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Fulbright U.S. Student Program

U.S. Fulbright

How to Build a Fulbright Top-Producing Institution: Appalachian State University

May 15, 2020

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What makes a “Fulbright Top-Producing Institution“? In the coming weeks, a variety of institutions will discuss their efforts to recruit, mentor, and encourage students and scholars to apply for the Fulbright U.S. Student and U.S. Scholar Programs. We hope these conversations pull back the curtain on the advising process, and provide potential applicants and university staff with the tools they need to start their Fulbright journey. 

By Joanie Andruss, assistant director, Nationally Competitive Scholarships at Appalachian State University

Question: Your outstanding students are one of many factors that led to this achievement. What makes your students such exceptional candidates for the Fulbright Program?

I’ve found that our students tend to seek out diverse combinations of academic, service, and leadership activities, which contribute to what makes them such exceptional candidates for the Fulbright Program. Caroline Webb, an English Teaching Assistant in Timor-Leste, embodies this. She majored in psychology, had a passion for American Sign Language, was highly involved in campus as a Student Leadership Consultant, collaborated with faculty on research, studied abroad, was a teaching assistant, played a range of Appalachian instruments, and was a member of an interdisciplinary living-learning community known as the Watauga Residential College. This list of noteworthy accomplishments isn’t unique only to Caroline, but represents the range of involvement that many of our students engage with on our campus.

 

What steps have you taken to promote a Fulbright culture on your campus?

Our campus’s involvement with the Fulbright Program includes sending U.S. Students, Scholars, and Teacher Exchange participants, as well as hosting visiting Scholars-In-Residence. In late 2017, a group of faculty, staff, and administrators convened to form a Fulbright Week planning committee. This first group set the tone for the following years, and Fulbright Week events have become a regular part of campus programming each spring. During our Fulbright Week, we host receptions celebrating past and prospective Fulbright Scholars and Students, and offer a series of programming and advising for applicants. This serves as a kick-off event for continued support throughout the application cycle and year for faculty, staff, and students.

Efforts in promoting a Fulbright culture on our campus have also been enhanced through involvement in the 2018–19 Fulbright Program Advisor Development Initiative. This two-part training provided an in-depth opportunity to develop a more nuanced understanding of the Fulbright U.S. Student Program, further engage faculty, staff, and students across the multiple Program options, and offered additional opportunities to engage with Fulbright on our campus through outreach visits and faculty referrals to serve on National Screening Committee panels.

 

How has your institution benefited from increased engagement with the Fulbright Program?

Appalachian State University has had a successful history of engagement with the Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program, being named a top producer in that category four times since 2010. Appalachian encourages and supports its faculty members in applying for Fulbright awards because the university’s leadership recognizes the benefits of the program. This engagement provides faculty the opportunity to share academic knowledge with colleagues and students in other countries and to bring new knowledge, global understanding, and connections back to our campus community.

More recently, our institution recognized the need to further support students in their own pursuits of nationally competitive awards. This resulted in the creation of the Office of Nationally Competitive Scholarships, which offers outreach, mentorship, and advising throughout the entire application and selection process for a range of competitive awards, including the Fulbright U.S. Student Program. Within the first Fulbright application cycle after the creation of the office, we had four finalists, with three ultimately accepting the award for the 2019–20 grant year. This earned us the distinction of Top Producing Institution for Fulbright Student Programs.

From the student and applicant perspective, the process of applying for Fulbright U.S. Student awards has also had a significant impact on their connection with our institution and their preparation for their futures after graduation. A current Fulbright semi-finalist described that going through the application process gave her “even further appreciation for and faith in my alma mater.”

 

What advice do you have for other universities and colleges that want to increase the number of Fulbrighters produced by their institution?

My advice might be most relevant for universities and colleges with a small number of previous Fulbright U.S. Student recipients. These institutions therefore have limited examples of successful peers. Prior to the 2019–20 Fulbright year, only five Appalachian students had received a Fulbright award during the program’s history. So one of my challenges starting out was to encourage students to redefine what they thought Fulbright was and who it was for. I sought students who might not normally attend an information session, but could be great candidates for Fulbright if only they could start envisioning the program as a possible opportunity. I also worked to correct misperceptions of why we had so few prior recipients — not because our students weren’t competitive, but because they weren’t aware of the opportunities or didn’t have history with the award that other campuses might have. I tried to help applicants envision themselves as being part of a cohort that could change that reality and provide an inspiring model to those that would come after them.

