by using particular ingredients in Indian cooking.

Hanulova came to the United States as an exchange student at Rossford High School, where she graduated in 2000. She returned to Slovakia to finish school there, too, but then came back to northwest Ohio and spent two years at Owens Community College before transferring to BGSU, where she is majoring in French and international studies.

Last summer she spent three months as an English teacher at a private school in Burkina Faso, Africa. “Despite the extreme poverty and harsh living conditions, I found Africa to be a little piece of heaven where I would like to return and to which I want to devote my education and future work,” Hanulova wrote in a statement accompanying her proposal for the fellowship.

Looking online, she found the Liberian refugee camp project organized by the Global Village Network, a private, nongovernmental organization based in Wellington, New Zealand. Then she found a potential funding source through a friend who had learned about the Givens Fellowship.

Hanulova said Ghana's Buduburam Refugee Settlement, which houses about 43,000 Liberians displaced by unrest in their home country, caught her eye “because it was directed toward peace, education and reconciliation.”  

The Ghanaian government can't support the refugees, so Global Village Network works with the local community to understand and address their needs. “That was something that grabbed my attention,” she said. While she's still unsure of her role at the camp, it could involve teaching again or working, she hopes, with peace and reconciliation projects or with women on a microcredit program.

Her future plans include graduate study in international development. “I can talk to people and, thanks to my traveling abroad, I became more understanding of what people's problems are,” she added.

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(Posted February 21, 2007 )