Fulbright scholar program enhances international research

by Elizabeth Dunbar

Alan Ek’s experience as a Fulbright scholar in Finland enhanced research between the countries and at the University’s department of forest resources.

Ek explained to approximately 40 faculty members at a workshop Tuesday that a Fulbright grant can mean continued collaboration between researchers in different countries.

Ek traveled to the University of Helsinki in 1997 and has since continued working with Finnish researchers. Six of Ek’s faculty members have spent time in Finland, and Ek has organized joint projects involving faculty and graduate students from both countries.

“There’s no reason that the visit is the end of the contact,” Ek said. “I think the opportunities for follow-up are really great.”

Ek said he wanted to go to Finland because it was an area of the world that was advanced in his field of natural resource research.

“I wanted to go to (a country) where I was sort of a student and not just an educator,” Ek said.

Francis Harvey, a geography professor, said though he has traveled a lot, the Fulbright programs interest him because they are longer – ranging from two weeks to one year.

“I would really like to go for a chance to develop a deeper interaction with people there,” Harvey said.

Kathleen Sellew, who coordinated the information session, said approximately five University faculty members from a broad range of fields receive Fulbright grants each year and more come to the University from other countries.

“There’s a good mix of fields represented,” Sellew said, explaining that the University has had Fulbright scholars in everything from mechanical engineering to women’s studies and in countries from Qatar to Iceland.

“I think it shows that even at a public research institution people can take time to do work abroad,” she said.

Kayt Erdahl, a representative of the Fulbright program, said it started in 1946 as a product of World War II. Erdahl said its main purpose is to promote cultural exchange, but it has many more benefits for participants.

Victoria Coifman, a professor of African-American and African studies and history, said she benefited from the new perspectives the grant afforded her.

Coifman spent 18 months in the West African country of Guinea lecturing and researching slave-trading sites.

“Everything was a total surprise from the way people live to what I was able to do there,” said Coifman, who returned in December 2001. “It opened a whole new perspective for me.”

Elizabeth Dunbar covers international affairs and welcomes comments at [email protected]