Every year, Washington State University welcomes dozens of students and scholars from across the globe in partnership with the prestigious Fulbright Program. In turn, the university sends out its own ambassadors, who go on to study and teach at institutions the world over.
It’s a commitment to international relationship building that now is drawing high-level attention.
Earlier this year, for example, the university was recognized as one of the nation’s top producers of Fulbright Scholars, with seven WSU faculty members being selected.
Many Fulbright students and scholars learned about the opportunity through the WSU Fulbright Academy. Its mission is to provide interested students and faculty ways to participate in cultural exchange, with the hope that many will apply for Fulbright awards and visit host institutions globally. This in turn opens up new research and teaching collaborations, bolstering WSU’s worldwide presence in the process.
The academy also helps provide opportunities for visiting students and scholars to feel welcomed at WSU and to share their experiences within the community. The networking for visitors as well as local faculty and students is considered a significant benefit to the university system, and helps expand the teaching and research interests of WSU as well as the U.S. State Department.
While its planned spring celebration event was postponed due to COVID-19, the academy continues to offer assistance to students and faculty and is looking ahead to the opportunities in the fall.
“International Programs and the Provost’s Office are focused on ensuring those applying for Fulbright awards know as much as they can about the process, as well as getting the word out about events and opportunities,” Erin-Kae Rice, director of external affairs for Global Research and Engagement, said.
One of the ways the academy generates interest is through allowing past Fulbright scholars to speak about their experiences. Dan Dolan, a professor of civil and environmental engineering in the Voiland College of Engineering and Architecture, has become a major proponent of the program and its myriad opportunities since his stint as a Fulbright scholar in Chile.
Dolan has received two Fulbright awards to do advising work in Chile. During his first tenure, he helped introduce timber to the Chilean Transportation Network for refurbishing bridges.
“It’s a big deal for countries with tight budgets trying to keep their infrastructure going,” Dolan explained.
On his second visit 10 years later, in 2018, he helped write new building codes for social housing. The goal was to encourage the government to build less expensive housing with lower operating costs due to improved energy efficiency and lower the financial barrier for would-be homeowners.
“These kinds of programs get families out of poverty by allowing them to build equity in a house, so that when they die and inheritance is received by the children, it represents seed money to start,” Dolan said. “It’s the second generation that really benefits from these efforts.”
Dolan is one of many WSU faculty who were aided in their quest to make a difference abroad by Mushtaq Memon, an emeritus professor of the College of Veterinary Medicine.
Getting the academy off the ground
About a decade ago, Memon, having served as a Fulbright scholar in Oman, was selected to serve as an ambassador for the program. It led him to think about how WSU could do more to encourage faculty and students to apply for Fulbright awards, as well as recognize scholars from abroad working and studying at the university.
“I saw that so many outstanding faculty and scholars came from so many countries every year to WSU’s campus, but rarely anyone from outside their own department knew they had come to study here,” Memon said. “It was the same for our people who went to work and study in other countries and came back.”
In 2011, several WSU faculty including Memon and Rice formed a working group focused on giving Fulbright scholars a platform to talk about their work. It was their hope that viewers would then be inspired to apply for Fulbright awards themselves.
These events, as well as social gatherings organized by the Fulbright Academy and its partners – the Fulbright Student Association and the Eastern Washington / North Idaho Chapter of the Fulbright Association – promote cultural exchange and build understanding and cooperation between academics from around the world.
“Cultural exchange is central to the mission of Fulbright, rather than being secondary to academic exchange,” Keri McCarthy, a professor of oboe and music history who serves as the advisor to the Fulbright Student Association, said.
At any given time, the Distinguished Scholars Program at WSU is helping a dozen students attending the university’s campuses with applications for prestigious recognitions, including Fulbright.
“We’re helping students think about why they’re applying for specific scholarships, as well as helping them write applications, which usually involves eight to 12 drafts,” said April Seehafer, the program’s director. “We’re having conversations about what their goals are, why the location they are going for is the right one, what kinds of partnerships they are seeking, and why scholarship committees should choose them.”
By the time Seehafer arrived at WSU in 2016, Memon and most of the other Fulbright Academy founders had retired or left the university. She and others sought to renew interest in Fulbright by organizing information sessions.
“I think the more faculty know about Fulbright opportunities, the more likely they are to engage with their students and encourage them to look into those opportunities,” Seehafer said.
Rachel Halverson, a past Fulbright Academy organizer who also works with the regional Fulbright Association chapter, believes WSU has a strong incentive to support and foster the development of its academy.
“Fulbright scholars are great for universities,” she said. “It’s not a one-way street; Fulbright is about bringing scholars to our campuses as well, fostering exchange that’s so important. You don’t conduct research or teach in isolation, and so the benefit from working with people from different parts of the world or going to different parts of the world is tremendous.”
For more information on Fulbright Academy and ways to get involved, visit the International Programs website.