Best of Scene

Fulbright program acknowledged as one of the best

By Steve Hansen
When PLU was named by the Chronicle of Higher Education as one of the top four masters-level institutions in terms of the number of students currently participating in the prestigious U.S. Fulbright Student Fellowship, everyone at the university was pleased with the honor.
Melissa Youngquist and Stephanie Agoncillio

Right, Wauters spends the afternoon in the backyard with Shirley and Julian, two children of the woman who works in the house where he lives.

However, they couldn’t have been surprised – PLU has been doing this for years. Four PLU graduates are currently studying abroad as part of the prestigious award. Of similar institutions, the highest number was five.

“That PLU ranked so high testifies not only to the quality of PLU, but to the quality of a liberal arts education,” said Troy Storfjell, assistant professor of languages and literatures, and the university’s Fulbright program adviser.

Sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, and named for U.S. Senator J. William Fulbright of Arkansas, the Fulbright program was established in 1946 by the U.S. Congress to “enable the government of the United States to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries.”

It is the largest U.S. international exchange program offering opportunities for students, scholars and professionals to undertake international graduate study, advanced research, university teaching, and teaching in elementary and secondary schools worldwide.

That language from the original congressional legislation – “to increase mutual understanding” – perfectly squares with PLU’s focus on preparing its graduates to engage the world. “The Fulbright Fellowship is an ideal match with the global focus of this university,” Storfjell said.

PLU has always had a strong global focus. But Storfjell said a lot of the credit should go to Rodney Swenson, former professor of German, who was instrumental in bringing the two together. Until this last year when Storfjell took over, Swenson had served as Fulbright program adviser since 1975, when the first of PLU’s 76 students to date received the award.
Storfjell spent nearly a year working with Swenson before he took over as adviser. “I got to see, firsthand, how the process should be done,” Storfjell recalled. “First, he knows everything.

And the care he puts (into reviewing applications and advising) is central to the university’s success. PLU would not have had nearly as many recipients if it weren’t for Rodney’s work.”
The Fulbright is a prestigious fellowship, and both the recipients and PLU deserve recognition for their efforts. But what does it mean for current Fulbright Fellows who are currently abroad as part of the program?

For Michael Wauters ’07, that answer is easy. As a senior majoring in biology, Wauters received a fellowship to assist on an epidemiological study of Chagas disease in the Pastaza province of Ecuador.

After he spent the 2006 J-Term in Ecuador with Professor of Biology William Teska, Wauters knew he wanted to return to Latin America. The plan was to spend a year after graduation immersing himself in another culture and working on his Spanish before returning to the United States to attend medical school. When the Fulbright came through, his short-term goals didn’t change, but he noted, “I no longer had to sweat the details of funding my dream.”

But in the short time Wauters has been in Ecuador, some of his long-term goals have changed. He’s still passionate about medicine, but now that he’s seeing the world from a different perspective, he wonders if another person on the traditional medical-school path is really what the world needs.

“Practicing medicine (is) a vocation I am passionate about. Yet the longer I am here the more I realize merely practicing medicine will never be enough,” he recently stated in an e-mail. “As I start to comprehend the magnitude of the suffering, the injustice, and the pain in our world, I can’t just blink and make it all go away.

“I don’t really know what this continuing revelation means for my future, I only know I cannot be a bystander. Perhaps working with an organization such as Médecins Sans Frontières or Partners In Health, maybe blazing my own path,” Wauters continued. “And each time these thoughts cross my mind I wonder, can I really go through with this? Do I have what it takes to serve to this degree? And more and more the answer is yes, without a doubt, yes.”

It is experiences such as these that underscore why the university challenges its students to study away and dare to view the world from a different perspective. Such transformation is hardly reserved for Fulbright fellows. With 40 percent of the population studying abroad at some point in their PLU career, transformations like these happen all the time.

Photo Top: Michael Wauters (above) is a research assistant at the Universidad Central del Ecuador helping on an epidemiological study of Chagas disease.

 

Accolades

Faculty members Duncan Foley, Rose McKenney, Kevin O’Brien, Bob Stivers and Jill Whitman received the 2007 Bay Hero Award for Excellence in Environmental Education on behalf of PLU. Together with the University of Puget Sound and the University of Washington at Tacoma, PLU received the honor from Citizens for a Healthy Bay. The three institutions of higher education in Tacoma were recognized for their outstanding contributions to environmental education in the region.

Assistant Professor of Religion Louis Komjathy recently published “Cultivating Perfection: Mysticism and Self-transformation in Early Quanzhen Daoism.”

The book focuses on early Quanzhen (complete perfection) Daoism, a 12th century Daoist religious movement and subsequent monastic order. His study is the first to approach the religious movement from a comparative religious studies perspective.

Associate Professor of Education Ron Byrnes will study and teach in Norway at Hedmark University College this spring as part of the Fulbright Scholar Program. Byrnes will teach students who are preparing for careers teaching in the social sciences.

Assistant Professor of Marriage and Family Therapy David Ward received the 2007 Dissertation of the Year Award from the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy. Ward’s dissertation was titled “Moving Up the Continuum of Hope: Developing a Theory of Hope and Understanding Its Influence in Couples Therapy.” He accepted the award in Long Beach, Calif., October 12.

Two PLU business emeriti faculty, Dave McNabb and Gundar King, were selected to teach in Latvia through the Fulbright Senior Specialists program. The program matches senior specialists with program requests from foreign academic institutions. McNabb, a former visiting business professor, taught business to students at the Stockholm School of Economics in Riga, Latvia. King, dean emeritus of the School of Business, taught at the Riga Aviation Institute.

The chemistry faculty, Craig Fryhle, Dean Waldow, Myriam Cotten and Neal Yakelis, received a National Science Foundation grant totaling $743,000 to purchase a nuclear magnetic resonance spectrometer.