Student Receives Fulbright Grant to Develop an Online Education Platform in Albania

Chris Minardi '15

News Story: May 6, 2015

Sacred Heart University’s Christopher Minardi ’15 of Cheshire has been chosen to receive a Fulbright U.S. Student Award. He will spend nine months in Albania’s capitol city, Tirana, beginning in the fall, where he will live and work, planning and executing an educational project he conceived and proposed to the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board for their 2015-2016 academic year.

The Fulbright U.S. Student Program is the flagship international educational exchange program of the United States, offering opportunities for students and young professionals to undertake international graduate study, advanced research, university teaching and primary and secondary school teaching worldwide. Minardi will represent the country as a cultural ambassador while he is overseas, helping to enhance mutual understanding between Americans and the Albanian people. The program currently awards approximately 1,900 grants annually in all fields of study and operates in more than 140 countries worldwide.

Minardi, who is completing his bachelor’s degree in media studies, with a concentration in film and television and a minor in graphic design, is thrilled about the opportunity and is “still in shock” that he was chosen. But he’s taking it all in stride and is starting his transitional planning now, even as he comes down the final academic stretch toward finals and graduation.

The application process, he recalls, began in summer 2014 and ran through early 2015. It required that he complete numerous written documents and papers, his project proposal, University interviews, an interview with the Fulbright Foundation and phone interviews with government representatives from Albania. He credits the counseling and guidance he received from his professors and administrators at SHU for helping him stay focused and prepared for each step. And he says his life-long love of adventure, desire to travel and interest in helping others were strong motivators as he traversed each application level.

“I find the history of the Balkans fascinating and have always enjoyed traveling,” Minardi says. “I’ve been to Germany and across Canada, though this will be my first trip to Albania. Experiencing new cultures and the chance to learn while helping others outside of a traditional college environment is going to be challenging and very rewarding.”

He says he’s enjoyed studying languages like Italian, Spanish and German and will soon begin to learn Albanian. His Fulbright Grant work will involve using his IT and television & film production background to create a web-based educational platform that can be accessed by Albanian teachers, students or anyone interested in online learning. He will start by evaluating regional needs from a local perspective. Then he will create a free forum for an exchange of ideas, for improving teaching methods and for helping those interested in a variety of subjects to grow and develop. That’s especially important in a country that lacks the sophisticated infrastructure and educational access we take for granted here in the United States and in much of Europe, he notes.
Minardi says he was particularly encouraged and supported by Professor Robert McCloud in the Computer Science and Information Technology department and by Ardiana Sula, an Albanian native and director of SHU’s Jandrisevits Learning Center. Sula moved to the United States in 2013 after working for the Ministry of Education and Sciences of Albania.

“The professional network platform Chris will be developing is in line with the Albanian Ministry of Education’s goals of providing new professional development venues so teachers can learn how to use and integrate new emerging technologies into their teaching,” Sula says. She added that Minardi worked with Professor Marie Hulme, McCloud and other SHU faculty and students on the SHU Square platform, a professional academic network where faculty and students share their intellectual work beyond the classroom. Such networks, she stresses, are nonexistent in Albania. She credited McCloud for his ongoing commitment to teacher professional development in Albania and for his work with SHU students. She also pointed out that Minardi is the third SHU student to earn a core Fulbright fellowship in the past five years.

Fulbright scholars, McCloud says, are U.S. State Department “citizen” ambassadors. They live and work in the host country and must be able to assimilate to the local culture. He and Minardi were part of a SHU group that visited Cologne, Germany, in 2013 for an international game development conference, which further convinced him of Minardi’s abilities to work well with others and thrive in diverse cultures.

“Earning a Fulbright is an extremely prestigious honor for a graduating senior – it’s intensely competitive and difficult to achieve,” McCloud says. “The application process is rigorous and requires many iterative steps including building the proposal, finding an interested host country and demonstrating the candidate’s credentials—as well as the viability of his or her proposed project value—first to SHU, then to the Fulbright committee.

“Ardiana’s experience and knowledge has been very valuable, and with her background in computer science, she worked closely with us to help Chris prepare for this opportunity,” McCloud adds. “Our job as teachers is to help students develop their ideas and take them out into the world. SHU has prepared Chris well. Our faculty is wonderful at producing students who have a strong sense of social mission and graduate wanting to contribute to society.”

McCloud also credits SHU President John J. Petillo who always writes a recommendation for students’ Fulbright applications. “I know it makes a difference to have someone of his stature get involved in the process,” he says.

Laura Niesen de Abruna, provost and vice president for Academic Affairs, echoed McCloud’s sentiments regarding the University’s commitment to good citizenship. “It is a great honor for our students to be awarded a Fulbright Fellowship,” de Abruna said. “At Sacred Heart, we have a goal of comprehensive internationalization, which includes sending both our students and our faculty members on Fulbright Fellowships, as well as involving them in many international opportunities to increase their understanding of the world outside of the United States. I’m confident the Fulbright committee recognized that commitment and sense of mission when they evaluated Chris, and we’re proud he was chosen to represent SHU and our country in this important endeavor.”