Some concrete approaches include:
• Establishing an on-campus review process with earlier pre-application elements, such as a low stakes intent to apply “deadline” or first draft “deadline” that encouraged prospective applicants to move through each of the stages in smaller, more manageable pieces.
• Tracking students that either had indicated some initial interest in Fulbright or who had worked with me on other awards, such as the Gilman International Scholarship, and then targeting them specifically, saying I thought they could be a good candidate for Fulbright.
• Helping students examine which particular Fulbright award was the right fit for the right reasons.
• Developing an on-campus review process that emphasized a supportive experience for students with a diverse committee of faculty and staff, many of whom were prior Fulbright alumni themselves or perhaps future Fulbright U.S. Scholar applicants.
• Conducting post-application assessments to measure students’ perspectives on how the process impacted key learning outcomes, then communicating those outcomes to the next round of prospective applicants: “Yes, Fulbright is competitive, but this will be a valuable process regardless of the outcome.”

We now find ourselves being recognized as a Top Producing Institution for the Fulbright U.S. Student Program. I attribute the work focusing on developing student self-efficacy in tandem with tangible advising practices and application procedures to have made a lasting impact. This all happened within a context of support from university leadership, a Nationally Competitive Scholarship Advisory Board, and an enthusiastic and engaged group of faculty, staff, and students campus-wide.

U.S. Fulbright

Educational Opportunities for Recently Returned Fulbrighters

May 4, 2020

By The Fulbright Program

Learning is a life-long pursuit, and life often presents individuals with unexpected challenges.

The Fulbright Program is pleased that, in response to the global pandemic, the U.S. higher education community is showing its support to Fulbrighters impacted by the global pandemic. We are grateful that a number of institutions have announced new benefits, including extending deadlines, waiving application fees, and offering financial assistance for recently returned Fulbrighters.

These benefits are meant to help Fulbright alumni continue their education and pursue their personal and professional goals. At the same time, Fulbrighters will enrich these institutions by bringing their curiosity and leadership skills to collaborate, engage, and build mutual understanding on campus and across the globe.

We’re proud to highlight the institutions which have special opportunities for returned Fulbright alumni. A current list of all participating institutions can be found here.

U.S. Fulbright

Celebrating the ADA’s 30th Anniversary: Q&A with Alumni Ambassador Alyssa Meyer

February 20, 2020

Thirty years ago, the United States became the first country in the world to adopt national civil rights legislation banning discrimination against disabled people. Since that time, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has had a profound impact both at home and abroad.

Last month, we launched our yearlong celebration of the ADA’s 30th anniversary, which will include profiles of Fulbright alumni with disabilities. This dynamic group of Fulbrighters will tell stories from their experiences abroad, offer advice to future applicants, and discuss Fulbright’s impact on their careers.

Today’s story comes from Fulbright alumna Alyssa Meyer, a 2012-2013 U.S. Student Researcher in Energy to the Kyrgyz Republic. Meyer spoke with Fulbright on her path to the program, her research, and navigating home and abroad with a disability.

Q&A with Alyssa Meyer

1. Tell us a little about your path to Fulbright. Who or what inspired you to apply?

The prospect of an opportunity like Fulbright had been on my mind for several years before I applied–largely because I wanted to seek out opportunities to use my language skills in native settings. My first exposure to Fulbright was through Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistants, who had come to the States to teach their native languages (Uzbek and Russian) at Michigan State University. My second encounter with Fulbright came the summer after my sophomore year, when I visited Berlin on my way home from a study abroad program in Turkey; there, while watching a soccer match, I met a Fulbrighter who had lost track of whether the announcer was speaking English or German. All I could think was, “Wow, I wish my language proficiency was that strong!”

