Doctoral candidate in mechanical engineering will continue work on owl-inspired aero-acoustics at Brandenburg Technical University in Germany

He was surprised. And also not surprised.

John Kershner, a PhD candidate in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Mechanics, was in the middle of an internship a month ago when he went online and saw that his application for a Fulbright research award had been accepted. His heart started racing. And his thoughts started colliding.

I’m going to move to Germany. That is so exciting! Oh my gosh. I’m at Penn State right now. I’m not even at Lehigh. And I have to move to Germany in like six months.

“It was a little bit of stress, but mostly excitement,” he says. 

It was also sort of half expected. Not to toot his own horn, says Kershner, but becoming a Fulbrighter wasn’t a total surprise because his application was, well, pretty amazing. When Lehigh’s Office of International Affairs found out he was applying, they were ready with all the assistance he’d need to make his bid virtually undeniable.

“I created an application in August of last year, and in September, Bill Hunter [Lehigh’s director of fellowship advising] wrote me and said, ‘We will help you with your application and your essays, and we have a whole interview process to make sure you’ve got everything down,’” says Kershner. 

His advisor, Justin Jaworski, an associate professor of mechanical engineering and mechanics, was also eager to help. “He has been really supportive from the start of me getting an international aspect to my education,” Kershner says. “So between working with people at Lehigh, and with Professor Jaworski specifically, and my personal experience—it was a really, really good application.”

The Fulbright U.S. Student Program offers graduating college seniors, graduate students, and young professionals the opportunity to pursue graduate studies, conduct research, or teach English abroad. Its mission is to expand perspectives and create connections in a complex, changing world.

At Lehigh, Kershner works with Jaworski in researching owl-inspired aero-acoustics with the ultimate aim of making aircraft quieter. In Germany, he’ll spend approximately six months of the coming academic year building on that research at Brandenburg Technical University at Cottbus-Senftenberg in Brandenburg.  

“I’m going to work with a researcher at that university, as well as at the DLR, which is the German equivalent of NASA, to experimentally test these owl-inspired designs,” he says. 

He says one point the Office of International Affairs stressed during the application process was to develop a strong argument for choosing the country in which to conduct research. 

“The country should really make sense for you, and you should be able to convince the [selection committee] that you are the perfect candidate for that place,” he says. “And Lehigh really helps you hone that message. It was the best advice I got.”

For Kershner, the choice was Germany. He grew up in Reading, Pennsylvania, surrounded by the history and culture of the Pennsylvania Dutch, a group formed during the 18th and 19th centuries by German immigrants fleeing religious persecution in Europe. Kershner says his grandmother spoke the language, and he started taking German in middle school. In high school, he did a three-week exchange program in the country, and as an undergraduate at York College of Pennsylvania, he spent a semester working there as part of a co-op program. 

When it came time to defend his chosen country for the Fulbright, those rich experiences made it easy. And attaining the award puts him a step closer to one of his goals.

“I’d like to work internationally after graduating with my PhD,” he says. “I enjoy learning about other cultures, and I think those kinds of experiences open your mind to different ways of thinking and communicating, and just make you a better person overall.”

Photo by Christa Neu

Video by Christine Fennessy

I’d like to work internationally after graduating with my PhD. I enjoy learning about other cultures, and I think those kinds of experiences open your mind to different ways of thinking and communicating, and just make you a better person overall.
John Kershner, PhD student, mechanical engineering

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Justin Jaworski, associate professor, mechanical engineering and mechanics