Baylor Senior Biology Major Selected for Fulbright ETA to Taiwan

Sofia Sonner
Sofia Sonner
April 19, 2018

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WACO, Texas (April 19, 2018) – Sofia Sonner, a senior biology major from South Pasadena, California, has been selected to receive a prestigious Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship (ETA) to Taiwan.

Sonner is among three Fulbright recipients this spring and Baylor’s 54th Fulbright recipient since 2001. A 2014 graduate of South Pasadena High School, she is the daughter of Karen and Richard Sonner of South Pasadena.

As the flagship international educational exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government, the Fulbright Program aims to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries. Fulbright ETAs are placed in classrooms abroad to provide assistance to local English teachers while also serving as cultural ambassadors for the United States.

Beginning this fall, Sonner will serve as a Fulbright ETA in Kinmen, a small island actually closer to mainland China than to mainland Taiwan, an area she chose because of its connection to the Pacific Ocean. Marine biology has been a lifelong passion as she grew up fishing and spending summers at the beach in California. In high school she volunteered for the Aquarium of the Pacific, sharing her knowledge about the marine life on the California coast. Last summer, she participated in a marine biology field school in Oregon and learned more about the Pacific but from a different region of the West Coast.

“Since I plan to teach about the Pacific Ocean in an aquarium setting at the primary and secondary level, the ETA to Taiwan will improve my teaching abilities and provide invaluable perspective on Taiwan’s remarkable biodiversity to share as an educator,” Sonner said. “I have a strong background in teaching and would instill a wonder for wildlife, the English language and American culture in my students. I am eager to engage in cultural exchange and share my excitement for English and the outdoors with young children.”

This summer, Sonner plans to take a course in Mandarin to learn as much as she can about the language before leaving for Taiwan. After the Fulbright, she plans to earn a master’s degree in marine biology and continue to study and educate others about the Pacific Ocean.

“Having a knowledge of Mandarin and Taiwanese culture would enhance my ability to connect with the Asian-American community in southern California throughout my career. Being knowledgeable about Taiwan’s biodiversity would allow me to educate with a global marine science perspective as the Pacific is shared by many countries,” she said.”

Baylor offers students a growing academic enterprise that ignites educational excellence, leadership and research discovery. With dedicated professors and a commitment to Christian values, students are provided with the tools to lead, serve and succeed in their future. Baylor welcomes students from all 50 states and more than 80 countries to study a broad range of degrees among its 12 nationally recognized academic divisions. Sonner wanted to attend college out of state and had applied to several universities. Baylor stood out to her, she said, “because it seemed like everyone that was here really wanted to be here.”

“I was thrilled when I received a scholarship and was drawn to Baylor’s biology program,” she said.

Sonner will graduate in May with a bachelor of science degree in biology with an ecology concentration and a minor in French, all accomplished in four years with the support of outstanding faculty mentors, such as French professor Cristian Bratu, biology professors Joseph White and Robert Doyle and Lee Harlan Lowe and Natashia Howard in the Baylor vivarium.

“Dr. Bratu was one of my favorite French professors. I have loved being a student in three of his courses,” Sonner said. “I have taken two of Dr. White’s science courses this year. He is very patient, understanding and enthusiastic about what he teaches. He has also given me great career advice and guidance. Dr. Doyle is the reason that I am able to graduate on time. He helped me this year as a biology advisor and last year as my ecology lab professor. He always tells his students to ‘see the world.’”

Bratu, associate professor of French, said Sonner is a “fantastic student, always focused, intellectually curious and who clearly enjoys learning new things.”

“She has a passion for languages and world cultures, which is one of the reasons why she applied for a Fulbright scholarship in Taiwan. I can’t think of a more deserving recipient of this prestigious scholarship and of a better student to represent Baylor and the United States,” Bratu said.

Baylor’s biology program offer students the opportunity to learn from a variety of biologists, who study life at the molecular or cellular level or focus on the ecological and environmental questions concerning entire communities and ecosystems. As her faculty mentor, White described Sonner as a purpose-driven student serious about understanding the environmental problems facing the planet today.

“Having grown up in southern California, her perspective on the western horizon, the Pacific Ocean, she has experienced some of the major, modern ecological problems transported in front of her in the oceanic currents passing the beaches of her hometown,” White said. “At Baylor, she has developed a vision of the Earth as both a vast beautiful place, but interconnected and human impacted. I have enjoyed working with Sofia as I see in her expressing hopefulness, intelligence and passion to help find solutions to the big ecological challenges facing her generation.”

Sonner is “one of the truly outstanding students” emerging from an academically challenging ecology track within the B.S. degree, Doyle said.

“She takes true delight in learning,” Doyle said. “One outcome of that desire to learn was Sofia’s summer field station experience, a requirement on our ecology track, at Oregon Institute of Marine Biology. That selection built on her previous volunteer experience at the Aquarium of the Pacific where she interacted with guests to teach them about marine animals. Sofia is well-prepared academically but also passionate about teaching and service. I look forward to hearing great things from her Fulbright experience and beyond.”

Fulbright alumni have become heads of state, judges, ambassadors, cabinet ministers, CEOs, and university presidents, as well as leading journalists, artists, scientists and teachers. They include 59 Nobel Laureates, 82 Pulitzer Prize winners, 71 MacArthur Fellows, 16 Presidential Medal of Freedom recipients and thousands of leaders across the private, public and nonprofit sectors. Since its inception in 1946, more than 380,000 “Fulbrighters” have participated in the Program.


Baylor University is a private Christian University and a nationally ranked research institution. The University provides a vibrant campus community for more than 17,000 students by blending interdisciplinary research with an international reputation for educational excellence and a faculty commitment to teaching and scholarship. Chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas through the efforts of Baptist pioneers, Baylor is the oldest continually operating University in Texas. Located in Waco, Baylor welcomes students from all 50 states and more than 80 countries to study a broad range of degrees among its 12 nationally recognized academic divisions.

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