The Fulbright Grant Program

As graduation rapidly approaches, most seniors are finding that searching for a job or applying to graduate school is taking over their lives. Whether it is a short-term job or a long application to med school, most seniors don’t really want to think about “the future.” However, as I wrote about before, some students already have at least the next year figured out. For a small group of students at Midd, the Fulbright Scholarship is their ticket to countries around the world for the next year.

The Fulbright Scholarship is the “largest U.S. international exchange program offering opportunities … to undertake international graduate study, advanced research, university teaching, and teaching in elementary and secondary schools worldwide.”

I spoke with Linda Gates, coordinator of the Middlebury Fulbright applicants about the program. “The Fulbright is really appealing to Middlebury students, I think, in part because it connects to Middlebury’s cultural focus, interest in languages, and study abroad.” A ten month program, recipients are required to stay in one location abroad, doing either self-designed research, graduate study, or teaching programs. While students (and young alumni) are required to have an affiliation with usually a university or organization like an NGO, there is a significant amount of flexibility in the proposals.

I asked what advice Gates would give to students looking to apply, and she suggested (emphatically):  START EARLY. It is never too early to start thinking about the “direction you see yourself going.” Students who have a proposal built around an interest they have cultivated over time through their academics, jobs, and internships are most likely to succeed, says Gates.

Middlebury typically has a good number of recipients of the scholarship, and this year was no different, with at least six students receiving the grants. I spoke with three of the winners, Chris Hench, Jessica Bluestein, and Amelia Noble, about their proposals.

First of all, what is your major?  What activities have you participated in at Middlebury?  

Chris: I am a double major in German and economics. I have been active in most German organizations and have also played in the college orchestra and musicals as a percussionist.

Jessica: International Studies: Latin American Studies, Womens Golf, Juntos.

Amelia:  Biochemistry major with Physics and Anthropology minors. I am actively involved in the club Water Polo team, Middlebury Volunteer Ambulance Association, and Volunteering/ Working abroad with GECC.

What is your proposal for the Fulbright?

Chris: I will be doing an English Teaching Assistantship at a High School in Germany. I will facilitate conversational English and aid in cultural understanding. I also plan on doing additional volunteer work in the city.

Jessica: In order to gain a better understanding of the long-term micro-level consequences of conversion to Pentecostalism in Brazil and its correlation with combating poverty related issues, I will spend a year in the city of Rio de Janeiro, conducting life interviews with impoverished believers residing in favelas or other low-income areas.

Amelia:  My Fulbright is a research project based in Rukungiri District, Uganda. I worked in the past with GECC (Global Emergency Care Collaborative), which is involved in strengthening the emergency care systems in developing countries. One of their major projects was building an emergency department (ED) at Nyakibale Hospital in Uganda while training nurses to staff the ED. My project consists of a detailed and meticulous comparison of two hospitals: Nyakibale Hospital where this ED was created, and a sister hospital that has similar staffing and funding. I’ll be comparing patient outcomes as well as doing patient interviews to assess the success of this program and its cost-effectiveness. I’ll also be using the interviews to look into peoples’ hierarchies of resort in healthcare- how they choose when and where to seek help when they are confronted with illness.

What led you to choose this particular project?

Chris: After studying abroad in Germany my junior year, I wanted to return. This was a great opportunity to develop teaching skills and continue improving my German skills in preparation for graduate school studies in German.

Jessica: In the summer of 2006, I had the opportunity to work with a non-profit organization in a rural community in the Dominican Republic. Although the aims of the organization were strictly non-religious and I initially focused my energies towards the activities of the non-profit, I eventually found myself exploring the community’s vibrant Evangelical church, an institution whose success I found surprising in what I believed to be a predominately Catholic country. After studying abroad in Brazil and noticing the influences of Pentecostal churches in yet another traditionally Catholic country, I began researching the history of the Pentecostal movement in Latin America. During my research, I found that over the last forty years, Pentecostalism has been widely adopted by the poorest of the poor and has had astonishing success rates in providing Brazilians with immediate solutions to problems stemming from poverty. I am passionate about learning about the roots of poverty and possible solutions and I intend to use the Fulbright Fellowship to more closely examine the intersection of religion and poverty.

Amelia: I’m interested in going into the field of Global Health and am greatly concerned with the implications of growing health disparities in the developing world. I have traveled in Africa before, and saw that there was simply a lack of adequate infrastructure to make legitimate health improvements possible. Malaria and HIV have combined in this region leading to startling health statistics, such as a life expectancies hovering near 53 years old. Unfortunately, the research behind infrastructure developments is seriously lagging. I’m hopeful that the results of my study will be useful in supporting future funding and the prioritization of emergency healthcare.

What was the hardest part of the application process? Do you have any advice for students looking to apply for the scholarship next year? 

Chris: The hardest part was the length of the process. Multiple applications need to be filled out at various stages and turned in on time. The process begins around September and final decisions are not made until April or May. I would advise future applicants to find out as much information as soon as possible, which can easily be done through the college’s resources.

Jessica: I think that the strongest Fulbright applications have support from foreign academic institutions. After conducting research on Pentecostalism, I was fortunate to come into contact with a Brazilian sociologist who is currently studying Pentecostalism in Brazil. She was able to write me a letter of support and offered me a position in her post-graduate research group on religion. If I were to give advice to other Middlebury students with intentions of applying for a Fulbright, I would recommend that they develop their research proposals while they are abroad and try to make contact with someone who is willing to support their research.

Amelia: The hardest part for me was developing the research proposal. I was able to work on it as part of an independent study the semester before. I imagine if someone were applying for an ETA or a research project in a basic science lab, the process would be more straightforward. As it was, I had to really take a lot of time to pinpoint which questions I wanted to answer and how my methodology would be best suited to do this. I would advise people to do the same, and to be very clear with the goals that they are hoping to achieve with their project, both for themselves, and for the larger community.

If you are interested in the Fulbright Program, there is an information session tomorrow, Tuesday May 3rd, at 4:30 in the Library, Room 201.  

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