This year, the U.S. Fulbright Student Program, the U.S. government’s flagship international exchange program, has awarded nine UMBC students and alumni top research and teaching placements in countries such as Japan, Taiwan, and North Macedonia.
Each year, more than 10,000 students apply with just over 2,000 selected from hundreds of colleges and universities across the U.S. In the last decade, UMBC students and alumni have received more than 85 Fulbright U.S. Student Program awards for research and teaching placements in Africa, Asia and the Pacific, the Middle East, South America, and Europe. UMBC was named a Fulbright Top Producing Institution in 2019 – 2020.
This year’s class includes research award recipient Paul Ocone ’22, individualized study, who will be conducting research at Meiji University School of Global Japanese Studies in Japan. Fulbright research awards provide funding for research and training efforts overseas with a focus on non-Western foreign languages and area studies. Additionally, there are eight UMBC recipients of the English Teaching Assistant (ETA) award. ETA’s develop their own language skills and knowledge of their host country while working with student in elementary through college to strengthen their English-language abilities and knowledge of the U.S.
Three alumni will be headed to Taiwan to further their passion for global languages and communities: Nailah-Benā Chambers ’23, global studies, Kara Gavin ’20, English, and Milan Richardson ’23, bioinformatics.
Gavin brings experience as a Teaching of English as a Second Language (TESOL) volunteer which she completed during her study abroad program at the University of Brighton in the U.K. Chambers began learning how to move between different languages early in life as a student in a Chinese-language skills course. She later became a tutor, a skill she continued at UMBC’s English Language Institute (ELI). Teaching Baltimore Public City School’s diverse student population inspired Richardson to apply to the Fulbright program where she will continue working with students from all backgrounds.
David Bullman ’22, ancient studies, served in the U.S. Army as a musician and public diplomat. He will be returning to North Macedonia, one of the countries he previously served in.
In addition to teaching English, Leah Michaels, M.F.A ’19, intermedia and digital arts, will be conducting research for two films and teaching film workshops for the community in Piła, Poland.
Tiffany Powell ’23, TESOL, spent three years teaching English in Seoul, Korea and will continue teaching in Romania after she graduates in December.
Sianna Serio ’23, computer science, who studied abroad in France, Spain, and the U.K., will head to the Slovak Republic to teach high school students.
As a former marketing assistant at the ELI, Tasneem Mansour ’20, modern languages, linguistics and intercultural communication, supported visiting students from Peru, Nagoya and Tokyo, Japan. Mansour will head to South Korea.
UMBC’s global outlook
UMBC’s commitment to international collaboration and research begins at the Center for Global Engagement, which connects students and faculty from the U.S. with students and distinguished faculty from more than 100 countries with unique international academic opportunities. Together, they further the research and skills needed to address long-standing and new global challenges.
Brian Souders, M.A.’19, TESOL and Ph.D. ’09, language, literacy and culture, the associate director of global learning of the Center for Global Engagement, has led students through the Fulbright application process, as UMBC’s Fulbright Program advisor, for the last decade. “Our students are high achievers, the application process is a place for them to share their story,” says Souders. “Faculty and staff are there to ensure each student’s application reflects their years of hard work and the skills they have developed to collaborate with partners across the world.”
Research at home and abroad
With the vast network of Fulbright alumni at UMBC and across the U.S., it’s always helpful to get tips on how to conduct research in a new country and in a new language. Fulbright recipient Ocone, a long time fan of all things anime, began developing his ethnographic research skills with the support of Bambi Chapin, associate professor of anthropology. Chapin, a 1999 – 2000 Fulbright recipient, taught Ocone the theoretical and practical aspects of ethnographic research which he will now use to research the politics of inclusion and exclusion in otaku (anime/manga fan) spaces.
Chapin, along with Julie Christ Oakes, the assistant director of curriculum and retention of the Honors College and a 2001 – 2002 Fulbright research award recipient to Japan, also workshopped Ocone’s research proposal and Fulbright application. Oakes also shared her insights on the Fulbright experience.
“I went to Japan to do research for my dissertation research,” says Oakes. “I have a good idea of what [Ocone] will face as a relative “newbie” abroad and a non-native Japanese speaker and reader.”
The Fulbright experience is also about nurturing relationships with faculty abroad. Ocone said he feels honored for the opportunity to further his research with Kaichiro Morikawa, an associate professor at Meiji University and author of one of the foundational books on otaku spaces. Morikawa will help Ocone navigate the various resources on otaku culture. He wrote in Ocone’s recommendation letter that his “research is highly original as well as effectively focused,” and says he looks forward to supporting Ocone during his time at the university and in Japan.
“I am immensely grateful to all of my mentors for guiding me on my journey through my undergraduate degree—from my earliest fuzzy and broad ideas of what I wanted to do, to the more specific research plans, and to the rewarding thesis that eventually emerged,” says Ocone. “I’ll be continuing research on topics that I care deeply about, research that I will likely build upon in graduate school and beyond.”
Fulbright support network
The road to being a Fulbright recipient begins day one students’ UMBC experience as they explore majors, create a network of mentors, and hone their research skills. At the end of their junior year, students develop their initial application at the Fulbright Base Camp led by Souders, who is a 2023 – 2024 Fulbright International Education Administrator award recipient. “The camp helps elevate and support students to reach their Fulbright goals,” says Souders. “Students share drafts of their essays with me for feedback prior to the campus deadline, the first day of the fall semester. They participate in a campus evaluation process with UMBC faculty and staff to receive feedback on their applications.”
Souders, Chapin, and Maryam Elhabashy ’21, anthropology, a research assistant at Rutgers University and a 2022 Fulbright recipient to Kuwait City, discuss this process on the Retrieving the Social Science podcast, produced by UMBC’s Center for Social Science Scholarship.
“The panel gives students advice about how to craft a project, like how to take it apart and re-put it back together, what we see as strengths,” says Chapin. “We support them and encourage them as they go through that really difficult intellectual work, emotional work of figuring out how to make their strong projects even stronger.”