The U.S. Department of State has released the names of scholars who have been selected for the coveted Fulbright Scholarships, with an emphasis on the colleges and universities that produced the most successful applicants.
“When I received my letter, I was in the car with my friend, and I screamed for probably a full minute,” said Amanda Cronin, a senior at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, who was notified on February 25 that she would be placed in an English teaching program in Argentina next March.
The COVID-19 pandemic has stalled the popular visiting program as Fulbright scholars are prevented from traveling without restrictions. This year, Fulbright published a list of colleges and universities which lent intense support and advice to students while they compile the considerable documentation and time required to apply to the Fulbright program.
The scholarships are awarded to young professionals in the U.S. with a bachelor’s degree and to faculty, administrators, or researchers of U.S. institutions to participate in education and cultural exchanges around the world.
For international students, researchers and young professionals, the program brings about 4,000 Fulbright Foreign Students and Visiting Scholars to the United States from more than 160 countries worldwide each year to study, lecture, conduct research, or teach their native language in U.S. institutions of higher education, according to its website.
This year’s top research institutions that award doctoral degrees are Georgetown University in District of Columbia (39 scholars), Brown University in Rhode Island (38), Harvard University in Massachusetts (35), Princeton University in New Jersey (34), Yale University in Connecticut (32), University of Chicago in Illinois (31), New York University in New York City (29), University of Notre Dame in Indiana (29), Columbia University in New York City (28), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor in Michigan (28).
This year’s top 10 Fulbright producing institutions that award bachelor’s degrees are Bowdoin College in Maine (24 scholars), Smith College in Massachusetts (16), Middlebury College in Vermont (15), Oberlin College in Ohio (14), Amherst College in Massachusetts (13), Davidson College in North Carolina (13), Franklin and Marshall College in Pennsylvania (11), Macalester College in Minnesota (11), Williams College in Massachusetts (11) and Bate College in Maine (10).
“These experiences often lay the foundation for Fulbright and other postgraduate research proposals,” said Janice Jaffe, acting director of student fellowships and research at Bowdoin College in Maine. Students apply each year to engage in independent faculty-mentored research, she told VOA.
Margaret Lamb, the director of fellowships and postgraduate scholarships at Smith College in Massachusetts said many students at the college come from abroad and that the school’s study abroad program is robust.
“Our students see themselves as activists, change makers, and scholars,” Lamb said.
Smith College has a program named Smith’s Fulbright Fast Track, with goals of connecting faculty and staff with students and helping them design their proposals. Students can choose a host country, an English teaching assistantship or research project, and planning curriculum and study abroad projects with guidance from faculty and staff and to improve their proposals.
“The fact that so many in our community — faculty, advisers, alumnae, and peers — are familiar with Fulbright [Program] helps get candidates started on defining a personal Fulbright project and in gathering the support to prepare an application that meets the requirements of the program with rigor, creativity, and confidence,” Lamb told VOA in an email response.
The U.S. Department of State and the Institute of International Education (IIE), an exchange program, have been working with Fulbright Commissions and U.S. embassies around the world to assess when the Fulbright Scholars Program can resume.
Resumption of travel for the program will depend on travel warnings from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta and the State Department, the ability of participants to obtain visas, flight availability, the operating status of foreign host institutions, administrative resources at U.S. embassies, and the availability of local facilities to protect public health, the Fulbright Scholars website stated in October 2020.
If in-person exchanges are not possible, 2020-2021 Fulbright scholars may defer their start dates. However, once a host country has been approved for an in-person exchange, Fulbright finalists do not have the option for country re-assignments, nor can they extend beyond the year they are awarded.
For finalists that withdraw from the cycle, they will be considered a Fulbright alumni and may re-apply for future Fulbright cycles, according to the Fulbright website.
Rene Cordero is a 2020 Fulbrighter who was planning to write his dissertation about student political movements during the 1960s and 1970s in the Dominican Republic during the authoritarian regime of Joaquin Balaguer. He planned to do research in the country’s government agency, Archivo General de la Nación (General Archive of the Nation). However, Cordero’s research was impacted due to the pandemic.
“I have had to alter some of the structure of my dissertation” said Cordero, a graduate student at Brown University in Rhode Island. “It has also hindered the oral history aspects of my research.”
Allison Cheung, another 2019 Fulbright Scholar, was conducting research on the accuracy of diagnostic tests in new diseases at the University of Melbourne when the pandemic halted travel last year. She remained in Australia to continue her research, postponing her plans to attend medical school in the U.S.
“I was worried that if I stayed here [in Australia], I wouldn’t be able to go back to the U.S. in time to start medical school,” said Cheung in a video interview on the Fulbright YouTube channel. “But then I realized that this is an opportunity that I’ll probably only have once in my career, to work directly in a global pandemic.”
As a new Fulbrighter, Cronin said she understands how the pandemic has taken a toll on students who anticipated travel. “I do feel really awful for those students who weren't able to travel after working so hard,” she said in a video interview with VOA. “Because I know how intense the application processes and I mean, we're all feeling the effects of this pandemic. But this one is tough, because it is seemingly a combination of your accomplishments, and then you can’t follow through on it and demonstrate that you have the ability.”
However, Cronin remains optimistic about the future. “I don't mind at all if it is a delayed start date. Just having the award is a huge honor and [an] accomplishment in itself,” she said. “A year from now, we will hopefully be in a better place as a country here [ the U.S.]. And as a world, in general, because vaccine distribution has been increasing across the board.”