Kathryn Wheeler receives scholarship to study language abroad
by Sherrie Norris
That's not surprising to those who know her. Wheeler has always reached outside the realm of normal to obtain her goals.
Wheeler has received the merit-based Youth Scholarship to Study Language Abroad, sponsored by the National Security Language Initiative for Youth. The scholarship allows her to study the Chinese language in Beijing during the 2012-13 school year.
The merit-based scholarships, awarded to about 600 students annually, are funded by the U.S. Department of State.
“I will be studying through the American Councils at Beijing No. 80 High School,” she said. “I leave Boone for orientation at the end of August and depart for China on Sept. 1.”
Her return to Boone is slated for the end of June 2013.
In 2011, Wheeler studied Chinese in Shanghai for six weeks through the same program, describing the experience as being the most influential of her life.
“I am no longer able to live life without being connected to, aware of and influenced by the world around me,” she said.
She said she cannot begin to imagine the enlightenment that an entire year will provide.The scholarship is a competitive fully-funded award for high school students to travel to foreign countries and study major languages, Wheeler said. “We work directly with the U.S. Department of State and visit them, along with the U.S. Embassy in Beijing. The students in this program last year had the chance to meet Hu JinTao, the current president of China.”
According to Michelline Granjean, spokerswoman for the Americn Councils for International Education, the goals of the program include, “sparking a life-long interest in foreign languages and cultures, developing a corps of young Americans with the skills necessary to advance international dialogue in the private, academic or government sectors and building upon the foundations developed through person-to-person relationships while abroad.”
The program was launched as part of a U.S. Government initiative in 2006 to increase Americans' capacity to engage with native speakers of critical languages — Arabic, Chinese/Mandarin, Hindi, Korean, Persian/ Tajik, Russian and Turkish, said Granjean — “by providing formal and informal language learning and practice and by promoting mutual understanding through educational and cultural activities.
Through her participation in the program, “Wheeler will be in the vanguard of international communication and will develop the skills necessary to be a leader in the global community,” Granjean said.
With an ‘extreme passion for environmental relationships between different countries” —and the hopes of one day being able to negotiate environmental policies between countries to collectively combat environmental issues — Wheeler could not ask for a more perfect opportunity, she said.
“Where you live, completely submerged in another culture, has a surprising effect on how you view you own beliefs,” Wheeler said.
During her earlier visit to China, she was able to observe the similarities between the country and the US, with respect to daily life, politics, education, and environmental awareness.
“It is shocking how detrimental the language and cultural gaps can be, when trying to communicate ideas without offending each other,” she said. “In order to address climate change issues, nations must be able to compromise by overcoming their cultural gaps.
“It is our responsibility to ensure that future generations have the opportunity to observe glaciers, to see polar bears, to be able to drink clean water, and to live in harmony with nature,” she said.
Wheeler is no stranger to extraordinary opportunities or working hard to obtain the goals that she has set for herself.
Having attended Watauga High School from 2008-2010, she recently completed her high school education through the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics in Durham, with the Class of 2012.
“After I return from my gap year, I plan to attend the University of Delaware and pursue a double major in environmental science and international relations, which a focus on Sino-American relations and East Asia,” she said.
Wheeler has received the all-inclusive Eugene G. DuPont Distinguished Scholar scholarship from the university, which also offers her added learning opportunities.
She has also received the 2012 Foresters Competitive Scholarship and the Nordstrom Scholarship, which recognizes students across the country for their exceptional scholastic achievement and community involvement.
Wheeler, a two-time recipient of the President's Service Award for Volunteerism, spent a large part of her life as a Girl Scout, serving as a camp director and is currently in her final stages of completing her Gold Award.
In 2009, her interest in the environment, combined with her adventurous spirit, was put to the test — with great success — as a Girl Scout Destination Alaska Explorer.
With 13 other Girl Scouts from across the country, she “discovered” the Copper River Delta, the ancestral home of the Eyak people, and explored Cordova, Alaska.
The educational experience, she said, offered her “an active adventure filled with the wonders of natural history and cultural awareness.”
As a member of the Model United Nations Club, Wheeler served as president in 2012 and received verbal recognition at Duke University earlier this year and in 2011; in 2011, she was part of an Outstanding Small School Delegation at the College of William and Mary, received honorable Mention at Duke University in 2011 and at Appalachian State University in 2010.
During the last academic year, Wheeler participated in a mentorship-senior research program with Dr. Robert Jackson in the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University.
“We analyzed groundwater samples near hydraulic fracturing drilling sites to determine if they have elevated concentrations of methane,” she said.
She also served as a biology teacher's assistant during the year. While at Watauga High, Wheeler was the president of the Environmental Club for two terms.
She was also involved in Mountain Alliance, a leadership organization emphasizing adventure and service and joined the Rolling Academy on a two-week long westward bound trip designed to strengthen leadership through adventure and community service.
“We spent several days backpacking in Grand Teton National Park and volunteered in places including ranch in Montana and the Cody Rodeo in Wyoming.
Wheeler was also in her high school orchestra, having played the violin since fifth grade.
When asked what interests her most, her response came as no surprise: “Environmental preservation, backpacking, international relations, Sino-American relations and politics.”
Wheeler is the daughter of Dale and Marilou Wheeler and sister to Karl and Rose.