Two at North Park University Receive Fulbright Honors

CHICAGO (May 2, 2012) – Karen Kelly, daughter of Evangelical Covenant Church missionaries Tom and Janice Kelly, has been award a Fulbright Award to teach English in Andorra, a small European country situated between France and Spain.

The graduating North Park University senior is one of two women at the school to win a prestigious Fulbright honor this year. Nnenna Okore, associate professor and art department chair, was named a U.S. Fulbright Scholar and will teach and work closely on environmental art projects with artists, galleries, and art organizations in her home country of Nigeria.

Kelly will graduate this month from North Park University with a double major in global studies and French and will leave for Andorra later this summer. She will teach English at a secondary school.

Karen Kelly

Kelly is fluent in English, French, and Spanish, and has taken Arabic courses at the university. Most Andorrans speak French or Spanish. Many also speak the country’s official language, Catalan. The mix of languages and cultures piqued Kelly’s interest in serving Andorra.

Growing up in a missionary family and attending an international school with students from throughout the world influenced Kelly’s global interests. “Being around people who were different from me and speak different languages than me was just normal. I loved it. I had friends from all over the world,” she said.

Kelly has never been to Andorra, but did study in France during her junior year at the university. Andorra is known for tourism, shopping, and skiing. Its population is nearly 100 percent literate, she said.

Kelly was born in Mexico City and is a dual citizen of the United States and Mexico. Linda Parkyn, North Park University professor of Spanish and a Fulbright Scholar, said Kelly’s essay was impressive because it used the location of Andorra as a metaphor for her own life ‘tucked’ between the cultures of Mexico and the United States.

“Karen will be an ambassador for an increasingly mobile group of young Americans who carry with them various ‘tucked between cultures’ experiences,” Parkyn said.

Kelly is looking forward to her role as U.S. representative during her Fulbright year. “I see it as an opportunity to build bridges and break down barriers. I like the unknown, too, to see what’s going to come of it.”

Okore, who has been teaching at the university since 2005, will travel to Nigeria in August. She plans to use her Fulbright Scholarship to teach artists how to use discarded materials to create works of art and raise attention for environmental restoration in Nigeria.

“It’s always been my dream to go back and teach in one of their universities, and share what I’ve learned here with faculty and students,” Okore said in an interview.

Okore is a sculptor whose niche is in environmental art. She uses materials such as newspapers, wax, cloth, rope, clay, and sticks in her art. “It’s something I’ve been very interested in for a long time,” she said.

Nnenna Okore

Her work has been honored worldwide, but acceptance has been slower in her native country. There isn’t an effective way of recycling in Nigeria, and many artists have tried including recycled materials in their work. But generally, the culture does not accept such works as genuine art because recycled materials are used, Okore explained.

“Part of my aim is to begin to bring some authenticity to the use of our environment, and the use of things that are byproducts of that environment, whether social, physical, or consumer environment,” she said. “We should be thinking of ways to recycle things back into our art and into our daily lives.”

In addition to working with students, Okore will design and teach a course in environmental art at the University of Lagos. She will debut the works she creates at the Centre for Contemporary Art, Lagos, beginning in May 2013.

Okore will later display the works at North Park University’s Carlson Tower Gallery and elsewhere. She plans to stay in touch with North Park University art students via Skype and other online opportunities.

Reflecting on her own experience, Parkyn, said Okore’s time in Nigeria will “force her to see the world in uncommon ways.” It also will provide her with opportunities she had not planned.

“One day eager student faces look to you for guidance in the classroom – the next day they debate American involvement in their lives with skepticism. In the same conversation they invite you for coffee to ask you questions about your beliefs. It is a whirlwind of learning for all involved,” Parkyn said.

“Professor Okore’s art will inspire, attract, repel, and incite. This is every professor’s dream, and to share North Park’s wonderful artist with these Nigerian students is almost magical,” Parkyn added.

The Fulbright Program was established by the U.S. Congress in 1946 and is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State. It is the largest U.S. international exchange program offering opportunities for students, scholars, and professionals to undertake international graduate study, advanced research, university teaching, and teaching in elementary and secondary schools worldwide.

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