Fulbright celebrates 50 years of learning

Brian Bakst

In 1968, 37-year old Nils Hasselmo set off for his native country, Sweden, to conduct bilingualism research funded by a Fulbright Scholarship.
Without the scholarship, which the University president credits with helping further develop his teaching skills, Hasselmo may not have been able to visit Sweden under the same circumstances.
The Fulbright Scholarship Program celebrated its 50th birthday Thursday. It has sponsored more than 200,000 students, teachers and researchers from more than 140 countries to share in experiences similar to Hasselmo’s. But the amount of funding the program should receive has recently been debated.
The program began at the end of World War II, when Sen. J. William Fulbright, D-Ark., envisioned a more peaceful world through cooperative study and research. Fulbright saw the scholarship program as a way to encourage people of different nations to work together and introduced it to Congress. President Harry Truman signed the bill that started the program 50 years ago today.
Since 1946, the program has cost almost $1.5 billion. Many senators in Congress have tried to reduce or eliminate funding for the program during the past few years.
The program is slated to receive $104.8 million in federal funding this year, almost $20 million less than its 1995 appropriation. The remaining 46 percent of the program’s budget comes from foreign governments and private donations.
Hasselmo said the cost of the program is a modest investment for all it provides. He said the understanding people gain about other nations through the program outweighs its cost.
Although the University does not directly take part in the selection of Fulbright scholars, 10 University students took advantage of the scholarship last year.
People interested in the scholarship must complete a 10-page application, including a statement of intent, and interview with a faculty board. The applications are then forwarded to a national Fulbright committee, which makes candidate suggestions to host countries.
The typical Fulbright Scholarship lasts nine months but is often extended. There is no set date for scholarship projects to begin, and start dates are staggered throughout the year.
Hasselmo vividly remembers the day he arrived in Sweden to start his Fulbright-sponsored research.
Hasselmo said the day he got to Europe, Russian soldiers entered Czechoslovakia to quash a Czechoslovakian bid for independence. “It sent shock waves through Europe.”
Hasselmo said he had no formal plans to celebrate the program’s anniversary, but would say to Sen. Fulbright if he were still alive: “Thank you Sen. Fulbright for creating this program that enhances world peace.”