Scholars place 4th in grants

Nathalie Tadena

For many Northwestern students, an interest in global studies is one that cannot be sated within Evanston.

Twenty-four NU scholars were awarded the prestigious Fulbright scholarship to study abroad in 2008, the university announced last week. Though one student declined the scholarship in favor of another grant, NU boasts the fourth-highest number of Fulbright Scholars among all research institutions in the country, behind the University of Michigan and Yale and Brown universities. Last year, NU was ninth in the country with 15 students accepting grants.

“It isn’t about the number of winners,” said Sara Vaux, director of the Office of Fellowships. “We like being number four; it feels good. But it’s also an endorsement of the quality of education here at Northwestern.”

The Fulbright scholarship is a long-standing program funded by the U.S. Department of State to promote exchange between the U.S. and foreign countries. Graduate students, college graduates and undergraduate seniors are eligible to apply. Fulbright scholars are sent to more than 150 countries for one year to work on a project in a variety of disciplines. Many choose to conduct advanced research, teach English in schools or study in a foreign institution.

This year’s NU recipients are assigned to countries including Zambia, South Africa, China, Kuwait and Germany.

Stephen Hill, associate director of the Office of Fellowships, said there is no typical Fulbright project.

“Students bring to Northwestern their own interests and have their own experiences molded,” Hill said. “They get their ideas (for projects) 90 percent from class and 10 percent from their interest in the world.”

Receiving the Fulbright scholarship is not a simple feat, and neither is the application process.

It takes approximately six months for students to draft a solid proposal. Applicants often design projects based on what they perceive are the needs of a particular country, and must thoroughly research their country and topic, Vaux said.

Chandler Robinson, Weinberg ’06, received a Fulbright scholarship to complete his master’s degree in international health economics and health policy at the London School of Economics.

“I kept hearing that it is very difficult to pick up skills and knowledge outside of clinical medicine that you don’t go in with,” said Robinson, now a first-year medical student at Stanford University. “Since my long-term interest is health system structuring, it was very important to me that I enter medical school with an understanding of how different health care systems around the world operate.”

Robinson said his research on medical errors in different health care systems will help enrich his education at medical school.

Last month, the Office of Fellowships helped about 90 students send in proposals to the Fulbright program. In addition to workshops and support provided by the Office of Fellowships, Vaux attributed the success of NU students to a growing interest in international studies. Expanding study abroad programs, majors in fields such as global health and other opportunities to send students overseas build a foundation for proposal ideas, she said.

After completing their year abroad, many NU Fulbright scholars enter graduate school, publish their research or apply for additional grants to further their work, Robinson said.

“One thing that many of us have in common though is probably a strong passion for the activities we do decide to undertake,” he said.

Hill, also a past Fulbright scholar, said receiving the scholarship is beneficial in the long run.

“A Fulbright scholarship on your resumé has a long half-life,” Hill said.

Reach Nathalie Tadena at [email protected]