For the past two years I have had the great privilege of representing the Fulbright Scholar program as a Fulbright Alumni Ambassador. I’m not sure how I was asked to be part of this outreach program but I know I enjoyed every minute of it. I heard of it on Twitter. As an Ambassador I've visited over 20 colleges and universities and presented on behalf of Fulbright at two conferences where I tell my own Fulbright story, give some Fulbright Scholar program historical and background information and provide logistical facts like the application timeline and whom to call with questions. The running total of people I met with or who heard me speak was over 500, the conferences helped boost that number. Like during my Fulbright, I did a lot of documenting!
The Alumni Ambassador outreach program started several years ago with the goal of increasing the number of applications to the Scholar program. Who knew that they wanted more applications!? But it wasn’t just more applications, it was that Fulbright was looking for a broad range of applicants. For lack of a better word, they were and are looking for a diversity of applications and applicants. Applications from across the country, from up and down the academic ranks (from full professors to adjuncts to non-tenure track administrators), and from places of higher learning outside the typical four-year college, places like community colleges and technical schools. Though I said that I don’t know why I was asked to participate as an Alumni Ambassador, I can venture a guess. I’m an atypical Fulbright Scholar in that I was not ever in my career on the tenure track. I do not have a PhD. When I won my award I was in the central computing group working as an academic technologist at a small liberal arts college. The year I applied for the Fulbright, I looked at the eligibility requirements and soon realized that I had the cumulative higher education teaching experiences and enough research papers to be a viable Fulbright candidate and in 2009-10, for 11 months, I lived a dream life as a Fulbright Scholar at the University of the West Indies in Barbados.
When I was asked to be an Alumni Ambassador and heard the mission of the program, my own not-so-hidden agenda was to spread the word amongst people like myself, alternative academics essential to the teaching and learning campus vision but not often on the "faculty" email lists. Sometimes the research librarians are on those campus faculty email lists but almost never is someone in IT, even though that someone is, for all intents and purposes, an academic. As a Fulbright Alumni Ambassador when I was invited to a college or university to come speak about the Fulbright, I would make sure the academic technologists knew of the talk and knew that they were invited to come. I wrote a blog post for EDUCAUSE Online speaking to the community of academic technology professionals (and the CIOs and deans) who are members of that higher ed technology-supporting community. I gave posters at EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative (ELI) and at North East Regional Computing (NERCOMP) annual conferences, targeting academic technologists and encouraging them to consider a Fulbright as a unique professional development opportunity. As David Leonhardt recently wrote in the New York Times, U.S. higher education has become, especially at the elite colleges, globalized. I argue that higher educators benefit enormously from international experiences if only for a critical awareness of a life lived outside of the U.S. but certainly to bring that awareness back home to our students and colleagues.
Though I don’t know the outcomes of my presentations and whether some of those folks in the audience will apply for a Fulbright in the future, I hope I helped spread the word about the Fulbright program. And if you are interested in hearing more on your college campus or you are part of a professional organization and you’d like to have a former Fulbrighter come to speak to your colleagues, look at the list of Fulbright Alumni Ambassadors and invite one to speak! (All expenses paid!)