For the third time in five years, UMBC is named a Fulbright Top Producing Institution

Published: Feb 13, 2024

Five Fulbright college students stand outside on concrete steps with their arms outstretched
2023-2024 UMBC Fulbright U.S. Student recipients. Left to right: Milan Richardson, Nailah-Benā Chambers, Kara Gavin, Paul Ocone, and David Bullman. (Marlayna Demond ’11/UMBC)

Within just a few months of living in Piątek, a small town in central Poland, Leah Michaels, M.F.A ’19, intermedia and digital arts, has already traveled to Romania, where many recipients of the Fulbright U.S. Student award placed throughout Europe gathered at a media literacy conference. She has also had an opportunity to research Polish film at Poland’s Film Archive and connect with a local genealogist who helped her find details about her Polish roots for a short documentary she is producing about her ancestry.

Michaels and nine other UMBC Fulbright student recipients researching and teaching English abroad this year helped propel UMBC, once again, to the elite ranks of a Fulbright Top Producing Institution, as reported today in The Chronicle of Higher Education. The designation recognizes colleges and universities with the highest number of students selected for the Fulbright U.S. Student Program, the U.S. government’s flagship international academic exchange program. UMBC first received this designation from the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs in 2019 – 2020 and again in 2020 – 2021. 

UMBC is one of 57 doctoral universities nationwide and three in Maryland to receive a Fulbright Top Producing Institution designation for Fulbright U.S. Students in 2023 – 2024.

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More than 2,200 U.S. students from hundreds of colleges and universities are awarded Fulbright grants annually. However, only a few of these institutions are designated top producers yearly. In the last decade, UMBC students and recent graduates have received over 60 Fulbright U.S. Student Program awards in Africa, Asia and the Pacific, the Middle East, South America, and Europe.

“This achievement is a testament to your institution’s deep commitment to international exchange,” wrote Secretary of State Antony Blinken in a letter to President Valerie Sheares Ashby, congratulating her on UMBC’s Fulbright Top Producer designation, “and to building lasting connections between the people of the United States and the people of other countries.”

Mutual understanding

In partnership with more than 140 countries worldwide, the Fulbright U.S. Student Program offers unparalleled opportunities in all academic disciplines to graduating college seniors, graduate students, and young professionals from all backgrounds. Fulbright recipients play a critical role in U.S. public diplomacy, establishing long-term relationships between people and nations through graduate study, research, or teaching as English Teaching Assistants (ETAs). ETAs develop their own language skills and knowledge of the host country while teaching English to elementary, middle school, or college students.

A large group of Fulbright students stand outside raising flags of different countries celebrating UMBC being a Top Producing Institution designation
2019 – 2020 UMBC Fulbright U.S. Student recipients. (Marlayna Demond ’11/UMBC)

“As a public research university, it is imperative that we provide students with opportunities for global engagement,” says David Di Maria, associate vice provost for international education. “Fulbright is among the most prestigious of these opportunities.”

While Michaels has flourished in Poland, her 2023 – 2024 Fulbright class peers have also settled into their placements, which generally start in September with the new school year. Paul Ocone ’22, individualized study, is conducting research at the Meiji University School of Global Japanese Studies in Japan, and eight ETAs are teaching English across Europe and Asia: 

  • North Macedonia: David Bullman ’22, ancient studies
  • Romania: Tiffany Powell, M.A. ’23, teaching English to speakers of other languages (TESOL)
  • Slovak Republic: Sianna Serio ’23, computer science
  • South Korea: Tasneem Mansour ’20, modern languages, linguistics, and intercultural communication
  • Taiwan: Nailah-Benā Chambers ’23, global studies; Kara Gavin ’20, English; and Milan Richardson ’23, bioinformatics
  • Turkey: Grant Clifton, M.A. ’23, TESOL

“Being named a Top Producing Fulbright Institution is a tremendous honor—it not only shows the world what we already know about our amazing students, but it also lets our current students know that the Fulbright is a realistic opportunity for them,” says Brian Souders, Ph.D. ’09, language, literacy, and culture, M.A.’19, TESOL, and associate director of global learning at the Center for Global Engagement (CGE). Souders has led students through the Fulbright application process as UMBC’s Fulbright Program advisor for the last decade.

For Michaels, the experience has been life-changing. “My home city has been incredibly welcoming. I learned Polish folk dances, made Old Bay pierogi from scratch with some of my students, and joined a school trip to an art gallery,” says Michaels.

The Fulbright family

The Fulbright experience also includes college and university faculty and staff, as well as artists and professionals from a wide range of fields, who can join over 400,000 Fulbright alumni. 

In October 2023, Renique Kersh, vice president of student affairs, and Souders traveled to Germany after receiving Fulbright International Education Administrator awards. Katherine Heird, director of education abroad and global learning, received the same award to travel to Taiwan in spring 2024. The award is geared to provide staff who support Fulbright applicants with a greater understanding of higher education worldwide. 

Many UMBC faculty members and staff have received a Fulbright U.S. Scholar award over the years. This year, Lynn Cazabon, professor of visual arts and director of the Center for Innovation, Research, and Creativity in the Arts, received a Fulbright U.S. Scholar award to work at Queensland University, Australia, to create a public artwork based on local communities’ responses to climate change. Cazabon received her first Fulbright award in 2015 to the University of Liepāja, Latvia.

Fulbright Scholars globally are also drawn to UMBC’s welcoming community. Shannon Sauro, associate professor of education, hosted Jules Buendgens-Kosten, a research assistant at the Institute of English and American Studies at Goethe-Universität Frankfurt, Germany. Buendgens-Kosten joined UMBC as the institution’s first Fulbright Scholar-in-Residence to teach and share their research on inclusive education in teaching English as a foreign language to students in UMBC’s TESOL master’s program. 

UMBC has also been selected as the only U.S. institution to host an orientation for newly awarded Scholars-in-Residence. Madison Pickard, M.A. ’24, modern languages, linguistics, and intercultural communication, graduate assistant, and CGE’s special programs coordinator, notes that UMBC was chosen for its emphasis, expertise, and dedication to inclusivity for all regarding disability and identity.

“Fulbright’s Top Producing Institutions represent the diversity of America’s higher education community. Dedicated administrators support students and scholars at these institutions to fulfill their potential and rise to address tomorrow’s global challenges,” said Lee Satterfield, assistant secretary of state for educational and cultural affairs. “We congratulate them and all the Fulbrighters who are making an impact the world over.” 

Read about more about past Fulbright cohorts at UMBC. This year’s Fulbright U.S. Student Program application cycle opens on April 2, 2024. Learn more about applying.

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