Fulbright Starts Efforts to Help Alumni Keep Global Ties

Lexey Swall for The Chronicle

Colleen R. O'Neal, assistant professor of psychology at the U. of Maryland, studied refugee students in Malaysia on a Fulbright in 2010. "You're introduced to new topics that you never would have dreamed of," she says.
October 28, 2013

Colleen R. O'Neal had what many might call the quintessential Fulbright experience.

For years, Ms. O'Neal, who earned her Ph.D. in clinical psychology, had studied the emotional health of minority students under duress in the United States. But in 2010 she traveled to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, as part of the U.S. State Department's Fulbright Program.

There she discovered a new passion: studying the stresses faced by the 40,000 or so refugee children from Burma and elsewhere—an underserved population she says she had never heard of before she arrived.

When the fellowship ended, Ms. O'Neal was determined to continue working with the refugees, and even left her position at New York University's School of Medicine to take a new job at a program more open to international research and teaching.

Today, Ms. O'Neal, an assistant professor at the University of Maryland at College Park's College of Education, credits the Fulbright with altering the trajectory of her academic life.

"One of the amazing things about Fulbright is that you're introduced to new topics that you never would have dreamed of in your research," she says. "I fall into that category."

Ms. O'Neal is not alone. Of the roughly 1,100 American scholars who go abroad each year as part of the program, many say it has a lasting impact on their careers, says Meghann Curtis, deputy assistant secretary for academic programs at the State Department's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, which oversees the Fulbright Program.

She says she and other department officials often hear academics say the program "changed the way I do my research, it changed the focus of my scholarly research."

In recent years the State Department has started new efforts to help the 325,000 alumni around the world maintain their international links and use the Fulbright experience to improve their job prospects.

While the department's main focus will remain on making the fellowship itself as rich an experience as possible, "there's going to be more and more things that we start to engage in to help Fulbrighters to continue to develop their careers and to stay connected," says Ms. Curtis.

The department opened an alumni office for Fulbright and its other academic programs 10 years ago. Part of its focus has been on gaining a better understanding of the international exchanges' long-term benefits.

According to a 2009 survey, the most recent available, commissioned by the State Department of 520 American scholars who had been on a fellowship three to four years earlier, more than 50 percent said the Fulbright contributed in part to positive career changes, which in some cases included being promoted and earning tenure.

The survey also suggested that the program had a lasting influence on the participants' teaching and research. More than 80 percent said they had incorporated international content in their coursework as a result of the fellowship, about 75 percent said they had continued collaborating with former colleagues in their host country, and almost 60 percent said they had already returned to the country for professional purposes.

To help continue such connections, the State Department has started holding conferences for alumni in specific areas of research; a forthcoming meeting in Sweden, for example, will bring together former Fulbright scholars to discuss how climate change is affecting the Arctic. Ms. Curtis says the department also plans to help American alumni continue their language studies and to hold job fairs overseas for foreign Fulbright scholars.

Perhaps the most significant effort was the establishment of an "innovation fund" three years ago. It provides small grants to alumni of the Fulbright and other U.S. government exchange programs to start or continue projects overseas. Last year it awarded $1-million to such efforts. (The State Department said it was unsure how much would be available for the fund this year.)

One of the 2012 recipients was a team of former Fulbright scholars led by Ms. O'Neal and Wai Sheng Ng, a Malaysian academic who earned a Fulbright in 2001. The group received $25,000 to continue its work with refugee students in Malay society.

While the dollar amount is small by American standards, it will go a long way in the developing world, says Ms. O'Neal. It will be used to train teachers in how to assess and manage the mental-health needs of refugee students. Barred by the government from attending public schools, refugee children instead enroll in education programs operated by nongovernmental organizations and religious groups that rely on volunteer instructors.

Ms. O'Neal says she plans to return to Malaysia as often as her responsibilities at home allow. Regardless, she says her academic work will continue to have a global bent.

Meeting the refugee children exposed her to how national policies that drive people to flee their homelands can have a distinct impact on the welfare of individual students. "It expanded my research to how the political is personal."

Top Producers of U.S. Fulbright Scholars by Type of Institution, 2013-14

Research institutions Number of awards
Ohio State U. 10
U. of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign 10
Texas Tech U. 9
U. of Minnesota-Twin Cities 8
U. of Florida 7
U. of Kentucky 7
U. of California at Berkeley 6
U. of Colorado at Boulder 6
U. of Michigan at Ann Arbor 6
Boston U. 5
New York U. 5
Ohio U. 5
Pennsylvania State U. at University Park 5
U. of Georgia 5
U. of North Carolina at Charlotte 5
U. of Tennessee at Knoxville 5
U. of Washington 5
Master's institutions Number of awards
Ferris State U. 3
Grand Valley State U. 3
Humboldt State U. 3
Long Island U., C.W. Post Campus 3
Metropolitan State U. 3
Missouri State U. 3
U. of North Carolina at Wilmington 3
Western Illinois U. 3
William Paterson U. 3
Brooklyn College, City U. of New York 2
California Polytechnic State U. at San Luis Obispo 2
California State U. at Los Angeles 2
California State U. at Fresno 2
Columbia College Chicago 2
Columbus State U. 2
Georgia College and State U. 2
John Jay College of Criminal Justice, City U. of New York 2
Loyola U. Maryland 2
Great Valley School of Graduate Professional Studies, Pennsylvania State U. 2
Regis U. 2
Rollins College 2
State U. of New York at New Paltz 2
U. of Wisconsin at Platteville 2
U. of Wisconsin at La Crosse 2
Bachelor's institutions Number of awards
U. of Richmond 3
Bucknell U. 2
Carleton College 2
Reed College 2
Community colleges Number of awards
Northern Virginia Community College 2
Broward Community College 1
Cabrillo College 1
College of Southern Nevada 1
County College of Morris 1
De Anza College 1
Edison Community College 1
Greenfield Community College 1
Highline Community College 1
Metropolitan Community College 1
Miami Dade College 1
Minnesota West Community College 1
Montgomery College 1
Oakton Community College 1
Oklahoma State U. at Oklahoma City 1
Onondaga Community College 1
Piedmont Virginia Community College 1
Prince George's Community College 1
Ridgewater College 1
Seattle Central Community College 1
Snow College 1
South Texas College 1
Nassau Community College, State U. of New York 1
Specialized institutions Number of awards
U. of California at San Francisco 3
Bank Street College of Education 1
California College of the Arts 1
Columbia Theological Seminary 1
Loma Linda U. 1
Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences 1
Medical College of Wisconsin 1
New York Law School 1
Pacific Northwest College of Art 1
School of the Art Institute of Chicago 1
School of Visual Arts 1
U. of Mississippi Medical Center 1
Note: This list includes only confirmed recipients as of October 11, 2013. For a complete list see
Source: Institute of International Education



