NU ranks first for Fulbrights

Lark Turner

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Northwestern produced the highest number of Fulbright grant recipients of any institution in the U.S. this past year, according to the Oct. 19 edition of The Chronicle of Higher Education. The awards – 32 in total – made NU not only the top Fulbright-producing research university in the U.S., but also overall.

“We are not concerned with rankings, but it is awfully nice to be number one,” said Sara Anson Vaux, director of the Office of Fellowships.

The rankings are from Fulbright scholarships awarded to last year’s applicants, and the majority of winners are already abroad.

“It is particularly gratifying to think that Northwestern students are off around the world doing these marvelous projects,” she said.

Josef Barton, Fulbright faculty advisor and associate professor of history, advised six student Fulbright applicants. Of those six, four were awarded the grant.

“Northwestern has done quite well.” Barton said, pausing. “Well, Northwestern students have done quite well.”

From one student in Denmark studying fisheries to another in Venezuela examining a music education program, NU alumni are taking advantage of Fulbrights across the globe, said Stephen Hill, associate director of the Office of Fellowships.

The Fulbright Program is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, and annually awards more than $270 million in funds for research, graduate study and teaching opportunities across the world, according to its Web site. The fellowship attracts students from all six schools at NU, and the number of students applying has increased each year, Vaux said.

“We have so many smart, creative, talented kids on this campus, and increasing numbers of them are coming forward looking at this particular fellowship,” she said.

NU students turn to the Office of Fellowships as an integral part of the process.

Hill explained that the office advises on all external fellowships available to students. The office also holds workshops and meetings, Hill said, and provides applicants with a Fulbright faculty advisor and an advising panel to help them through the process.

Applying for the Fulbright often takes years of preparation.

“(Students) really need to think about applying long, long before they actually need the money,” Hill said, adding that students should start thinking about applying at the beginning of their junior year.

Fulbright Faculty Advisor William Reno, associate professor of political science, explained that part of his role is helping students make contacts overseas, although, “usually it’s something they’ve already done.”

Reno reads students’ proposals, advises them over the summer and helps with revisions. “I try to coach them to get it into a language that is the most familiar to the reviewers,” he said. “What I want to do is help them package their ideas in a way that will help them win.”

Jessica Abels, who applied for the Fulbright this year, said she found the Office of Fellowships to be an invaluable resource during the application process.

“I wish I had walked into their doors freshman year,” she said. The Medill senior added that the Office’s communication and advisors helped her develop not just a Fulbright proposal, but focus her passion.

She praised students who apply for the grants, but emphasized the role of the Office of Fellowships in the student advising process.

“I think (last year’s success) is a testament to the quality of the students of the school, but it’s also a real testament to the Office of Fellowships and the amazing work that they do,” Abels said.

Barton has been a Fulbright faculty advisor for about nine years, he said, and has advised many Fulbright winners.

“It’s a measure of the excellence of the students,” he said. “I expect this year we have a record number of applicants and we will have many winners out of this year’s group, too.”

Vaux said NU students should take note of all that a Fulbright scholarship offers as well as the resources provided by her office.

“We are (students’) advocates,” she said. “You’re a Fulbright scholar forever. It’s not just the one year you spend abroad.”