The Institute of International Education has named the University of Arizona a top producer of Fulbright students for the 2017-2018 academic year, marking the fifth time since 2009 that the UA has achieved that distinction.
The news comes as the UA prepares for Fulbright Week (March 19-23), when the Graduate College, Honors College and Office of Global Initiatives offer information sessions, one-on-one advising and networking opportunities for those interested in Fulbright programs.
Funded by the U.S. Department of State and administered by the Institute of International Education, the Fulbright U.S. Student Program provides grants for individually designed research projects and English teaching assistantships in more than 140 countries. The program is focused on students but also provides funding for recent bachelor's degree recipients and young professionals.
In order for a university to earn top-producer recognition, at least 10 students or recent graduates must be granted a Fulbright award for the academic year. Twelve Wildcats received awards for 2017-2018, placing the UA among the top 45 research universities in the U.S. for Fulbright students.
Seeing the World Through a New Lens
Recent UA graduate Dylan Hutchison is currently stationed at Częstochowa University of Technology in Poland as part of the Fulbright U.S. Student Program. He is using the opportunity to hone his lab skills, conduct graduate-level research and develop environmental programs in an underdeveloped region. He also is learning more about his family of origin.
"My mother was a Polish immigrant who came to the U.S. at a young age," Hutchison said. "Returning to Poland was a way for me to learn about my heritage. The program is also giving me the opportunity and platform to reach out in governmental policy spheres as well as in science. The connections I make here I hope to maintain for a lifetime."
Hutchison applied for the Fulbright Program at a turning point in his life. He graduated in the fall of 2016 with a bachelor's degree in neuroscience and cognitive science and shifted his professional trajectory from medicine to environmental science. Traveling to Poland helped him gain a better understanding of his place in the world during the critical years after graduation.
"I've learned to respect traditions, to respect cultures, the accomplishments of civilization and the struggle of every human's existence," he said. "My decision to apply for this grant was one of the best two decisions of my life — the other being applying to the University of Arizona for an undergraduate degree, of course!"
The Fulbright U.S. Student Program not only provides English teaching opportunities and funding for individually designed research projects, but also entails a broader commitment. Fulbrighters are expected to teach others about their global experiences once they return to the U.S.
"Through the Fulbright program, I am acutely aware of my inseparable identity both as an American and as a citizen of the world," Hutchison said. "I am absolutely filled with the ambition to return home to help Tucson's ongoing realization into the gorgeous, poetic city of dreams that it deserves and is destined to be."
Forming Academic Networks and Friendships
Edward Anthony Polanco, a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of History, traveled to Mexico City as part of the Fulbright U.S. Student Program. He conducted archival research for his dissertation, which examines indigenous midwives who faced trials for healing rituals that violated Catholic norms.
"Having to navigate another country's bureaucracies, academic systems and other aspects of life for 10 months was life-changing," he said. "The lessons I learned will be helpful as a professor of history. Fulbright made me more resilient and more confident in my abilities."
Polanco is using data from his Fulbright experience to complete his doctoral thesis, "The Devil's Midwives: Gender, Religion and Medicine in Central Mexico, 1575-1650," and plans to publish a book by the same name. Although he conducted ample research during his time in Mexico, Polanco points to interpersonal experiences as the main reason he recommends the Fulbright program.
"I was exposed to other Fulbrighters who were not only very intelligent, but also very passionate about different aspects of Mexico," he said. "I keep in touch with many of them and have worked with a few since our return to the U.S. I encourage people to apply for Fulbright grants because I am confident they will meet great people from the U.S. and their host country who will enrich their interests."
Polanco said the highlight of his Fulbright experience was participating in holidays and traditions with friends and their families. "It was moving and life-changing," he said. "There is no way to replicate these kinds of experiences in a book or a seminar."
Taking the UA to the World
As assistant dean for student engagement at the UA Honors College, Karna Walter works closely with students interested in highly competitive awards. Her team facilitates the Fulbright U.S. Student Program at the UA, providing outreach and support for students across campus. She recommends the program not only to honors students, but also to students from various colleges who are interested in expanding their world view.
"Fulbright is life-changing," Walter said. "You understand how to navigate an unfamiliar environment, learn new customs and different languages. It helps students learn to be adaptable and to appreciate differences. They come back enriched, ready to contribute to solving problems and creating ideas in the world."
The Fulbright program was created in 1946 under legislation introduced by U.S. Sen. J. William Fulbright. Since then, 370,000 people have participated, including international students and scholars who visit the U.S. The federal government works with other countries to shape the Fulbright program based on shared needs in an effort to strengthen bilateral relationships.
Walter also sees the program as a diplomatic tool for the UA.
"Through Fulbright, top students of our university are representing us around the globe," she said. "They go abroad not only as U.S. citizens, but also as UA citizens. They strengthen the profile of the UA as a place of distinction around the world."
The UA also has been a top producer for the Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program, having achieved that designation five times since 2009. This program provides teaching, research or consulting opportunities abroad for faculty members and administrators.
Dale LaFleur, senior director of international partnerships for the Office of Global Initiatives, acts as the UA's Fulbright scholar liaison. She participated in a Fulbright Administrator Seminar in Japan in 2013, which strengthened her ability to form meaningful partnerships with international institutions.
"We're a top research university that is home to renowned students and scholars who believe in advancing scholarship through local, regional and global networks. That's why we consistently rank among top Fulbright producers," she said. "I think our geographic proximity to the border also makes us acutely aware of global challenges facing the U.S. and the world.
"It is critical in this era that we continue the dialogue between students and scholars globally. Fulbright is the flagship program to move forward higher education relationships around the world. We need those who support the mission and purpose of Fulbright to advocate for the continuation of this program."