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Tradition of Fulbright Scholars Continues at UWRF

By Kelly Sather

Sept. 24, 2010--There is a long history of prestigious Fulbright Scholars at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls.

The Fulbright, a highly sought-after grant by both faculty and students, was created to enhance international relations between the U.S. and other countries. Candidates apply to do research, do teaching, or do a combination of both.

Marshall Toman, UWRF Fulbright Coordinator, noted that there have been at least five Fulbright Scholars from UW-River Falls.

According to Toman, Jim DeMuth received the grant and traveled to Egypt from 1981-82. DeMuth received the grant once again from 1988-89 and traveled to Norway. Professor Betty Bergland also traveled to Norway. Professor Jim Senft, now retired, also received a teaching Fulbright that allowed him to travel to Croatia.

In 1997, Toman accepted the Fulbright grant for teaching and had the opportunity to teach at both the Palacky University and Masaryk University in the Czech Republic. Toman was also offered another Fulbright for teaching in the Ukraine in 2008 year, but had to decline.

Recently, Matthew Vonk, assistant professor of physics, received a Fulbright for half of the 2009-10 year teaching physics at La Universidad Nacional de Ingenieria (National University of Engineering) in Managu, Nicaragua. Vonk was inspired to pursue a Fulbright after UWRF received a grant to update the electronics department and he had the chance to work with field programmable gate arrays (FPGAs). Vonk wanted to continue this project and thought it would be a great opportunity to bring this technology to Nicaragua.

“I was worried that the faculty and students there might think this stuff was old news. I worried that it could also be way beyond their current curriculum knowledge. Luckily, I came at just the right time and the faculty had sufficient prior knowledge and were ready to learn about the FPGAs,” says Vonk.

Vonk says he had the sense that these changes he helped make will be permanent and he feels heartened that they will benefit from these changes. Fulbright ambassadors have a chance to make an impact in the schools they work in, but also get to develop a better sense of what the nation they have been placed in is really like.

“I was able to experience so many things. I climbed volcanoes, hiked through a cloud forest, and learned how to surf,” Vonk says. “Everyone should go abroad and we as Americans should do our best to bring in students and faculty from abroad. Having these types of relations in the school systems creates a rich environment for learning. When you go out of the country, you challenge your own conceptions of the world and learn so much not only about your surroundings but yourself.”

Currently, Geoff Scheurman, professor of teacher education, is on a teaching Fulbright grant in Norway for the academic year of 2010-11. Toman says that he knows of one faculty member who has already applied for the grant for next year and that he knows of a few others who are seriously considering it.

As for students, Toman says a student was able to travel to Germany from 1997-98 to do research.

“This is a great experience for both students and faculty. I think past Fulbright ambassadors should share their experiences with the community to spark interest in future potential international ambassadors,” says Toman. Each year the Fulbright Scholar Program looks for a wide range of scholars and professionals to represent the United States abroad. Named for its creator, Senator J. William Fulbright, this government funded program was intended to foster good international relations and since the time of Fulbright himself, thousands of students, teachers, and professionals have traveled abroad to at least 140 countries.


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