UH wants to be the top Fulbright student producer in Texas

As the University of Houston chases one title in the NCAA Tournament, they’re also chasing another — but that has nothing to do with basketball.

This year, the university was named the “top producer” of American Fulbright students, and administrators already have a bigger goal: funneling more Cougars into the prestigious international educational exchange program than any other school in Texas.

Fulbright participation is just one reflection of UH’s larger goal of increasing the school’s global reach, and also an indicator of the university’s success, said Michael Pelletier, executive director of UH. the UH Institute for Global Engagement.

“It helps us achieve our goals of ensuring that all UH graduates have had the opportunity to have an international or global experience, or to dabble in internationalization,” Pelletier said. “It’s a huge push in higher education across the country and really across the world right now.”

Fulbright is the United States’ flagship cultural exchange program for teaching, research, and pursuing projects in other countries. Sponsored and funded in part by the US State Department, the organization – which also includes scholarships for scholars and professionals – has produced 40 heads of state or government, 61 Nobel laureates, 76 MacArthur Foundation and 89 Pulitzer Prize winners, according to Fulbright.

UH’s participation has skyrocketed in recent years: 36 students have won scholarships since 2018, one more student than in the previous 51 years combined, according to the university. Ten UH graduates and recent alumni have been awarded scholarships for the 2021-2022 academic year alone.

The university is one of the 28 “top producers” of Fulbright students in the nation and is only behind the University of Texas at Austin in the state. (Twelve UT students received scholarships in the last cycle, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education). UH was also one of 35 institutions serving Hispanics to be named a Fulbright leader in this area.

Dr. Ben Rayder, UH’s director of undergraduate research and major awards, said the university has renewed its focus on the program in recent years, tapping into a large pool of eligible students and providing them with dedicated help in the application process.

“There has always been fertile ground for the University of Houston for many students to apply to the Fulbright program and have competitive applicants, as we are one of the most diverse campuses in the country,” Rayder said.

Last year marked Fulbright’s most competitive application year to date, with applications nationwide increasing nearly 12%, he said. Fulbright assessed current and previous applications due to pandemic-induced program cancellations in 2020, which means 46 UH students applied in the last cycle, Rayder said.

According to the university, current UH grant recipients conduct research and teach in the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Japan, Latvia, Mexico, South Korea, Spain and Turkey. Students also varied across disciplines, coming from liberal arts and social sciences, natural sciences and mathematics, business, education, and engineering.

Saajan Patel, a 2021 recipient who is an English teaching assistant in France, said he plans to continue teaching after finishing his Fulbright scholarship. Helping students give the words to talk about American culture — and then learning about French culture outside of the classroom — was perhaps the most valuable part of the program, he said.

“Some people see this opportunity as just a job. They go to a place, they work in a school for a certain number of hours and they go back to America,” Patel said. “It’s a lot more than that. really makes you aware of how other people live that you wouldn’t normally understand in a movie or show.

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