The next summer, my resident adviser for a study abroad program in Tajikistan was yet another a Fulbrighter, and I was in awe of her ability to communicate in and navigate her host country. Given that I grew up in rural Northern Michigan, I can’t claim to have grown up with examples such as these, but I knew that I wanted to emulate them.

2. Tell us a little about your Fulbright research topic and project. What did a typical day as a Fulbrighter look like for you?

As a research grantee in energy to the Kyrgyz Republic, my project was focused on energy insecurity, and whether small-scale renewables could help bridge gaps in access to heat, electricity, and gas provision. My initial intent was to conduct a benefit-cost analysis in partnership with locals interested in community-level solutions to the country’s energy crisis.

I don’t think I had a typical day; I lived by a mantra to take in everything I could and talk to everyone I could–because I didn’t know whether ever get the same chances a second time. I spent five hours a week with a Russian tutor and interviewed researchers, policymakers, international organizations, and academics doing similar work. I also shared a two-bedroom apartment with a native Russian speaker from Turkmenistan, who remains one of my closest friends and travel partners to this day.

3. What advice would you give to current Fulbrighters in the field about how to get the most out of their Fulbright experience?

Be open to letting your work and your expectations of what you think you’ll accomplish evolve. For me, this happened in the most unexpected of ways: I became quite ill in the middle of my grant, and during a hospital stay, I began to see my own research from a new perspective. I don’t relay this story to wish that experience on anyone, but rather, to say that living in the very conditions I was researching taught me far more than working within a library ever could have.

Even before I got sick, I was vividly aware that my aforementioned benefit-cost analysis was far more complex than I had initially foreseen it to be. It wasn’t overly difficult for me to gain a picture of how many houses lost power in a given outage, but data as to how those outages impacted quality of life was much more complex to come by. And while I was by no means unaware of this, I was unwittingly smacked in the face with it when I experienced a power outage during a hospital visit. Even after I made a full recovery, I continued to be haunted by questions of what would have happened had I been on the operating table or on a ventilator during an outage. Eventually, this new question–the impacts of energy insecurity on quality of life–became not only the topic of my master’s thesis, but of a second grant application to return to the Kyrgyz Republic two years later.

Two years later, as a Boren fellow, the research became even more complex when I realized that what my household data was showing didn’t match the narrative being reported on the news and in political speeches. My point is: setting goals for what you’ll achieve during your Fulbright is an important piece of showing selection committees that you know what you’ll be doing when you land in your host country–but sometimes, it’s the detours you never anticipated that teach you the most.

4. What advice would you give future Fulbrighters on the application process?

Show a desire to engage with your local community. Fulbright isn’t looking for academics who never leave the ivory tower, they’re seeking applicants truly intent on promoting mutual understanding between their home and host countries. That means a willingness to engage with and challenge local stereotypes about you/your home country whenever possible, and to share those experiences when you return home.

5. What might an American/someone from your home country be surprised to hear about your host country/institution/state/etc.?

People often remark that I’ve become much more assertive after several years in the Kyrgyz Republic, but what they don’t understand is why that happened. Want to get off a bus in the Kyrgyz Republic? You’ll need to physically ask the driver to stop. Want to buy nearly anything? You’ll need to ask a seller to retrieve it for you from behind a counter or the inside of a glass case. Want to order or pay a bill in a restaurant? You’ll need to call to your waiter across a crowded restaurant. Want to receive standard medical care? You’ll need to go to a pharmacy and ask for the medicines and supplies you’ll need to purchase/bring with you, and if you can’t find something, you’ll also need to call the doctor to ask about acceptable substitutes.

My oddest “things I would have previously been terrified to do in my native language” story? Calling my veterinarian on her cell phone in the middle of the night to explain that my cat (also a Fulbright alumnus) had been vomiting and had pooped out a needle I wasn’t aware he’d swallowed. (He’s thankfully fine.)

6. What is your biggest takeaway from your Fulbright?

Few things make a person more self-aware than moving abroad alone. And for me, one of the things I’ve become most aware of by moving abroad is how often I’ve taken the Americans with Disabilities Act for granted in the United States. I have mild cerebral palsy, and–after five corrective surgeries–other than a small limp, it doesn’t drastically impact my quality of life…in the United States. I make this qualification because, while I do have worse-than-average balance going down stairs, I don’t often have to think about it in the U.S.–because of ADA requirements for railings on staircases.

