By Andra Bryan Stefanoni
PITTSBURG, Kan. —
Today’s Fourth of July celebration will be especially meaningful to Alisa Zlatanic. It will be her first as an American citizen.
The Serbian native, who for 14 years has worked at the Kansas Polymer Research Center at Pittsburg State University, took her citizenship oath over the weekend.
“I was supposed to stay here two years,” she said. “I stayed a little longer, and then I decided to stay here forever.”
The center’s director, Andy Myers, and Zlatanic’s colleagues threw a surprise party Wednesday afternoon complete with a red, white and blue frosted cake to celebrate.
Zlatanic is one of 7,800 new citizens to be welcomed by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services during a two-week span of 100 naturalization ceremonies across the country. General eligibility requirements specify that an applicant must be a permanent resident with a green card; must be a person of good moral character; must be able to speak, read, write and understand the English language; must have knowledge of U.S. government and history; and must be willing and able to take the Oath of Allegiance.
Zlatanic holds a bachelor of engineering degree and a master of science degree from the University of Belgrade, where she worked for six years as a teaching and research assistant before her appointment as a research associate at the PSU center in 1999.
She specializes in polymer synthesis and characterization. Her major accomplishments include development of bio-based polyol for flexible polyurethane foams, and more than 15 scientific papers. She was a co-recipient of the 2007 Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Award.
Zlatanic said it was an easy decision to stay in the U.S., as she is happy in her current position and as a resident of Pittsburg.
“I’m doing a job I went to school for that is interesting and creative, in a new facility, that is meaningful for me to do,” she said.
She began the naturalization procedure four months ago after having achieved permanent residence status and her green card five years ago.
After a series of paperwork exchanges and registering her biometrics — fingerprints and so on — with the Department of Homeland Security in Kansas City, she was cleared by the FBI for an interview.
“At the end of April I took a civic exam, which included government, geography and history,” she said. “There were 100 questions — some extremely easy, some more serious.”
Last Friday, she took her oath along with 88 others seeking citizenship and representing more than 30 countries.
“Such great diversity,” she said of the group. “It was very emotional. I hadn’t anticipated it would be so meaningful and heartwarming.”
Myers noted that the staff of the Polymer Research Center is rich in diversity. “We have 15 scientists from seven countries, including Yugoslavia and other European countries, India, China, and a student visiting from Brazil,” he said.
Zlatanic returns to Serbia about once a year. She still considers it her homeland, so she opted to retain dual citizenship.
As for how she’ll celebrate today, she said she’ll most likely do what many other Americans will: “I will watch fireworks.”
IN THE PAST DECADE, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has welcomed more than 6.6 million naturalized citizens. In fiscal year 2013 through May, about 503,000 individuals had been naturalized.