Guest post from Meg Stewart
I recently had the pleasure of visiting Occidental College to give a talk on the Fulbright Scholar program and share some of my experiences while on a Fulbright grant. I was especially excited to visit Oxy because I wanted to meet the folks and brains behind the Center for Digital Learning and Research and hear about Scholarship Technology at Occidental. I spent over 12 years working as an academic technologist at a small liberal arts college, so I am familiar with that culture. Frankly, I wanted to see for myself how a small, prestigious school creates a space, attracts, and supports digital scholar post-docs, folks that, in every practical sense, can be termed alternative academics. I met everyone in the CDLR and ST groups and was so impressed with the work and programs they have going at Oxy.
This post, like my talk in September, is about my Fulbright grant experience. I was on a Fulbright Scholar grant for 11 months in 2009-10 to the University of the West Indies in Barbados. It was the time of my life. I was part of the Centre for Resource Management and Environmental Studies (CERMES) department, a graduate program with about six full-time faculty members, several PhD students and a yearly new cohort of about 20 students earning Master’s degrees in what is essentially environmental consulting. I was given office space, a computer, a key to the building and whatever else a visiting scholar might expect to get including a feeling like I was, from day one, part of the CERMES family.
My grant was a teaching and research Fulbright. I co-taught the department’s GIS class, helped CERMES students and faculty members on a field class in Belize, and led faculty development seminars for UWI professors. My door was always open to anyone who had a geospatial question, a digital technology and teaching interest, or who just wanted to chat. A Fulbrighters’ first goal while in a host country is to be a cultural ambassador, a citizen diplomat, and my family and I were every bit of that while living in Barbados.
For the research component of my grant, I did several things but I primarily worked with PhD student, Kimberly Baldwin. Kim’s research project was a participatory GIS mapping project focused on the marine environment in and around the islands and keys of the Grenadine Islands. In basic terms, she made a map of the sea. Here’s Kim’s Grenadines MarSIS project website. At the time that I met Kim, she had been conducting community workshops and interviews with locals on the islands for five years. She was building a geospatial database in order to quantify the marine resources of the Grenadine Islands and while she gathered the data she collated it all using GIS software. Her ultimate goal from her research efforts was to share out her findings. The area had never been mapped in this sort of detail and it was sorely needed and that is why she continued to go to the Grenadines and give town meetings, to ask for assistance, advice, sharing of knowledge that only a local would know and share back with the community what she was gathering. She had wanted to share the geodata using Google Earth but didn’t quite know how to do that. Then I came along. I knew exactly how to export her GIS datasets and bring them into Google Earth and build a project. The result of my work can be found on the MarSIS site, if you scroll down to “Google Earth” you’ll see links to the KML files. The long story shortened is that Kim and I went on the road and gave workshops on her research and how to use the Google Earth file to look at the research and from those community meeting, we wrote a paper. Here it is. Kim has since earned her PhD (yeah, Kim!).
If all of this sounds like fun, it was. I had technical geospatial skills that I got to use in another country while helping out a PhD researcher be able to present her findings in different modes of communication. I found, first hand, that those skills that I had, not just in GIS, but in teaching, project management, and, I dare say, collegiality, allowed me to share knowledge in places that could really use my technical expertise.
I loved what I did for my Fulbright and now I go to colleges, universities and conferences and talk about my experiences as a Fulbright Ambassador. I am hoping that anyone listening to a talk (or reading this post) will hear in my story something that sparks an interest in applying for a Fulbright of his or her own. At the time of submitting my Fulbright application, I was an academic technology professional at a small liberal arts college, I was not a faculty member. I taught as an adjunct faculty at several institutions over several years. I have a Master’s degree, but not a PhD. If you look at the Fulbright Core grant website (that’s the type of grant I had), you may find that you are well-qualified to apply for a Fulbright.
All that you need to know about the Fulbright Scholar program is on the Council for International Exchange of Scholars web site. In a nutshell, the Fulbright Scholar Catalog of Awards comes out on February 1 and the full application is due August 1. The catalog is very nicely searchable by country, discipline, type of Fulbright grant and so on. Oh, and those dates are the same every year. If you want to know more, check out the CIES webinars coming up or those that are archived.
One last thing about a teaching and research experience abroad, with MOOCs on the rise, Qatar’s Education City comprising six U.S. universities, marked increase in international students coming to U.S colleges, and Yale in Singapore, in my opinion, now more than ever is the right time to think about an international educational exchange. We are exporting U.S. higher education expertise at the same time as we are importing new ideas and ways of knowing from other countries. The building of cross-cultural bridges could likely benefit you, the host country you will visit for your Fulbright grant and any institution you work for when you return. If you would like to hear more about the Fulbright Scholar Program, invite me or any one of the over 20 Fulbright Ambassadors to come speak.
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