Alumna wins Fulbright award to teach English in South Korea

By Cody Boteler on June 14, 2021

Gaia Gonzales '16 feels 'absolutely' prepared by TU

Gaia Gonzales stands in the West Village Commons
Gaia Gonzales '16 will travel to South Korea to teach English. She currently works as a teacher in a public elementary school in Baltimore County. (Photo by Alex Wright.)

For the second consecutive year, a Towson University alumna has won a Fulbright award to teach English abroad.   

Gaia Gonzales '16, a third-grade teacher in Baltimore County Public Schools, will travel to South Korea early next year. She graduated with a degree in elementary and early childhood education and is pursuing a master’s degree from TU in mathematics education.  

"Towson University absolutely gave me the tools and resources I needed to lead my own classroom. I wouldn't have gone to any other school to become a teacher," she says. "I felt supported by the professors; I could always come back and ask them questions." 

Teaching, for Gonzales, was a natural path.  

"I still remember my third-grade teacher, Mr. Jones. He left a huge impact on me; I wanted to be that for someone," she says. "I went into teaching so that I can not only teach children math and science or English, but so that I could be a role model for them, to remind them that they can be whatever they want to be and still do fun things."

"I've been a teacher for five years, and I’m still in contact with some of my students," she adds. "It’s amazing to see how they grow and that they don't forget you."

The Fulbright U.S. Student Program is a highly competitive award, with about 2,000 individuals chosen each year to teach English or perform research and/or study in one of over 140 countries. 

"Gaia's tremendous accomplishment is a testament to her hard work as well as the dedication of faculty and staff mentors who freely give their time to help students prepare for these highly competitive scholarships," says Melanie Perrault, provost and executive vice president for academic and student affairs. "We are committed to doing everything we can to assist students in pursuing Fulbright awards and other national and international fellowships." 

In just the last year, Towson University students have been recognized with national and international awards (or finalist status) including the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowshiand the Truman scholarships. 

“ I went into teaching so that I can not only teach children math and science or English, but so that I could be a role model for them... ”

Gaia Gonzales '16

Clare Muhoro, director of competitive fellowships and awards in the Office of the Provost, is one of the people at TU who most directly works with students to pursue such opportunities. 

She says the Fulbright had a record number of applicants this year. In addition to Gonzales being selected to travel abroad, two more TU alums reached semifinalist status.

Aris Hines '19 was selected as a semifinalist to conduct research in the Philippines, and Garret Leatherman '21 was chosen as an alternate finalist to teach English in Italy.

Muhoro says Gonzales is an ideal "Fulbrighterer" because she's someone who wants to go abroad to become a better educator and then bring that experience back to the United States. 

"Gaia is outstanding," she says. "She's the real deal. I have no doubt she will be outstanding in South Korea and continue to do great things when she returns home."

Interested in competitive awards, programs or fellowships? We can help. Informational sessions are held each fall and spring term.

Competitive Fellowships & Awards Office of the Provost

Gonzales also sees going abroad to teach as a chance to better herself as a professional.   

"I want to strengthen my teaching skills, especially in teaching English," she says. 

 But it's also an opportunity for some fun. Gonzales has always been drawn to South Korean culture, history, entertainment and food. She has a few friends from the country, and spending time there is something she’s always wanted to do. 

"It was a country that I always wanted to go to," Gonzales says, "So why not spend a year there teaching?"