Top Producers of U.S. Fulbright Students by Type of Institution, 2013-14

Research institutions Number of applicants Number of awards
Harvard U. 134 39
U. of Michigan at Ann Arbor 151 32
Arizona State U. 60 26
Princeton U. 82 26
Rutgers U. 129 26
Northwestern U. 106 23
U. of Texas at Austin 70 22
Columbia U. 107 21
Yale U. 106 21
Cornell U. 67 20
U. of Chicago 98 20
Boston College 85 19
U. of California at Berkeley 62 18
Duke U. 54 16
Ohio State U. 72 16
Stanford U. 75 16
U. of Pennsylvania 81 16
U. of Maryland at College Park 41 15
U. of Rochester 32 15
College of William & Mary 53 14
U. of North Carolina at Chapel Hill 91 14
Georgetown U. 50 13
U. of Colorado at Boulder 42 13
U. of Pittsburgh 51 13
Fordham U. 44 12
U. of California at San Diego 25 12
U. of Southern California 81 12
Washington U. in St. Louis 43 12
Johns Hopkins U. 54 11
New York U. 49 11
Pennsylvania State U. at University Park 54 11
San Diego State U. 47 11
U. of Washington 77 11
American U. 32 10
Brown U. 82 10
Florida State U. 49 10
Indiana U. at Bloomington 71 10
Tulane U. 53 13
U. of Arizona 64 10
U. of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign 46 10
U. of Wisconsin at Madison 58 10
Master's institutions Number of applicants Number of awards
Villanova U. 41 9
Rollins College 28 8
U. of Portland 33 6
Western Washington U. 18 6
Truman State U. 10 5
Chapman U. 14 4
Drake U. 11 4
Ithaca College 16 4
Seattle U. 20 4
U. of Scranton 13 4
Augsburg College 4 3
Bradley U. 11 3
Brooklyn College, City U. of New York 10 3
La Salle U. 8 3
Monterey Institute of International Studies 10 3
Nazareth College of Rochester 9 3
North Park U. 4 3
Saint Edward's U. 19 3
San Francisco State U. 5 3
Santa Clara U. 6 3
Texas State U. 6 3
U. of Mary Washington 11 3
Valparaiso U. 7 3
Bachelor's institutions Number of applicants Number of awards
Pitzer College 78 22
Smith College 42 21
Oberlin College 58 16
Pomona College 63 16
College of the Holy Cross 64 14
Williams College 46 14
Occidental College 48 11
Vassar College 40 11
Bates College 33 9
Bowdoin College 26 9
Kenyon College 37 9
Scripps College 30 9
Swarthmore College 43 9
Davidson College 39 8
Middlebury College 35 8
Wesleyan U. 35 8
Claremont McKenna College 30 7
Hamilton College 16 7
Amherst College 36 6
Carleton College 33 6
Grinnell College 29 6
Macalester College 32 6
New College of Florida 22 6
St. Olaf College 33 6
Trinity College 17 6
Wellesley College 21 6
DePauw U. 17 5
Dickinson College 16 5
Washington and Lee U. 16 5
Wheaton College (Mass.) 27 5
Barnard College 21 4
Centre College 14 4
Colby College 19 4
Connecticut College 21 4
Furman U. 5 4
Hobart and William Smith Colleges 20 4
Hope College 6 4
Mount Holyoke College 29 4
Nebraska Wesleyan U. 7 4
Specialized institutions Number of applicants Number of awards
Maryland Institute College of Art 11 3
Rhode Island School of Design 18 3
Curtis Institute of Music 2 2
Princeton Theological Seminary 3 2
Colburn School 2 2
U. of California at San Francisco 4 2
Cranbrook Academy of Art 6 1
Graduate Theological Union 1 1
Juilliard School 7 1
Massachusetts College of Art and Design 1 1
Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology 3 1
U. of Nebraska Medical Center 1 1
Note: This list includes only confirmed recipients as of October 11, 2013. For a complete list see
Source: Institute of International Education


Correction (10/31/2013, 3:01 p.m.): Because of incorrect information provided to The Chronicle, the list of research institutions with the most U.S. Fulbright students misreported Tulane University’s awards. It had 13 such students, not 10. The list has been updated to reflect this correction.