Fulbright Winner Teaches Inclusion to Students Here and Abroad

Associate professor of education Katie Bonawitz has been selected as the winner of a Fulbright grant and will teach at Tomsk State University, Russia, on the topic of inclusive comprehensive education for students with disabilities.

By Michelle Westlund '83, senior content specialist

June 16, 2020 | 11 a.m.

Katie Bonawitz

Katie Bonawitz serves as program director for Bethel’s graduate programs in special education and as assistant dean of the Center for Access and Integration, which houses Bethel’s BUILD program for students with intellectual disabilities.

In her multiple roles at Bethel, Katie Bonawitz holds a number of titles: associate professor of education, program director for graduate programs in special education, and assistant dean of the Center for Access and Integration—which houses Bethel’s BUILD program, an integrated two-year post-secondary, residential program for students with intellectual disabilities, and the Office of Accessibility Resources and Services. Bonawitz recently added a new title: Fulbright Scholar. She’s been selected as the winner of a Fulbright grant and will travel to Tomsk, Russia, in January to serve as a guest lecturer at Tomsk State University from February to May 2021.

According to the Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board, the Fulbright Program is the world’s largest and most diverse international educational exchange program, devoted to increasing mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries. Since its inception in 1946, more than 390,000 Fulbright recipients have participated in the program, including 60 Nobel Laureates, 86 Pulitzer Prize winners, 74 MacArthur Fellows, and thousands of leaders across the private, public, and non-profit sectors. Fulbright grant winners have become heads of state, judges, ambassadors, cabinet ministers, CEOs, and university presidents, as well as leading journalists, artists, scientists, and teachers. 

During her Fulbright experience in Russia, Bonawitz will focus on special education inclusion through a variety of settings. She will lecture and teach on evidenced-based practices of special education at Tomsk State University through a course she developed called “Best Practices of Inclusion.” She’ll work alongside university teacher candidates to model inclusion as they plan and implement inclusive special education practices in area schools. She’ll also collaborate with local officials to support current government initiatives on special education inclusion at other universities and area schools.        

Bonawitz has long felt drawn to international study. “Since 1990, when I was accepted as a Rotary exchange student to Germany, I’ve had a strong desire to learn from others across the world,” she says. “A few years ago, I started investigating the Fulbright organization and learned about its focus on the ‘promotion of international good will through the exchange of students in the fields of education, culture, and science.’ I was immediately drawn in and knew I wanted to pursue a Fulbright for my next sabbatical.”

The Fulbright award offers Bonawitz new horizons to explore, both geographically and professionally. “I’ve had multiple opportunities to collaborate with colleagues across the world,” she says, “but this Fulbright award brings me to a whole new level of scholarship and teaching. My focus will be on teaching university students in the psychology and education departments at Tomsk State University on the topic of inclusive comprehensive education for students with disabilities (required schooling for students age 5-16). Not only will I be teaching them how to work with students with disabilities in inclusive settings, but I will also be modeling it in the schools. These experiences will give me natural opportunities to focus on the scholarship of teaching, and I will also have opportunities to collaborate with colleagues on other research related to disabilities that may benefit both Tomsk State University and Bethel.”

That mutual benefit is a legacy of the Fulbright experience. In bringing her expertise to students in Russia, Bonawitz will also garner cross-cultural experiences that will impact her work at Bethel. “Whenever I spend time in other countries, and especially when it includes collaborating with others in education, it sharpens what I do in my Bethel classrooms,” she says. “Specific to this experience, teaching in another culture will challenge me to think differently on how I present content, since English will be everyone’s second or third or fourth language; how I address stereotypes related to disabilities; and how to effectively teach across cultural boundaries. This Fulbright experience in Russia will enhance my teaching and my role as special education program director because I serve students from different cultures, and I’m preparing these same students to teach K-12 pupils who also represent a variety of cultures. The opportunity for positive impact is great.”

Bonawitz believes that positive impact will make a difference in the lives of those at the heart of her service: children with disabilities and their families. “I am most looking forward to the positive effects this work may have on children with disabilities and their families,” she says. “I pray that the content and strategies I teach to the university students will be disseminated into the schools and classrooms through what they’ll learn from me. And, most importantly, to really see how God is going to use me. Collaborating with Russian professors, teachers, and even possibly the government on issues related to children with disabilities is such an incredible gift. My hands are open and I’m asking God, ‘How do you want to use me in Tomsk, Russia?’”

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