September 3, 2008

Fulbright Awards 20 Cornellians Scholarships for Research Abroad

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While most victims of armed robbery quickly put the incident behind them, John Bruno ’08 turned his own unsettling experience into an inspired research proposal that won him a Fulbright Scholarship.
“I was robbed at gunpoint the first time I visited my family in Guayaquil, Ecuador. After this eye-opening experience, the Fulbright seemed like the perfect opportunity to actually contribute to a critical issue facing Ecuador and immerse myself in my ancestral heritage,” Bruno said. A Sociology major while at Cornell, Bruno chose to study delinquency and problems surrounding the “revolving door” of the prison system for 10 months in Ecuador.
Bruno is one of 20 Cornellians, including undergraduates, graduates and alumni, who will conduct research from abroad this year as part of either the Fulbright Scholarship or Fulbright Hays Fellowship. Open to U.S. citizens and funded by the State Department, the Fulbright encourages cultural exchange as well as academic and professional development. Through the Department of Education, the Fulbright Hays Fellowship for doctoral students is open to permanent U.S. residents as well as citizens, and promotes research in non-European countries.
Last year Cornell ranked sixth in the country for its number of Fulbright recipients. The scholarship pays for travel, research and living expenses, and awards students varying amounts based on their destination country.
“For the Fulbright, awards range from $20,000 to about $25,000, and for the Fulbright Hayes it’s between $30,000 and $40,000 on average, due to research costs,” said former Prof. Gil Levine, agricultural and biological engineering.
As Cornell’s Fulbright Advisor, he provides feedback and advice for all Cornell students before they submit their personal statements and research proposals to the program. Levine said that each year Cornell receives around 70 applications from seniors, as well as students who graduated within the last five years; less than a third of these applicants will win the scholarship.
This year, topics ranged from food to medicine to media relations, and touched nearly every continent outside the U.S., with students traveling to places as distant as New Zealand, Maldova and Kenya.
For example, Abdul Chaballout ’08, a Human Biology, Health and Society major, will research remote health care in the Middle East by working with hospitals and communities in Jordan. He explained that oftentimes resources sit in distant hospitals while patients in need of absent doctors suffer in another country.
“The Fulbright is about making connections and connecting ideas with people. Technology is all over the place, but connecting that technology to people is harder to do,” Chaballout said.
He hopes to develop relations not only between the U.S. and Jordan, but also between Jordanians, helping to make the medical needs of the common people known to bureaucratic officials.
Andy Guess ’05, a former editor in chief of The Sun, won a Fulbright award this year to study media issues in Romania. Guess, a College Scholar and Information Studies major while at Cornell, will live in Bucharest for nine months, researching how the media reflects political tensions. He said the hardest part of the Fulbright application process was building contacts in a distant country.
“I discovered that in Romania promptness is not necessarily to be expected in email communications. Sometimes I would have to wait a month for people to get back to me,” Guess said.
He also explained that obtaining letters of recommendation from strangers across the world was one of the more challenging elements of the application.
Another Fulbright scholar, Joshua Schlachet ’08, will fly to Japan on Sept. 15 to start his research on how marginal communities contributed to the country’s national identity in terms of a very important cultural indicator—food.
“Very often we overlook the mundane. We think of high art, and we often take for granted that some of the things that bind people very closely are the practices of the every day. I think food is very important in that sense; it can show us how cultures operate,” Schlachet said of his research topic.
With her Fulbright scholarship, Jennifer Hadden grad will spend a year based in Brussels, Belgium, but plans to travel to Copenhagen, Denmark, Malmo, Sweden and Poznan, Poland while studying environmental issues in the European Union.
“Climate change is an urgent problem that requires an international solution … Europe has developed a number of responses to climate change that should be of interest to Americans,” Hadden said.
As the next round of students prepares to turn in their Fulbright applications on Sept. 15, Levine encouraged applicants to follow their passion.
“I think what sets apart a good topic is when the student’s enthusiasm and dedication to the activity comes through,” he said.