UI surges in Fulbright scholars

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UI surges in Fulbright scholars

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A record-breaking 15 UI students were awarded Fulbright Scholar Grants in 2016-17.

By Isabella Senno

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Recently, the University of Iowa has been named a top producer of Fulbright students for the 2016-17 year by the Chronicle of Higher Education. With a record-breaking 15 individuals being selected by the program, 12 of whom accepted the grant, this marks the second-consecutive year that the university has gained the elite label.

“The Fulbright scholarships are a great opportunity for students to take what they’ve learned here and expand that knowledge through cultural experience abroad, whether it’s teaching or research or a combination of those two things,” said Downing Thomas, a UI associate provost and the dean of International Programs. “It’s really part of that global mindset and cultural competency that students can develop.”

The program is also highly beneficial to the university, boosting its reputation as a top research institute. With 12 out of 36, or one-third of the applicants being accepted for this past year, that placed the UI sixth in terms of national ranking among research institutions. It is tied with the University of California- Berkeley, Duke University, and George Washington University.

“From the perspective of the institution,  I think it testifies to the strength of the preparation that we provide the students, and they’re prestigious awards,” Thomas said. “They’re national awards, they’re highly competitive, and so it brings prestige and recognition that the UI is an excellent institution of higher education.”

The talented 12 individuals represent the university and the United States in Bulgaria, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Côte d’Ivoire, Japan, Jordan, Russia, and Taiwan. Through their research work, creative projects, and time as English teaching assistants, they also maintain a mutual cross-cultural dialogue among the United States and foreign nations.

“I feel that Fulbright strives for the idea of creating citizen ambassadors for the United States who work for mutual understanding abroad, and one of the goals for Fulbright is to have diversity among all the students that represent the United States and to have conversation and meaningful exchanges with people of all countries,” said Karen Wachsmuth, the associate director of international fellowships. “One of the qualifications for our students is to be able to perform that role.”

These students are among the top of their class, all sharing some common key characteristics.

“They usually stand out because they’re certainly good students, but they often have very interesting ideas. They want to pursue projects that are original, novel, and take them to sometimes strange places,” said Christopher Squier, a Fulbright faculty mentor.  “I think almost all of them are natural ambassadors for this country, and that’s important because that’s something they’re expected to do.

“They’ve got to talk about the USA in other countries, and all of them are well- equipped to do that.”

The students may become more invaluable than ever as international relations begin to heat up at the federal level.

“In a time of posturing, outrageous statements by leadership, downright untruths, continual changes in position, I think that makes it more important than it has been for a long time,” Squier said. “In our present political climate, it is more important than ever that people living in other countries can actually hear the voices of our students and our young people and hear the voices of some of the best of those discussing rationally what the U.S. is about, because there is so much misinformation about it now so this probably a very critical time for the role of Fulbright.”

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