Students & Alumni: Past Fellows
Glenn "Boomer" Trujillo
University of Houston graduate student Glenn “Boomer” Trujillo was one of four UH Cougars selected to receive the 2011-2012 Fulbright Fellowship. The prestigious and highly competitive Fulbright Fellowship is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State and aims to promote mutual understandings between the U.S. and other countries. Through the Fulbright, Boomer was able to live in Bochum, Germany for 10 month while he taught as an English Teaching Assistant. Trujillo, who hails from the small town of Dumas, Texas, received a Master of Arts in German Philosophy from the University of Houston. His future career aspirations include teaching philosophy at the collegiate level.
At what point did you realize you wanted to study abroad?
The two main reasons I decided to apply for the Fulbright were: (1) to learn the language and culture of Germany (I love 19th century German philosophy) and (2) to have a change of pace after an intense two years at U of H’s philosophy department. The first has been a pretty consistent desire since I started to learn German when I was in undergrad at St. Edward’s University in Austin. I just didn’t have the opportunity until later. I also don’t come from a rich family, so being able to do so fully funded was a huge plus.
What led you to apply for the Fulbright scholarship? Can you describe the steps you took to complete the application process?
I’d always heard good things about the Fulbright program. One of my professors, Dr. Harald Becker, from St. Edward’s University (my undergrad institution) encouraged me to apply before I graduated with my B.A. I decided, though, that I wanted to jump straight into graduate work. But after an intense two years at UH, and after seeing that I’d have another intense 5-7 years in a PhD program (and another tough few years getting a job and earning tenure) I saw my life being scheduled for a long time. So I took the natural transition after an M.A. to apply for the Fulbright.
As far as the application, it’s pretty straight-forward. One great thing about the Fulbright is they have everything you need on their website, and they’re constantly hosting help sessions (one of their district offices is in Houston, actually), webinars, etc. They also extensively use social networks; check out their facebook stuff.
The keys, really, are just to get started early and to keep chipping away at the process. Assembling materials and asking for recommendations should start early, as should the language evaluation prep. The essays need to be brainstormed for, and mine went through at least four re-writes then a couple polishing drafts. It’s not bad, but it does take time.
Because Fulbright is so prestigious and competitive, elaborate on your scholarly achievements/additional accolades and why you were chosen.
Compared to others in the program, my accomplishments are quite humble. But I suppose I’ve always been clever enough to make good grades. I graduated UH with a 3.96 GPA, while also holding a teaching assistantship. At St. Edward’s University, I graduated with a 4.0 GPA in the Honors Program, and I won the Presidential Award, which is St. Ed’s highest award for service, scholarship, and campus involvement (about half a dozen or so win it each year). Then, as I mentioned, I was also a McNair Scholar at the University of Notre Dame (which was sponsored through St. Ed’s), and I won lots of scholarships and gave presentations at student conferences when I could. I was extremely active as an undergraduate. Now, things have become a bit more concentrated on academics, but also open to other things happening (because admission into PhD programs is so intense).
What is it about German philosophy, or philosophy in general, that captivated your interest?
Philosophy offers a chance to look at the world critically. And my favorite types of philosophy (which tend to be ethics-related, even when it comes to art), really help me to evaluate the world or to get people to consider every-day ideas that they just take for granted. I think that philosophy, unlike any other discipline, develops your critical and creative capacities, which are essential to leading a good life. German philosophy came because one of my favorite philosophers, G.W.F. Hegel, is German. He’s incredibly dense and complex, but his thinking has many nuances. For example, he uses a “logical” method that tries to understand how ideas form out of each other and in a necessary progression. And in his ethical thought, he not only espouses an ethical theory that talks about the importance of rationality, but he also takes emotions and feelings of alienation very seriously, as does he the political milieu of the people acting. Add to this that he has lots of fun people reacting against him (Marx, Kierkegaard, Schopenhauer, and more), and you have a reason for a life-long interest in a somewhat obscure philosopher.
When did you realize you wanted to pursue a career as an educator? Have you always aspired to be a professor?
