In 2009, Bridget O’Neill made the seemingly simple decision to save money on college by completing her first two years at Brookdale. Unbeknownst to her, O’Neill was taking the first step on an educational and professional journey that would take her from student to teacher to international advocate; from incoming freshman to Fulbright award winner.
This year, O’Neill will travel to the other side of the world as part of the Fulbright Commission’s English Teaching Assistant program, which places qualified American teachers in international classrooms to help teach the English language and serve as cultural ambassadors for the United States.
The Red Bank native was one of only 1,059 American teachers admitted the program, and one of only 90 teachers selected to serve in the Southeast Asian country of Malaysia, a growing multi-cultural nation that is expected to become the world’s 21st largest economy by 2050.
“I will be teaching English, conducting research, and establishing and running community outreach programs,” said O’Neill, adding that her research will focus on community gender roles and their influence on the educational process.
“For my community outreach, I plan to establish physical fitness and sports leagues for women that foster a sense of confidence, community, and leadership. Within the classroom, I will also be pairing students from Malaysia with U.S. students as virtual pen pals who create video chat messages. This will enable Malay students to practice their English speaking skills and it will provide the American students with an opportunity to teach the Malay students about themselves and life in the U.S.”
At the conclusion of the year-long program, O’Neill said she hopes to apply her experience toward an advanced degree and seek out new opportunities to put her skills and passions to work for others.
It has been a long, unexpected journey for O’Neill, who said she first came to Brookdale to study English and transfer to a four-year university. (Her father, long-tenured Brookdale architecture professor Edward O’Neill, may also have done a bit of recruiting, she admits).
Here, under the tutelage of English professors like Roseanne Alvarez and Humanities Institute Dean Carl Calendar, O’Neill said she was encouraged to cultivate her passions in the realm of education, ultimately learning the ins and outs of teaching from associate education professor Ave Latte.
“I often surprise people in saying that some of my most rigorous and thought-provoking classes were at Brookdale,” O’Neill said. “I really was challenged academically. Those professors helped me realize what I could become in a classroom environment if I harnessed my passion for writing and reading and brought it to my students.”
Graduating in May 2011 with an AA in degree in elementary, middle school and secondary education, O’Neill joined the New Jersey Coastal Communiversity and transferred to New Jersey City University. There she continued to stand out among her peers, earning a BA degree in English, minoring in secondary education and becoming a certified K-12 English teacher.
She spent the 2014-15 school year teaching 12th grade English at Lacey Township High School.
Now, only six years after walking through Brookdale’s doors for the first time, O’Neill’s journey will continue more than 9,300 miles from where it started.
“I couldn’t be more excited,” O’Neill said. “It’s an incredible opportunity.”
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