Allegheny’s Latest Fulbright Winner to Forge Connections Through Running

There’s something that happens when you run with another person.

You start talking, the sound of your voices mixing with the slap slap slap of rubber soles hitting the pavement, the grass, the dirt.

You push through the pain, together, toward some seen or unseen goal.

You forge a connection.

“The people I know the best in my life are the people I’ve run hundreds, thousands of miles with,” said Allegheny College senior Dan Cheung.

A championship runner and a member of Allegheny’s cross country and track teams, Cheung recently received a prestigious Fulbright grant to teach English in Kenya. He plans to use his love of running not only to teach but to foster relationships and serve as an ambassador, the deeper purpose of the Fulbright program.

In a country where long-distance running is king, he’s hoping a common passion can help bridge any cultural divide.

“Running is an incredible medium to get to talk to people and share stories and learn language,” said Cheung, 22, an English major and education minor from Northbrook, Illinois. “You run alongside someone for long enough, you feel the same pain for long enough, you start to connect without doing anything. It’s a nice unique way to get to know people.”

Cheung’s award builds on Allegheny’s growing success in producing Fulbright recipients.

Established in 1946 under legislation introduced by the late Sen. J. William Fulbright, the Fulbright Program’s purpose is to build mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the rest of the world. Sponsored by the United States Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, it is America’s flagship international education exchange program.

Two recent graduates, Mary Nagle ’15 and Kelly Frantz ’16, received Fulbright grants for the 2016–17 year. In 2016, Allegheny junior Jenny Tompkins received a grant to study climate change at The University of Exeter, United Kingdom, for four weeks as part of the Fulbright Summer Institute. Tompkins was one of only four students from the United States to be chosen for the program — one of the most prestigious and selective summer scholarship programs operating worldwide — and the first Allegheny student to receive the honor.

Eighteen Allegheny students in all have received Fulbright research, English Teaching Assistant, or Fulbright Summer Institute awards — a number expected to grow.

Allegheny is a place that fosters deep connections between and among students and faculty, the same kind of connections that Fulbright students are being asked to make abroad, said Patrick Jackson, national fellowships advisor in the Allegheny Gateway.

Students are mentored and “given the space to think about how to flourish,” Jackson said. “And they’re getting the opportunity to pursue interests. That’s part of what makes small liberal arts colleges special.”

Allegheny also teaches students how to think creatively and critically, Jackson said. With no previous experience teaching English, Cheung is going to have to do just that.

Cheung “is going to be asked not just to teach English but to represent the country,” Jackson said. “Liberal arts grads are really good at showing up, figuring stuff out, problem solving.”

Cheung will leave for Kenya in January. He hasn’t traveled outside of the United States much, but he isn’t nervous. To go into a new country where you know no one and don’t speak the language takes courage, toughness and endurance, and runners have those qualities in spades. His job, he said, is to be himself. To teach and run — maybe teach while running — and make connections.

“I’ve done a lot of things that are pretty scary. Coming to college was scary. Going into 20-mile long runs is scary. … You just do things. You learn and you have fun and you grow,” Cheung said.

Kenya will be an experience unlike any other, he said.

“There are certain things you can’t learn in college or high school,” Cheung said. “There are things about the world and about people that you don’t really know until you interact with them.”

Cheung also was accepted into the Mississippi Teacher Corps program, a two-year program that places would-be teachers into underperforming schools. Participants earn a graduate degree in curriculum development.

Cheung hopes to begin the program after returning from Kenya.

With both the Fulbright and Mississippi Teacher Corps experiences on his résumé, Cheung is gong to be “unstoppable,” Jackson said.

“He’s on a path to be an educational leader of the highest order, if that’s what he wants,” Jackson said. “When he’s 25 and he’s ready to think about applying to education graduate schools, there’s nobody in the country that’s going to have better experience than he has.”