I think it’s been a consistent desire to be an educator. I like to learn, and I like speaking with people. Becoming an educator just fit. But things started to seem more concrete when I participated in the McNair Scholars Program at St. Edward’s University, which is a program that helps minority and first-generation college students into PhD programs. Then, of course, earning my M.A. at U of H qualified me to teach at community colleges and the like. So bit by bit, I’ve started to make the career moves necessary to become an educator. But the reason for doing so just seems to be something I’ve always been suited for, as well as something I feel passionately about.
Using movies as a teaching mechanism is great. How did you come up with the idea?
Well, I love movies. It’s one of the reasons I ended up at U of H. Dr. Cynthia Freeland wrote a book on horror film that I love. And it was great to get to work with her (she was also my thesis advisor). My pedagogical strategy just formed from this love. That, and I knew that any kids who participated in my club would want something less stringent. Here in Germany, you most often teach or do clubs (as an ETA) through things called AGs (Arbeitsgemeinschaften, “Work Groups/Communities” or basically an extracurricular club). It seemed, then, a natural marriage. Take good movies that are fun to watch and pull out linguistic, cultural, and philosophical themes for discussion. I chose lots of movies based on things I thought would be rich. Remember the Titans, for example, showing racial tensions in the 60s in the US, as well as American football. Wall-E showing the dangers of consumerism. I had many movies lined up before heading here.
In what other ways have you exposed your students to the American culture?
During lessons, my teachers often ask me questions about American culture or ask if I have anything to add to the discussion. So when the opportunity arises, I usually say something. But the other thing that’s happened is that every couple weeks they’ve also allowed me to teach class independently. So I’ve used whatever theme they’re talking about (e.g.: The American Dream; Globalization; Utopia/Dystopia) to try to talk about American culture or philosophical ideas. This has ranged from small presentations on the Constitution or the voting system to class-long lessons that I plan for that day. I’ve given lessons, for example, on Peter Singer’s consequentialism and poverty (he defends the position that we should donate excess wealth to charitable organizations); on the ethical problems of Pre-Implantation Genetic Diagnosis (a genetic screening of embryos that helps patients avoid passing on terminal diseases); and lessons about themes in science fiction. I’ve also used YouTube to prepare lessons. For example, I used George Watsky’s “Amazing Grace” (a song about the Occupy movement) and “Letter to my 16 Year-Old Self” (a freeverse poem from the author to his previous self, which was the age of my students too). We’d watch the video or listen to audio, read the words, and start with reviewing the text, but then we’d move on to more discussion-oriented questions or group work.
How have your students and the German community influenced you throughout this experience?
I love my students, and it took them a while to warm up to me. (Native speakers are generally intimidating, and I’m burly and bearded, adding extra intimidation.) But I think my students have taught me a lot about myself, how nerdy and awkward I can be at times, yet also how I am capable of helping them to learn things. And they’ve also taught me that as a teacher, I usually teach at a high level, which is good, but paying attention to details and slowing down a bit can make sure that more people hang with me. But those are self-centered things. Culturally, I think they’ve showed me that kids are kids. Kids here are stressed about school and grades like in the States. They’re excited for local sports matches and look forward to when they can drive (here at 18 years-old). They get in trouble for playing with their cell phones or not doing homework. They’re normal kids. But they have also reinforced the importance of being globally aware, cautious about consumerism and war; and open to different political and social positions. Kids are endearing, but they also reinforce the importance of education in a good society.
What has been the highlight of your Fulbright experience?
The highlight has just been the overwhelming generosity and luck I’ve experienced. My supervisor is fantastic. She let me live at her house for a week while I found a place to live. And the place I moved into was with the son of one of her old friends. The son is a PhD student at the local university and has become a great friend. My school also lets me teach classes when I want, and I have no problems with my students, aside from maybe making sure they pay attention the whole time or stay on task. These things have made my day-to-day life extremely rich, and I realize how lucky I am. I’m definitely thankful for all this.
What are your plans after completing the fellowship?
For the next year, my plan is to hang around my family. I haven’t been home for longer than two months in the past six years. After that, I will likely move to St. Louis with my girlfriend while she finishes nursing school. While there, though, I plan on applying to PhD programs in philosophy and seeing where that takes me.