"For some reason, German and I just clicked right away," said Roberts, who recently graduated from Montana State University with a degree in math education. "It was a surprise to me because I had taken Spanish before and didn't care for it, so I'd put off taking a foreign language again. But it was totally different with German."
Roberts will take her affinity for German language and culture to Germany during the next school year as a recipient of a coveted Fulbright Fellowship. As a Fulbright recipient, Roberts will teach English in the German state of Brandenburg and study German methods of teaching math.
She said it might be surprising that a math education major won a Fulbright that is largely connected to her German Studies minor. However, the assignment will draw from Roberts' varied passions and talents while she was a student at MSU. Roberts majored in math education because, "Math has always been my strongest and favorite academic subject, and teachers of this content are simply more employable," she said. She also played violin in the MSU Symphony, traveling with the symphony to Southeast Asia last summer. Roberts is also a violin teacher, a math tutor, gives German lessons, and recently completed student teaching in Livingston.
Roberts also has a passion for the American West, which she plans to share with her German students. She said it comes naturally. Her father, Bob Edgar, curated a Western history museum in Cody, Wyo.
"I have a somewhat unique perspective of the West, which seems to be a strong interest of the German people," Roberts said.
The interest is reciprocal. Roberts' familiarity with all things German also was developed when she was a student at Billings Senior. She became friends with a German exchange student at the school and was invited to Germany to visit her friend and her family in the East German town of Eisenhüttenstadt. By the time she was a senior, after speaking the language for just two years, she scored in the 99th percentile of a national German proficiency test.
Roberts said she was as happily surprised when she first learned about the Fulbright program as she was discovering her love for German.
"I probably never would have considered applying for something like (a Fulbright), but my friend from high school called me and said she thought I met all the qualifications and would be a good candidate," Roberts said, adding that the friend also received a Fulbright to study in Sweden. "I knew nothing about it and basically had two weeks to apply. Applying completely consumed my life for a couple of weeks."
Patricia Anne Simpson, professor of German Studies and German Section coordinator, said such focus, as well as Roberts' diversity of interests, are reasons Roberts is a perfect candidate for a Fulbright.
"Jill combines intellectual ambition with a generosity of spirit and a commitment to hard work," Simpson said. "She's so well-rounded and energetic--she plays violin, studies math and German, and tutors in her field. The Fulbright is a wonderful opportunity for her to gain teaching experience and for her students and co-workers to benefit from her expertise as well."
Roberts said when she returns from Germany, she hopes to teach math and German in Montana or Wyoming while speaking to math educators about what she's learned about teaching in Europe.
Sally O'Neill (406) 994-7688, email@example.com