Connections

FEATURE

Nazareth's Fulbright Affinity

The prestigious international scholarship has helped dozens of alumni chart a global path of achievement.

by Erich Van Dussen

passport stamps

As a high school senior, Daniel Simmons '11 first visited the Nazareth College campus on a pre-admission tour. The Long Island native had traveled a fair piece to get to Nazareth that day, but his eye was caught by an acknowledgment of students who had journeyed much farther.

"I was impressed by the number of plaques hanging in Smyth Hall that were dedicated to past Fulbright grantees," he recalls, "and I noticed a fair amount of them had studied German, as I was planning to do." Later, as an undergraduate majoring in German and Spanish, he was encouraged by one of his professors to apply for a Fulbright award himself.

It's fair to say that decision changed Simmons' life forever. And the same can be said, in one way or another, for 57 other Nazareth alumni (and counting) who have earned Fulbright grants for international scholarly activity over the years.

The Immersion Effect

The Fulbright U.S. Student Program is overseen by the U.S. State Department, with the goal of increasing mutual understanding between the United States and other countries around the globe. Roughly 160 countries participate each year, and the competition for scholarships is intense. All of which makes Nazareth's extraordinary, nationally-recognized record of Fulbright scholars all the more noteworthy.

Since the program was launched in 1946 — the postwar inspiration of U.S. Senator J. William Fulbright of Arkansas — Nazareth students have shown an affinity for earning the prestigious grants. The college's total of 58 alumni honorees to date is a remarkable figure for an institution of its size. Awards are given to faculty, as well: Mark Madigan, Ph.D., a professor in Nazareth's department of English and Communications, and the College's Fulbright advisor since 2007, is one of 11 Nazareth educators who have been selected. Says Madigan, "Even students who previously have studied abroad extensively get a much deeper experience with Fulbright. You are really immersed in that culture. You're teaching with local teachers, doing research projects with local researchers, engaging in projects that can directly impact the community you're living in. It's a remarkable experience for a student, and it's a considerable achievement to earn the award in the first place."

The majority of Nazareth's student grants have been earned in the last quarter-century, with 31 recipients in the last 10 years alone — collecting passport stamps to and from Spain, Lithuania, Taiwan, Italy, Nepal, Argentina, Colombia, Finland, South Korea, and other far-flung destinations.

57

Total Fulbright Recipients
At least one Fulbright awarded to a graduate from each class year since 2003.

 

Germany, Korea ...and Tokyo

The roads to Fulbright couldn't have been more different for Jennifer Rossi '96 and Katie McFarland '12. McFarland discovered a love for German culture during a yearlong study-abroad experience as a sophomore. Going for a Fulbright award two years later represented "the perfect mix ... it combined my love of teaching and allowed me to go back to Germany."

She takes seriously the idea of a Fulbright scholar being an "unofficial ambassador" for her homeland. "For some of my students, I was the first American they had met. I was teaching there during the 2012 presidential election and I was able to show everyone my absentee ballot. It was a great way to bring current events into the classroom in a real and tangible way."

After Europe, McFarland taught English in Tokyo for a year through Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET), a program similar to Fulbright. Now her home is in the Buffalo area, teaching English as a second language to students of other languages and cultures. She says her overseas experience has helped her become a stronger teacher. "I try to create an environment where my students feel comfortable asking questions, both culturally and language-wise," she says.

For Rossi, the years since she taught English in South Korea as a Fulbright scholar in the late '90s have allowed her to reflect on that experience — including how she built on that adventure with other dynamic moves. First came the travel: While in Korea, she took advantage of time off to keep moving — from Tokyo and Hong Kong to Australia, Alaska, and Hawaii. Returning to the states, she worked as a newspaper copy editor and as a research director for an Atlanta TV station. Today, in her Syracuse-area hometown, she and her husband own rental properties and a coffee company that works with other local businesses. She's also a mom to two daughters — "a full-time job by itself," she says.

Fulbright helped pave the way for Rossi's lifetime of choices. "Going to Korea gave me the confidence to try new things. I hadn't planned to try teaching, but it was exciting — and doing that inspired me to do more. I never wanted to pass something up because I was afraid to try."

Cultural Bridge-Building

At Nazareth, Fulbright is just one dimension of a campus-wide commitment to international experiences and multiculturalism. For aspiring educator Nicole Charette '16, for instance, being able to fulfill her required undergraduate student-teacher training in Hungary was an unexpected thrill. "I had never heard of that before I got to Naz," she recalls. "It was such a wonderful experience, and it really inspired me to think about other international opportunities."

When the time came for her to head to Malaysia as a Fulbright scholar, she leveraged her earlier Hungarian experience by developing a digital pen pal project between her past and present students from those two countries. Today, she keeps that project going in an English class in her new home of West Springfield, Mass., where her students exchange handwritten letters with her former Malaysian pupils.

Fulbright advisor Madigan says those kinds of cross-cultural opportunities are hard-wired for all students into the Nazareth experience. "The College does a terrific job of offering opportunities for our students to engage in study abroad programs and other activities aimed at fostering a global perspective. Fulbright is a sort of capstone achievement, beyond the opportunities that so many of our students take advantage of during their time at Nazareth."

Madigan credits his peers on Nazareth's Fulbright Campus Committee for their contributions to the annual process of recruiting and encouraging student Fulbright applicants. The faculty committee includes Scott Campbell, Ph.D., philosophy; Timothy Glander, Ph.D., education; Heather Lewis, Ph.D., mathematics; and Nevan Fisher, Ph.D., history/political science and director of the college's Center for International Education.

Fulbright Countries

Germany (17); South Korea (7); Malaysia (4); Spain (3); Taiwan (3); Argentina (3); Colombia (2); Belgium (2); Australia (2); Lithuania; Brazil; Italy; Andorra; Nepal; Finland; Venezuela; Slovak Republic; Israel; India; Egypt; Sweden; Sri Lanka; New Zealand

A New Home

For Simmons, the journey that started with a tour of Smyth Hall led him to a Fulbright teaching assignment with gymnasium (grades 5–12) students in Rostock, Germany. Living and working in the former East Germany, he says, gave him an opportunity to hear first-hand about the evolution of the once-divided nation.

Arriving at his assignment during a period of local elections, he recalls, "I saw the stark contrast between the far-right-wing political posters on the edge of town and the far-left representation in the city center, as is often the case in eastern Germany." He also worked with teachers who had studied and taught Russian until the fall of the Berlin Wall forced them to adapt to the realities of a unified Germany.

Now, Simmons says, "I'm better equipped to live and work in an international context" — which is fortunate, because his assignment became something of a more permanent stay. Contrary to his undergrad expectations of a future career as a high school language teacher, his Fulbright experience opened his eyes to other possibilities, including staying in Europe, earning an MBA, and taking a marketing job with a Wiesbaden-based software company. In the business world, he says, "I could take advantage of my language skills and pursue a career that offered more flexibility."

He and his wife, a German native, just brought their first child home. "I get homesick at times, but I've found a good bagel place here in Berlin ... that helps bring peace to the Long Islander in me."


Erich Van Dussen is a freelance writer in Rochester, N.Y.

Fulbright Alumni

Nicole Charette '16
Jessica Tette '12
Katie McFarland '12
Josh Hurd '13
Michael Sterling '95
Shannon Bice '99
Hannah East '09
E.J. Monster '99