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Scranton’s Fulbright Story Has Many Settings Worldwide

Scranton’s Fulbright Story Has Many Settings Worldwide
Each flag indicates a country where a University of Scranton graduate has studied through the Fulbright Scholarship program – administered by the Institute of International Education. World domination? We’re close. We’re up to 46 countries right now.

It’s the Person, Not the 4.0, that Earns a Fulbright 

One of the original companions of St. Ignatius of Loyola once said, “Our home is the road,” explaining that a Jesuit’s place is “in the streets, mobile, and ready to go serve the Church and Gospel wherever we’re needed.”

Jesuits – and those who follow in their teachings – must always be willing to move on, to leave one’s community to broaden their own horizons.

For four decades, University of Scranton graduates have made this charge their own, crisscrossing the globe to places such as Germany, Singapore and South Korea, thanks in part to their success garnering Fulbright scholarships. In recent years, through these national grants, Scranton graduates have taught English in a boarding school in Indonesia, researched HIV tests in Kenya, and studied the roles of women and access to water in the development of Morocco’s rural villages, among a multitude of other projects.

The U.S. government’s premier scholarship for overseas graduate study, research and teaching, the Fulbright program has a figurative soft spot for Scranton graduates. Since 1972, 139 Scranton students – nearly 3.5 recipients a year – have accepted grants in the competitions administered by the Institute of International Education.

“Those are remarkable numbers for any master’s-level or undergraduate school,” says Susan Trussler, Ph.D., an associate professor of economics/finance and Fulbright Program Adviser at Scranton since 1989. In fact, The Chronicle of Higher Education has listed the University as one of the top producers of Fulbright awards for American students for the past seven years. Why only seven years? Because the ranking didn’t exist beforehand, points out Dr. Trussler.1

How can Scranton’s Fulbright success be explained? With a fish metaphor, of course. As Dr. Trussler spells out every year to hopeful recipients on the onset of the application process, “They don’t give Fulbrights to dead fish.”

“We work hard during this process, and we are fortunate to have highly motivated students,” Dr. Trussler translates.

No Simple Formula for Success

Let’s get this out of the way right now, there is no surefire formula for Fulbright success, according to Dr. Trussler. 

Fulbright scholarship hopefuls work for months on applications, and even if they are completed to the best of their ability, the students are still likely to receive a letter that begins with, “I regret.”

The yearlong process begins each April as Dr. Trussler hosts information sessions, which draw approximately 100 students a year.2 From there, 20-30 students – not counting ones studying aboard – attend a hands-on workshop the following month.

During the summer months, Dr. Trussler and Fulbright hopefuls meet regularly in person and trade emails and phone calls, perfecting the student’s research proposal and personal statement. “It is not unusual for them to do 12-15 drafts of each statement and essay,” she says. “Writing about yourself can be difficult, and these essays have to be interesting. The national committee is going to read hundreds of these.”

In addition to their two essays, three letters of reference, an affiliation letter from a faculty member at a prospective foreign university – if they are completing a research grant – and transcripts, the students must ace their interview with the Campus Fulbright Committee, consisting of select Scranton faculty. There’s a language requirement, too.3

The students’ materials are finally submitted in mid-October, and they are left waiting until January, when the national finalists are notified. After the finalists are named, the final decisions are made in the host country and aren’t announced until March at the earliest, but more commonly in April and May.

Last year, more than 9,000 applicants applied for Fulbrights, with seven University of Scranton students and graduates advancing as national finalists. Of those seven, four were selected for Fulbright U.S. Student Program scholarships.4

Rebecca Bartley ’11, currently serving a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship in Malaysia, called Dr. Trussler’s involvement in the application process invaluable. 

“Dr. Trussler was critical to my winning the scholarship,” Bartley says. “She has a way of pinpointing what each country is looking for in terms of applicants, and molds the student into exactly what that country needs.”

Knowing Your Competition 

In any contest, it’s an advantage to know your opposition. In the Fulbright selection, you don’t have that luxury.

“We don’t know what the competition is,” Dr. Trussler explains. “You don’t know anything about the other applicants.”

