UMass named a top producer of Fulbright scholars

By Marie MacCune

(Andy Castillo/Daily Collegian)
(Andy Castillo/Daily Collegian)

For the second year in a row, the University of Massachusetts was dubbed a top producer of Fulbright scholars among other research institutions in the United States, according to a University press release. All eight graduates who applied for the grant were chosen, along with six undergraduate students, stated the release. The Fulbright U.S. Student Program funds graduate and undergraduate students conducting research or teaching English abroad.

According the program’s website, “The program currently awards approximately 1,900 grants annually in all fields of study, and operates in more than 140 countries worldwide.”

Susan Whitbourne, the University’s official Fulbright program advisor, works with UMass students interested in the scholarship throughout the application process.

“I would stack up students from UMass with anyone anywhere and see them as an incredibly strong candidate,” she said.

“UMass has a great track record with Fulbright, we kind of know what we’re doing. If you give us enough lead time, you’ll be surprised how competitive an application you can build,” she continued. “Fulbright knows us.”

Whitbourne has served on the national screening board five times and attributes knowing the system as key in advising potential scholars.

In terms of competitive applications, Whitbourne said that the University had the best ratio of applicants to awardees out of any research institution – 46:13. The 14th awardee, graduate student Jacob Carter, won the Fulbright-Clinton Public Policy Fellowship, which is not included in the Fulbright scholarship ratio.

Whitbourne encourages any students to pursue a Fulbright. She added that, students are surprised that they “get so much out of the process of just applying like resume building, recommendations, interviewing skills and more.”

As to what this honor means for the University, Whitbourne said that UMass is “trying to internationalize our undergraduate program and producing so many scholars is consistent with that.”

Alyssa Maraj Grahame is one of the eight UMass graduate students selected for a Fulbright scholarship. She is a political science PhD candidate currently conducting research in Iceland.

In a Skype interview, Grahame said that she is in her fourth year of the program and is focusing on doing research for her dissertation on the consequences of the 2008 financial crisis.

“What got me interested was that people here not only criticized the banks for running the country into the ground, they were sort of having a broader discussion, you know, saying ‘This was a real lapse in democracy,’” she said. “So I was interested in the connection between the financial, economic crisis and people’s attitudes toward the political system in which they live.”

She described her project, saying, “I’m affiliated with the University of Iceland. I’m doing a lot of interviews with government officials, political parties, activists, with individuals and organizations in sectors of the economy involved in the economy. As well as writers and cultural critics. Just a variety of stakeholders in addressing the recovery.”

Research has always been a focus for Grahame.

“I knew that I wanted to do field research for my dissertation and that Fulbright is a really good way to fund that,” she said. “And not to mention, it’s a really big honor to be selected for one.”

However, she didn’t think she would manage to receive one. Grahame cites strong support from the political science department and Office of National Scholarship advising as helping her achieve success.

According to Grahame, the application process involves intensive planning close to a year in advance.

She added that, “One of the trickier parts of the application is the personal statement.”

Opposed to the project proposal that outlines what the project is, she explained, “It’s where you have to say this is my project to do.”

Grahame acknowledged some of the challenges of doing research overseas, saying, “On a professional, academic level, it’s the first time I’m out on my own. I’m away from my advisors, my fellow graduate students. I try to handle that by checking back in, staying connected, taking advantage of the academic connections here and forging new alliances with fellow field workers.”

On a logistical level, she said, “I’m a graduate student with a family, so getting my partner and my son here was tricky and it took a while for it all to work out and get everyone’s visa in order. But, it was worthwhile and everyone’s here and happy now and having a really good time.”

Grahame plans to apply for a National Science Foundation grant to continue her work upon return to UMass in the fall, adding that, “Research is always ongoing.”

 Marie MacCune can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @MarieMacCune.