Moving to Central Asia alone meant that I very quickly came to terms with the fact that I might fall going down stairs or a sidewalk in the winter (because ice isn’t cleared as readily as it is in the States). Indeed, my own struggles with uneven paths and railing-less staircases in Central Asia has shown me that I was to everything–from ATMs to pharmacies–being accessible via stairs. The years I spent in Central Asia have also shown me that people with disabilities are largely not visible within society–not because they are unable to participate, but rather, because life is just not structured in a means that is accessible for many of them.

This is a realization I do not take lightly. My life is not without its challenges and instances of outright ableism–including those who still challenge my ability to move abroad independently despite a track record of more than four years of working and researching independently in Central Asia. Nevertheless, had I not been born in the United States, it is not lost on me that I may not have been afforded the very opportunities for self-enrichment that have made me the public servant I am today.

Reach the World U.S. Fulbright

The Unexpected Mission

December 10, 2019

By Jeffrey Thiele, Fulbright U.S. Student Open Study/Research Grantee to El Salvador

As I reflect on my time as a 2018 Fulbright grantee to El Salvador, it might be easy to say that I accomplished my mission. I wanted to use my master’s degree in philosophy and health to solve a real-world problem: increasing healthcare access for Salvadorans displaced by violence by working with Cristosal, a local NGO. My grant year did give me plenty of opportunities to put theory into practice, but what I didn’t see coming, however, was the role that music would play in that journey.

When I arrived in San Salvador, I knew very little about the local political, economic, and social situation. I quickly realized that there are no quick fixes to the problems that El Salvador faces, and that I wouldn’t be able to make the sweeping changes I had anticipated going into my Fulbright. While I plugged away with the newfound perspective that I would be doing more learning than doing, another project began to occupy my nights. 

This is where Saxo Sue, my loyal, traveling saxophone, appears. Having recently fallen back in love with music during my master’s program, Saxo Sue had made the voyage with me to San Salvador, though I had little hope of finding much music there. The first month of my time with Saxo Sue incountry was spent going over old classical repertoire in the light of the evening sun. While I was making occasional improvisations and recording them, I wasn’t really moving forward musically. 

Two months in, one of my friends invited me to a gig where her friend’s boyfriend, a local trumpeter, would be playing with his group called The Zamora Brothers. I was so excited to learn that jazz was happening in the capital, and that there was such a vibrant music scene in a land where many people are still fighting for fundamental human rights. The concert got me thinking about the resilience of the arts and its unique ability to exemplify and push forward necessary human and social rights. 

In the following weeks, Pipe (pronounced “pee-peh”), the trumpet player for the Zamora Brothers, invited me to a jam session at his house with another local band, Camelo. I connected with Camelo’s leader Jorge Gómez, who said Saxo Sue and I brought the final “oomph” and tonal character that the band was seeking. I was in. 

Apart from joining Camelo as their seventh member, I became involved in about eight other music projects in and around San Salvador, including establishing my own jazz project, called Buxo Don Luis. Both Camelo and Buxo Don Luis have been getting national, and even international, recognition, and will be touring outside of El Salvador in the coming year.

My involvement and (unexpected) fame in the Salvadoran music scene has given me a wider-reaching platform from which I can share my thoughts and work on human rights and social justice. More broadly, music has been a means to not only express myself, but to advance a broader rights movement inside and outside the country. I participated in a Reach the World virtual exchange with a New Jersey elementary school classroom, where I balanced our conversations about heavy Salvadoran social issues with some improvisations with Saxo Sue. With music as the bridge, we accomplished a key Fulbright goal of building mutual understanding between cultures. 

I came to El Salvador for research, and have come away pursuing my dream of becoming a bona fide musician. Music has helped me integrate into the community in San Salvador, empowered me to meet new people, and become an authentic participant in this beautiful culture. As I grow personally and professionally, I can share the joy of music and express the urgency of the situation in El Salvador.