Fulbright scholars prove successful at U

The University has been recognized as a top producer of Fulbright Scholars.

Annalise Gall

Biomedical engineering graduate Julia Brekke left her comfort zone to research cardiovascular tissue in Germany.
Brekke is one of 14 University of Minnesota students to receive Fulbright scholarships this year, making the school the sixth-highest producer nationwide of the grant’s recipients for public schools.
The grant provides recent graduates and graduate students with the opportunity to research or participate in English Teaching Assistant Programs abroad for one year.
The high volume of recipients is a reflection of the academic quality of a University, said Alison Skoberg, the associate director of the fellowship office and graduate adviser of Fulbright applicants.
“It’s the old cliche: Success breeds success,” Skoberg said.
The competitiveness of the award has grown in recent years, Skoberg said.
“At the national level, applications have just skyrocketed,” Skoberg said. 
The University’s high number of recipients could result from the global mindset school tries to foster, something unique in the upper Midwest, said Timothy Jones, assistant program director for national and international scholarships and undergraduate adviser of Fulbright applicants. 
“Traditionally, universities and colleges here have been very strong in promoting the study of foreign languages, global studies, political science, so I think we have a base of young people who are really interested in going somewhere else and participating in other cultures,” he said. 
Global thinking is at a central part of the Fulbright program, which helps American students experience new cultures and make connections with other people, Jones said. 
“It is basically a diplomatic effort where the U.S. is sending out some 2,000 young people to represent the U.S. in these countries,” Jones said. 
Brekke said researching in Germany has allowed her to work with scholars from countries like Ireland, China, Switzerland and Colombia.
“It has been the most transformative experience of my life, as I have had to integrate the ways in which people from different backgrounds work together,” she said. 
Applying for a Fulbright is an extensive process, taking up to a year from start to finish, Skoberg said. Students spend months preparing their application and take part in workshops, advising appointments and evaluations. 
Skoberg said thorough evaluations from professors help improve an applicant’s chance of receiving the grant. However, students get a chance to revise their applications after the interviews, she said, so the evaluations aren’t the only factor weighing a student’s chances.
“[Professors] can’t just say, ‘Oh, she’s a good student,’ or even a great student. That’s a wonderful comment, but it’s certainly not going to set them apart,” Skoberg said. 
Brekke said the input she received was crucial in strengthening her application. 
“Since the people in the office are familiar with the types of proposals that get accepted, it was extremely helpful to have their input as I crafted my project proposal,” she said. 
Although the University has done well producing Fulbright scholars thus far, there is always room for improvement, Jones said.
The program — like many academic programs dating from middle of the 20th century — tends to represent a narrow demographic of students, he said. 
“One of the challenges for me is to get a lot of these underrepresented students aware of this and say, ‘Fulbright is for you,’” Jones said. 
Adriana Zabala, assistant professor in the School of Music and Fulbright committee member, agreed that the program needs to focus on increasing the diversity of applicants.
“It should be something we are always noticing and striving for, without even having to think,” she said.