Education student earns Fulbright teaching fellowship

Jim Carlson
April 26, 2021

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Sarah Losco took advantage of the multitude of options and opportunities that the College of Education could offer during the past four years at Penn State, and because of that an exceptional opportunity awaits that likely will shape her future.

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College of Education student Sarah Losco has been awarded a Fulbright teaching fellowship and will work with students at IE University in Madrid this fall.

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Losco, a secondary English education major with a minor in world literature and a second major in English, along with certification in English as a Second Language (ESL), has been awarded a Fulbright teaching fellowship to work with students at IE University in Madrid beginning this fall.

The Penn State senior from North Allegheny High School near Pittsburgh also was named the College of Education program marshal for secondary education for the May 8 graduation ceremony.

Losco, also a Schreyer Honors College student, wove four years of challenging academic work into one Fulbright application letter, and those four years were well spent.

“There are so many opportunities that if you look for them and seek them out, you can do really amazing things in the College of Education,” Losco said.

From the Philadelphia Urban Seminar to the Teaching ESL program/Ecuador to working at the Penn State Writing Center to student teaching through the college’s Professional Development School, and many activities in between, Losco expressed gratitude about how it all unfolded.

“These great programs are led by great, very committed faculty and people who set this up and structured things so that I was able to make it to this point where I could apply for a Fulbright and get it and feel confident about going (to Madrid),” she said.

Losco learned about her Fulbright award via email. “I was very nervous when I got the email; you have to log into the portal to view your final notification letter and I was shaking a little because I really wanted to go,” Losco said. “But I was very excited; I called my family to tell them, and they're also very excited for me.”

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Because she is fully vaccinated, Sarah Losco was permitted in mid-April to perform her student teaching duties in person at State College Area High School.

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IE University was her first choice of location, she said. “My placement there involves work in a writing center and with their English language support program. And I'll also lead conversation groups with their professors in English and help them work on their different skills,” Losco explained.

Elizabeth Smolcic, teaching professor of education (ESL), first met Losco in 2018 during the application process for the Ecuador Immersion program.

“She was highly motivated to engage in the teaching practice with Ecuadorian English learners and immerse herself in the language/cultures of the Ecuadorian communities, but not without a bit of apprehension,” Smolcic said.

“Sarah was keenly aware of the need to develop her cultural and language competencies in order to fully occupy the role of teacher in today's classrooms and during the summer in Ecuador she did just that.”

Losco also expressed thanks for having assistance in applying for and receiving scholarship money. “I wouldn't have been able to do that (Ecuador) program if I hadn't gotten some financial support from Schreyer and the College of Education, and Liberal Arts as well,” she said. “I'm really happy that I took the time to be proactive and reach out to people and make sure that I could get that financial backing, because without that, I wouldn't have been able to do the program. 

“And then if I hadn't been able to do that program, I wouldn't have realized that I'm really interested in teaching ELL [English language-learners] as my future career in the long-term. And then I wouldn't have had the confidence to apply for something like Fulbright and get it.”

Having a Fulbright experience on her resume will enhance her hopes of teaching English language-learners upon return in June of 2022.

“That's a lot about what I wrote about in my application because they asked, ‘how are you going to take the things that you learn in your year and bring them back to your experience in the U.S.?’” Losco said.

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Sarah Losco

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Ironically, she rates her fluency in speaking Spanish as intermediate. “I'm not completely fluent so there's going to be some growth moments for my Spanish; I'm going to prepare as much as I can,” Losco said. “But I was in Ecuador for a summer two years ago. My Spanish is almost completely self-taught because I didn't take it in high school. I took a diagnostic exam after having taught myself a lot of Spanish and took one class at Penn State to make sure that I was actually good enough to be able to go and live there.”

Her ability to self-teach a new language made for a light moment in Ecuador in 2019. “There were superlatives at the end of our trip and mine was ‘Fastest in the Language Learning Lane,’ or something like that,” she said.

To augment her fluency, she requested to be involved in ESL or ELL classes during her student teaching at State College Area High School. Three classes are with English language-learners and the other is creative writing, she said.

Because Losco has received the COVID-19 vaccine, she was permitted to fulfill the rest of her student teaching duties in person beginning the week of April 12. That, too, made for some interesting moments after being a face on a computer screen for nearly nine months because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“I feel like I know my ELL students really, really well — and I do — because I've had them since September when we started. So, it was a very interesting experience of being like, ‘wow, you're real’ and like, ‘Miss Losco you're a real person, too,’” she said. “It's been very rewarding. I wasn't sure what to expect. I think I've learned a lot and it's been a great experience but being in person now is really nice.”

The PDS program is a bit different this year because it is following Penn State’s academic schedule instead of State College’s; there aren’t as many students involved as usual; and it’s been hybrid because of being basically a virtual experience. But students still must research their inquiry question and pursue their wonderings. Losco combined those with her thesis that is required by Schreyer Honors College.

Once her 60-page thesis about honoring students’ names in the classroom was finalized, she was able to make time to maneuver the Schreyer tradition of ringing a gong to celebrate that the thesis work was complete. Even that was affected this year by the pandemic.

“This year, it definitely looked different from how I've seen my friends do it in the past,” Losco said. “But we went, and they had you wear a little plastic glove to hold the mallet. And wear a mask and you get to ring it and they took a picture.”

Losco also puts time into an education-based personal blog that features her teaching philosophy, lesson plans and classroom observations such as culturally sustaining pedagogy, antiracism topics and more. All of which made Losco reflect on how teaching has changed, even since when she was in school in suburban Pittsburgh.

“I feel like we're almost in a transition, where we're moving toward thinking a little bit more about the mental health and non-academic concerns for our students than we were before. And I think part of that is definitely brought on by the pandemic,” she said.

“I think there's a lot more concern for making sure that our students are supported in an emotional and internal sense as well and having some understanding for some of those struggles that might not be so visible on the outside. I hope that that sticks around and is a more active part of school for kids from now on.”

It’s that reflective thinking that gives Smolcic a positive outlook on Losco’s upcoming Fulbright experience.

“I know that Sarah will make the most of this prestigious award to teach in Spain,” Smolcic said. “She will soak up more of the Spanish language, the cultures of her students and hone her teaching skills and pedagogical orientations. I can't wait to watch her career develop as more doors open and Sarah steps through.”

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated May 03, 2021