This article was originally published on the UConn Today Web site on August 20, 2012.
By: Stephanie Reitz
UConn faculty travel, teach, and conduct research as Fulbright Scholars.
Released from teaching schedules and deadline pressures, scores of University of Connecticut educators have followed their academic curiosity to every corner of the globe over the decades under the renowned Fulbright Scholar Program.
The program, which also sends UConn students on international study fellowships and has brought dozens of overseas researchers to Storrs, has been a key part of UConn’s engagement in global research, the world economy, and cross-cultural relationships.
More than 170 UConn professors have received Fulbright awards since the government-sponsored program was established in 1946, including six who studied in 2011-12 in Europe and Asia, with others heading to spots around the world this fall.
Research and lecture topics have ranged from the geology of earthquake-prone areas in Taiwan to public health practices in Belgium, student journalism in Romania, and theatrical lighting design in Russia.
Faculty say they share a sense of gratitude for the opportunity to live and work in the midst of the regions on which they have focused years of scholarship and bring those lessons back to UConn, passing them along to students and peers.
“It’s such a rare gift to students and scholars, to artists and writers and researchers, to be able to pursue the topics that really fascinate you. The Fulbright is a very freeing, liberating grant in that way,” says Alexis Dudden, a history professor in UConn’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and a 2009-10 Fulbright scholar in Niigata, Japan.
The Fulbright program started in 1946 to promote understanding between U.S. citizens and people in other countries in the name of peace, education, and mutual prosperity. The program now operates in 155 countries with fellowships that range from two weeks to 12 months, generally accompanied by funding to cover travel and living expenses for the awardee and his or her dependents.
In the 2009-10 academic year, UConn’s tally of six Fulbright Scholar award winners placed it in the top 10 among U.S. research institutions in terms of the number of faculty selected.
Narasimhan Srinivasan, an associate professor of marketing in the School of Business, says one major benefit of the Fulbright program is that it allows scholars to discover the many things they have in common with people in other nations.
“When you have a global outlook and begin to see those commonalities in people, it becomes much easier to communicate and work together,” he says.
Srinivasan visited Canada as a Fulbright Kahanoff Fellow in 2000. As a Fulbright Senior Specialist in Peru in 2008 and 2011, he has also built professional relationships with counterparts abroad.
“As we continue to globalize, our economic self-interest will depend more and more on what the rest of the world does,” he says. “We cannot afford to be isolationist … just as the rest of the world has an economic interest in what is going on in America.”
Like other Fulbrighters, Srinivasan takes his lessons back to the classroom and into his research. He is also an unofficial ambassador to international Fulbright award holders who come to UConn, inviting them to serve as guest lecturers in his classes.
Fulbright links can last for decades. Steven Wisensale, a professor of human development and family studies in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, still hears from people he met during a 2003 fellowship in Germany and 2006 fellowship in the Czech Republic.
“The benefits certainly went beyond the fellowship trips themselves. I was able to incorporate both of my experiences into my teaching back here at UConn,” says Wisensale.
The family-friendly aspect of the Fulbright awards has been another special feature for researchers, giving them a chance to introduce their children to new cultures and worldviews.
Dudden was able to take along her then-4-year-old son, Julian, as what she jokingly calls her “junior research partner” during her 2009-10 fellowship in Japan. She and her son were back there on vacation a year later visiting friends and former colleagues, when the massive earthquake hit the country on March 11, 2011, triggering a deadly tsunami that killed nearly 16,000. Although they were out of the danger zone, that experience and others that Dudden has had on return trips since her Fulbright year have provided immeasurable insights she’s been able to pass along to her students and incorporate in her research.
Those deeply personal experiences stay with UConn’s Fulbrighters just as vividly as their time in other universities’ classrooms or research libraries.
Manisha Desai, an associate professor of women’s studies and sociology in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, spent 2010-11 in the western India state of Gujarat, studying rural social movements.
For Desai, a native of India and former director of UConn’s women’s studies program, her Fulbright trip gave her the chance to follow the lives and burgeoning activism of rural farmers and residents.
That meant spending up to 12 hours at a stretch jostling on crowded trains to reach remote corners of the province or bouncing along with strangers in the minivans that operate as de facto taxis.
Book research also never could have taken the place of one special experience that Desai recalls: Walking about 45 miles through the countryside with rural farmers on their 200-mile march to Gujarat’s state capital to protest a plan that would damage the reservoirs on which their livelihoods depend.
Now, when Desai tells her classes about activism in rural India, she can clearly envision and describe those long miles and weighty conversations with the activist farmers, who eventually won a court victory to save the reservoirs and surrounding land from being transformed into a cement factory site.
Desai currently is putting the finishing touches on a new book based on her research and this fall, will pass along many of her Fulbright experiences to students in her Sociology of Development class.
“When people think of India, they may hear about it as a fast-growing part of the global economy with its new middle class, or they may hear of the 300 million who are really poor,” she says.
“You hear this kind of contrast, but what you don’t hear is that of the 300 million people, there are some who are organized and who are challenging the new model of development and, in many cases, achieving victories,” she says. “That’s what I was given the opportunity to learn about and witness.”