Darlene DeMarie, USF’s Fulbright faculty adviser, traveled to South Africa in 2007 thinking she would be doing teacher professional development in a child care center as part of a Fulbright Program, but when she got there she only found “an empty house and no money.”
She spent a year raising funds and guiding the construction of the center at the University of Limpopo. When her time in that program was over, her Fulbright award got extended so she could help develop the teachers and the center further — today, the center is still thriving.
Experiences like the one DeMarie had are the ones that will be shared during USF Fulbright Day on April 9. This celebration, organized by USF World and the Office of National Scholarships, seeks to exhibit the cultural exchanges that result from the Fulbright Program and to bring together students and faculty who have taken part in it.
This year will be the fourth celebration of Fulbright Day at USF and the 75th anniversary of the program itself. This celebration will gather faculty and students from 11 a.m. until 6:30 p.m. on Microsoft Teams in events that will feature a student experience panel, a presentation from the Institute of International Education, keynote faculty speakers, breakout sessions from each region of countries and Q&A sessions.
DeMarie said the advantage of this celebration is that it connects the community of people who are involved in Fulbright to those who want to be a part of it.
“What’s great about our Fulbright day is bringing together everybody, so it’s bringing together students who had Fulbrights, faculty who had Fulbrights, people from the region who had Fulbrights and people who want to apply for Fulbrights,” she said.
“And so it’s not like someone can look at it and say, ‘I don’t fit.’ Everybody is welcome … So all the people who either had Fulbrights or who visited that region of the world are going to come together and talk about their learning.”
In recent years, USF has been one of the top producers of Fulbright Scholars across the U.S. In the 2016-17 and 2018-19 periods, USF was ranked as the No. 1 producer among research institutions with 12 awards given to faculty in the latter, compared to the nine awards given to FSU, which ranked second. It was also recognized for having nine faculty members selected in 2019-20, according to data from the U.S. Department of State and Institute of International Education.
These achievements have strengthened the Fulbright community at the university, according to DeMarie.
“That [ranking] is definitely our claim to fame,” she said.
“So it’s just been a pride and joy every year to have that many faculty going out and then coming back and joining the Fulbright community. It’s wonderful too because we have a group of faculty and they’re willing to help me to review other’s [Fulbright scholarship] applications and to give their insights to people. So it’s growing over time as well.”
Fulbright Day is also an opportunity to show people the different awards and opportunities the program offers, according to Lauren Chambers, associate director of the Office of National Scholarships. She hopes that with the events being held virtually, more people will attend.
“The celebration is able to elevate things to a larger audience so that more people can hear about Fulbright, and they can hear about the program and the impact that the program has had on the recipients,” Chambers said.
“If I could have every single student on the USF campus know about the Fulbright U.S. Student Program, that would be amazing, and hopefully with Fulbright Day that helps [to] be able to get that message out as well.”
The Fulbright Program was established in 1946 by Sen. J. William Fulbright of Arkansas and it grants about 8,000 awards annually so students, teachers and professionals can study, teach or do research in more than 125 countries around the world. It is funded by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and since its establishment there have been 370,000 Fulbrighters in the program across the country.
Fulbright has contributed to USF’s objectives of fostering global citizens, according to Chambers. She said the program matches the goal and objectives the university has regarding international studies such as encouraging international exchanges.
“We [USF] are such a huge proponent of study abroad and education abroad programs, even having students go abroad and do an internship or a co-op or something like that, and the Fulbright U.S. Student Program fits in really nicely,” Chambers said. “For example, if a student does a short-term study abroad program when they’re an undergraduate student … they could potentially return to that country for longer term study with the Fulbright program after they graduate.
“So that’s why I feel like it’s such a nice sort of combination between how USF is preparing our students to be global citizens, and then having a program like Fulbright to still continue to support students in that sort of goal of becoming global citizens.”
Having that exchange of ideas with other cultures was one of the things DeMarie enjoyed the most from her own experiences as a Fulbright Scholar in South Africa in 2007 and Hungary in 2019. When she went she learned about the needs of other countries, such as the need of child care centers in South Africa, and she had the opportunity to teach to students from diverse backgrounds, such as those from Eastern Europe in Hungary.
“A lot of times, I don’t have students from those countries in my class here, and so it was a really incredibly diverse experience,” DeMarie said.
“I wasn’t just learning about Hungarian culture, I was learning what it was like for a country that was sort of behind the Iron Curtain, a country that had been under Soviet rule that suddenly blossomed, and what it meant for the people and what it meant for the region.”
Mary Cardenas, USF World executive administrative specialist, said those experiences also give faculty members a global perspective they can apply when they are teaching at USF. She said this is critical to encourage a global culture in the university.
“Imagine if you didn’t have faculty going abroad to study or to do their research, they would not have the same kind of worldview to teach their students,” Cardenas said. “It’s just critical in today’s world that we understand what’s happening internationally … So it just changes the university and makes it better for students that faculty are aware and have a heart for international work.
“We cannot be isolated. We cannot just think like an American, we have to understand and appreciate our colleagues abroad.”
DeMarie also believes the impact Fulbright Programs can have on the university is important because anyone who is able to participate in Fulbright returns with an enriching experience to share and that enhances the education faculty can provide.
“I believe that when people go on Fulbrights they usually return and say it was a transformational experience, because you’re inside the culture, you’re not a tourist. You’re a part of the culture and you’re doing things within that culture,” DeMarie said.
“If you go to help them to develop a certain curriculum, it’s not going to be the same curriculum you develop for USF, because it’s a different culture, different people, different expertise. And so I tell people, it’s kind of like putting together a picture puzzle where the shades are always changing.”