Focus on Fulbrights

From German to Haitian Creole: How St. John’s Led to the World of Microfinance for Fulbright Fellow Steven Werlin (A85)

Steven Werlin Alumni St Johns College Annapolis
Fulbright Fellow Steven Werlin (A85) with his son, Jovenson Ricot Werlin.

August 17, 2022 | By Patricia Moore

How does one proceed from a liberal arts education to a Fulbright Fellowship, to a career devoted to reducing poverty through microfinance initiatives? For Steven Werlin (A85), a communications and learning officer at the Haitian nonprofit Fonkoze, the answer begins with his intensive and transformative St. John’s education. “Not only did the college change the way I read, studied, and thought about the world, St. John’s also helped me make connections that would be decisive for my future life and work,” Werlin states.

Tutors, Languages, and Community Paved the Way

Asked about St. John’s influence on his life’s trajectory, Werlin says, “The people I admired most in my twenties and thirties were my teachers at St. John’s,” citing “how carefully they listened” as a major influence. “St. John’s is where I really started to love reading and learned the value of paying closer attention,” he added.

Though he knew some German upon his arrival at St. John’s, the community as well as tutors inspired Werlin to become more proficient in the language. He cites Mrs. Klein, a World War II refugee who was married to revered tutor Jacob Klein, as a mentor. “She spoke the most elevated German imaginable,” Werlin recalls. “She introduced me to a German-speaking culture of highly educated people.” Consequently, through the Great Books and Klein’s circle, Werlin became keenly interested in German philosophers, particularly Martin Heidegger.

And it was another St. John’s mentor, Brother Robert Smith (H90), who encouraged Werlin to pursue a Fulbright Fellowship to study Heidegger with a friend of Smith’s, professor Heribert Boeder, in Germany. “I was awarded the fellowship largely due to Brother Robert,” says Werlin. The Catholic brother was a much-beloved tutor who came to St. John’s from St. Mary’s College, Moraga, California, where he had established a program that followed the St. John’s curriculum.

Where a Fulbright Can Lead

Werlin credits his 1985–86 Fulbright Fellowship in Philosophy at Technische Universität Braunschweig, Germany, for “opening doors that allowed me to go further in academia,” he says. Following the nonlinear professional path of many Johnnies, he did not pursue another degree immediately upon leaving Germany. “Fulbright was like a ticket to graduate school after doing nonacademic work for two years at the University of Alabama,” he states.

Werlin earned an MA and PhD in philosophy at Loyola University of Chicago. He served as a visiting tutor at St. John’s Graduate Institute (1991, 1994, 1996) as well as faculty member, dean of the college, and dean of students at Shimer College, Chicago, Ill. Since 1997, he has focused on education and microfinancing initiatives in Haiti through two nonprofit organizations, Pwojè Wonn Refleksyon and Fondasyon Kole Zepòl (Fonkoze). He is the author of To Fool the Rain: Haiti’s Poor and their Pathway to a Better Life, 2016.

The Liberation of a Johnnie Education

“St. John’s was very helpful in not being a (specific) degree program,” says Werlin. “This was very freeing because it helped me figure out what I did and did not want to pursue.” His St. John’s connections and education—learning to read, examine and discuss texts, as well as to study languages—led directly to the opportunity to study in Germany on a Fulbright Fellowship, an experience Werlin describes as “extraordinary.” For Johnnies considering applying for a Fulbright award, Werlin counsels, “If someone is able to take a year without the external pressures of meeting income and degree requirements, and to do it in another language, I couldn’t recommend it highly enough.” He explains, “The Creole language is nothing like German, but living, working, and studying in a language that is not my own in Germany really opened things up for me.” Werlin adds that he would be happy to speak with Johnnies considering applying for Fulbright awards. He can be reached at swerlin(at)