August 3, 2013 in Washington Voices

U-Hi graduate will go to Brazil as Fulbright scholar

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Stevie Gildehaus shows students how to get samples of tree rings.
(Full-size photo)

A graduate of University High School is preparing to go to Brazil next year after winning a Fulbright scholarship.

Stevie Gildehaus, 22, said Brazil is launching a campaign for locals to learn English as it prepares to host the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics.

She will help teach English and take classes at a local university from March through December.

Gildehaus, who graduated from U-Hi in 2009, studied environmental science and Spanish at Willamette University in Salem, and graduated this year. In applying for a Fulbright scholarship, she had hoped to return to Ecuador, where she participated in a study abroad program through Willamette.

While in Ecuador, she polished her Spanish skills and enjoyed learning about the biodiversity of the country. She visited the Galapagos Islands, the Amazon and took a college course on the flora and fauna of Ecuador. She noticed that many science scholars had to read science articles in English.

“There is no pressure for researchers to publish in a different language,” she said.

While in Ecuador, she volunteered at an orphanage for girls, tutoring them in English, math and science.

“She’s really good at working with kids who are having a hard time,” said her mother, Brenda Gildehaus.

When she returned to Salem, Gildehaus teamed with a friend and won a Fred Wert Sustainability Grant to fund a trip back to Ecuador. She said it is important everyone has access to information without the hassle of a language barrier.

Gildehaus is good at getting scholarships. She found scholarships in Spokane and through Willamette to finance her undergraduate degree from the private college.

“I’m debt-free,” Gildehaus said.

Her parents said they weren’t able to contribute much toward her education. Brenda Gildehaus was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1998, when Gilidehaus was 7.

Brenda Gildehaus was the family breadwinner at the time, while Gildehaus’ father, Jerred, was going to school. She was hospitalized for three months, unable to move. Doctors didn’t expect her to live longer than a couple of years.

Brenda Gildehaus said her daughter helped inspire her during her hospital stay. Her daughter told her, “Don’t worry, I’ll always take care of you.”

There were years of neighbors getting Gildehaus ready for school every day after her mother’s diagnosis. Another family friend paid for all of Gildehaus’ sports fees. Friends held fundraisers for the family.

“Stevie wouldn’t be the person she is today (without that support),” Brenda Gildehaus said.

Today, Brenda Gildehaus walks with the aid of crutches, but also relies on a wheelchair some days. Gildehaus said that doesn’t slow her mother down – she still coaches sports.

The family is still very close. Brenda and Jerred have been married for 23 years and he is now a paratransit driver for Spokane Transit Authority. Stevie Gildehaus’ sister, Carsyn, is now 6 years old and is looking forward to attending kindergarten at Summit School this fall.

She doesn’t leave for Brazil until March, but it’s going to be a busy time for Gildehaus. She’s going to the library to learn Portuguese, the official language of Brazil. She’s probably going to get a job, but she’s also working on a scientific manuscript she and one of her professors hope to submit to a journal.

The Fulbright program appealed to Gildehaus because it aligned with her own values and goals. She wants to create a mutual understanding of cultures and be an ambassador of culture and science.

After Brazil, she hopes to attend graduate school, but she’s not sure what she wants to study.

Whatever she decides, she knows her parents will agree.

“No matter what I choose to do, they are always 100 percent behind me,” she said.

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