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Fulbright Grant takes PAC alumna to Russia

By Gladys Nuñez | Pulse staff reporter

Kellie BennIce skating on Red Square, ice fishing and seeing the cities on the Golden Ring of Russia are only a few of the unforgettable moments Kellie Benn has experienced in Russia.

Benn, an alumna of Palo Alto College, was one of 35 students nationwide to receive a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant Grant in May of 2012, and she is now teaching English in Russia.

Benn graduated from Palo Alto College with an associate’s degree in Communications in May of 2010, and she received a bachelor’s degree in Communication and Russian from Trinity University in May of 2012.

“I see the Fulbright not only as a culmination of what I have already achieved but as the beginning of what I hope will be a bright future for myself after I return from Russia,” said Benn.

Bob Richter was public editor for the San Antonio-Express News and Benn’s boss during the time she interned there.

“Kellie is a smart, well-rounded, focused, hard-working person,” said Richter. “Not everyone with such attributes is successful, but she has exceeded even her own expectations, I believe.”

Benn’s adviser at Trinity University, the Carlos Augustus de Lozano Chair in Journalism and Professor of Communication Sammye Johnson wrote Benn a letter of recommendation for the Fulbright Grant.

“Kellie had a dream of going to Russia to teach, and receiving a Fulbright allowed her to live that dream,” said Johnson.  “I am very proud of her and look forward to knowing what path she explores when she returns to the United States.”

Benn arrived in Moscow on Sept. 22, 2012, before traveling to the city of Oryol to begin her 9-month grant period at the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration. Benn said her responsibilities go well beyond just teaching English.

“Many of my students and the people I interact with on a regular basis have never met an American, so I consider it one of my most important duties to bring American culture to them and help to foster an understanding of who I am both as an individual and as an American,” said Benn.

Benn describes her students as unique just like students all around the world. They are curious about her life in America.

“They were shocked to find out that just about everyone owns and drives a car in America, including the women, and that a lot of us live in houses rather than apartments,” said Benn.

Last semester, she concentrated on her students and getting into the groove of things, but this semester she is focusing on herself. Benn is sitting in on a Russian English class once a week to hone her Russian language skills along with other activities.

“I am going to be speaking at some conferences later in the spring; so far, I have one lined up here at my university and one lined up in Kursk,” said Benn.

Benn finds her experience in Russia very interesting, but also difficult and rewarding. She loves the moments when she can connect with her students and learn something that is interesting or unique.

Benn found out one of her students is descended from nobility and his great-grandfather served in the Imperial Army and died in the White Army fighting the Bolsheviks. The fact that the family was nobility was something they had to hide in the early days of the Soviet Union.

Benn said she would love to attend Georgetown University in the future, and she hopes to continue her graduate work in Russian studies.

“I would like to eventually do something in the translation field,” said Benn. “My impossible dream would be to translate novels from Russian to English, but the more realistic goal that I am currently working toward is to work in the United Nations.”

What Benn would like for Palo Alto students to take away from her experience is that anything is possible and to never be afraid to fail.

“Things that I thought were impossible a year ago are now well within my grasp, and I continue to set my goals even higher,” said Benn. “Don’t settle for the bare minimum because that’s all you think you can do; do whatever it takes to make your dreams come true.”

Benn blogs about her experiences in Russia. You may read about her adventures at http://kelliesrussianadventure.wordpress.com. She did it at first for her friends and family, but once she started writing, it became a great way for her to record her time abroad.