Scranton’s Fulbright Story Has Many Settings Worldwide
Each flag indicates a country where a University of Scranton graduate has studied through the Fulbright Scholarship program – administered by the Institute of International Education. World domination? We’re close. We’re up to 46 countries right now.
One of the original companions of St. Ignatius of Loyola once said, “Our home is the road,” explaining that a Jesuit’s place is “in the streets, mobile, and ready to go serve the Church and Gospel wherever we’re needed.”
Jesuits – and those who follow in their teachings – must always be willing to move on, to leave one’s community to broaden their own horizons.
For four decades, University of Scranton graduates have made this charge their own, crisscrossing the globe to places such as Germany, Singapore and South Korea, thanks in part to their success garnering Fulbright scholarships. In recent years, through these national grants, Scranton graduates have taught English in a boarding school in Indonesia, researched HIV tests in Kenya, and studied the roles of women and access to water in the development of Morocco’s rural villages, among a multitude of other projects.
The U.S. government’s premier scholarship for overseas graduate study, research and teaching, the Fulbright program has a figurative soft spot for Scranton graduates. Since 1972, 139 Scranton students – nearly 3.5 recipients a year – have accepted grants in the competitions administered by the Institute of International Education.
“Those are remarkable numbers for any master’s-level or undergraduate school,” says Susan Trussler, Ph.D., an associate professor of economics/finance and Fulbright Program Adviser at Scranton since 1989. In fact, The Chronicle of Higher Education has listed the University as one of the top producers of Fulbright awards for American students for the past seven years. Why only seven years? Because the ranking didn’t exist beforehand, points out Dr. Trussler.
How can Scranton’s Fulbright success be explained? With a fish metaphor, of course. As Dr. Trussler spells out every year to hopeful recipients on the onset of the application process, “They don’t give Fulbrights to dead fish.”
“We work hard during this process, and we are fortunate to have highly motivated students,” Dr. Trussler translates.
No Simple Formula for Success
Let’s get this out of the way right now, there is no surefire formula for Fulbright success, according to Dr. Trussler.
Fulbright scholarship hopefuls work for months on applications, and even if they are completed to the best of their ability, the students are still likely to receive a letter that begins with, “I regret.”
The yearlong process begins each April as Dr. Trussler hosts information sessions, which draw approximately 100 students a year. From there, 20-30 students – not counting ones studying aboard – attend a hands-on workshop the following month.
During the summer months, Dr. Trussler and Fulbright hopefuls meet regularly in person and trade emails and phone calls, perfecting the student’s research proposal and personal statement. “It is not unusual for them to do 12-15 drafts of each statement and essay,” she says. “Writing about yourself can be difficult, and these essays have to be interesting. The national committee is going to read hundreds of these.”
In addition to their two essays, three letters of reference, an affiliation letter from a faculty member at a prospective foreign university – if they are completing a research grant – and transcripts, the students must ace their interview with the Campus Fulbright Committee, consisting of select Scranton faculty. There’s a language requirement, too.
The students’ materials are finally submitted in mid-October, and they are left waiting until January, when the national finalists are notified. After the finalists are named, the final decisions are made in the host country and aren’t announced until March at the earliest, but more commonly in April and May.
Last year, more than 9,000 applicants applied for Fulbrights, with seven University of Scranton students and graduates advancing as national finalists. Of those seven, four were selected for Fulbright U.S. Student Program scholarships.
Rebecca Bartley ’11, currently serving a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship in Malaysia, called Dr. Trussler’s involvement in the application process invaluable.
“Dr. Trussler was critical to my winning the scholarship,” Bartley says. “She has a way of pinpointing what each country is looking for in terms of applicants, and molds the student into exactly what that country needs.”
Knowing Your Competition
In any contest, it’s an advantage to know your opposition. In the Fulbright selection, you don’t have that luxury.
“We don’t know what the competition is,” Dr. Trussler explains. “You don’t know anything about the other applicants.”
What Dr. Trussler does know is that a 4.0 doesn’t always get a student a Fulbright, “and that surprises some people.”
“You have to be engaged – engaged in your research and engaged in the local community,” she says. Students involved in community service, volunteering, music, theater, The Aquinas, the Leahy Center and student government turn more heads than someone with just an outstanding GPA.
“Our students have always been strong academically, but also in their commitment to community service and interaction with the local community,” Dr. Trussler says. “That makes them stand out.”
She then points out that being “well-rounded, well-prepared and willing to work will make these students successful in a lot of areas.”