What Dr. Trussler does know is that a 4.0 doesn’t always get a student a Fulbright, “and that surprises some people.”

“You have to be engaged – engaged in your research and engaged in the local community,” she says. Students involved in community service, volunteering, music, theater, The Aquinas, the Leahy Center and student government turn more heads than someone with just an outstanding GPA.

“Our students have always been strong academically, but also in their commitment to community service and interaction with the local community,” Dr. Trussler says. “That makes them stand out.”

She then points out that being “well-rounded, well-prepared and willing to work will make these students successful in a lot of areas.”  

Footnotes:

1 The University’s success in Fulbrights was recognized as far back as 1983, when the late Senator J. William Fulbright, founder of the Fulbright Program, visited campus to receive an honorary degree. During his address, the senator hailed Scranton’s Fulbright successes as an “impressive achievement.”

2 All University students are welcome to attend the informational session. However, according to Fulbright restrictions, a student can’t receive a grant until the day they obtain a bachelor’s degree.

3 If a student is headed to Croatia or another country that requires a language assessment, the University must find a speaker to test the student’s aptitude. “Nije jednostavan zadatak” – that means “no easy task” in Croatian.

4 This year’s Fulbright scholarship recipients are Ellen (Maggie) Coyne ’12, Kathleen Lavelle ’12, Nicole Linko ’12 and Anna DiColli ’10. It should be noted that C.J. Libassi ’10 also won a Fulbright this year, though he applied in the “at large” category.

Our Graduates Share Their Fulbright Experiences

Rebecca Bartley ’11 – Malaysia

What was your Fulbright position and what were your responsibilities?

As a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant (ETA) in Malaysia, I teach English to primary school students with an emphasis on conversation skills. My other responsibilities are to promote an exciting atmosphere in which to learn English and build the students’ interest in the English language by hosting clubs, camps and other fun activities.

My Fulbright was an interesting experience because …

The primary school I teach at is in a very rural area. The Malaysian language is the common language used, so many of my students struggle with English. That does not discourage my students, who are very eager to speak with me. They are always excited to have me in their class and participate with great exuberance. They have made me feel like a bit of a celebrity since no matter where I go I hear “Miss Becky!” as my students wave and giggle. And like most celebrities, I get my share of “fan mail” that they leave on my desk. One activity I really enjoyed was having my Pen Pal Club students Skype with their pen pals across the globe in New Jersey. They talked about the things they had in common: sports, football (soccer), and music, Justin Bieber. 

Mary Elise Lynch ’10 – KENYA

What was your Fulbright position, and what were your responsibilities?

I launched a quality assurance/quality control program for HIV testing at Kombewa District Hospital and its satellite health facilities in western Kenya. The program facilitated collection of samples from the tested population, and I used these samples to explore the possible causes of frequent false positive results on the HIV rapid tests through more specific laboratory techniques, such as ELISA and Western blot. 

I loved my Fulbright experience because ...

It gave me the opportunity to interact with people of a different culture on a level that I never had on previous trips to developing nations. In Kombewa, Kenya, I was perhaps the only foreigner, but in the eyes of the local population I was a friend. My Kenyan colleagues taught me the beauty of patience through the proverb “haraka haraka haina baraka,” which translates to “hurry, hurry has no blessings” – a saying that stays with me today. Spearheading a project in HIV research as a recent university graduate was no small feat. Like the local infrastructure, I encountered many bumpy roads during my grant period. In traversing these bumps, I recognized my resilience as a researcher. I likewise matured as an individual, and would not hesitate in recommending the Fulbright program to other eager and willing students in the future.

Gian Vergnetti ’08 – United Arab Emirates

What was your Fulbright position, and what were your responsibilities?

My research focused on 1) the Masdar Initiative, a primary component of Abu Dhabi’s plan to diversify away from oil and transition to a low-carbon, knowledge-based economy, and 2) the evaluation of market-based solutions to water resource scarcity and degradation in the UAE and Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries.

I loved my Fulbright experience because ...

It has transformed my perception and facilitated a unique awareness in me
that never would have been possible without it.

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