Bringing the international experience home to students

Fulbright Scholar Lauren H. Braun-Strumfels, an associate history professor at New Jersey’s Raritan Valley Community College, recently visited University of Roma Tre in Italy to research and teach U.S. history and American studies. (Photo: RVCC)

The U.S. State Department has recognized 25 public two-year colleges for their Fulbright U.S. Scholars — faculty, researchers and administrators — for the 2019-20 academic year. The Fulbright program aims to increase mutual understanding between people in the U.S. and other countries.

Each of the noted two-year colleges had one Fulbright Scholar for the academic year, except LaGuardia Community College in New York, which has two.

Although 25 scholars represent just a blip among the 900 U.S. college and university faculty and administrators who receive the award annually, it still has a powerful impact on the selected community colleges and their students.

Timothy Gwillim, associate dean of arts, science and education at Davidson County Community College (DCCC) in North Carolina, traveled to Russia as a Fulbright scholar in April 2019. He is among three DCCC leaders who have over the years served as a scholar, including International Education Director Suzanne LaVenture and former DCCC President Mary Rittling.

“It was the experience of a lifetime,” Gwillim said. “Since the trip, we’ve worked to provide our students the connections created during the trip. One of our classes virtually met with their counterparts and peers in Russia. We’re hoping to do a face-to-face exchange of students in the coming year.”

DCCC’s participation in the Fulbright Scholar Program is just one part of the college’s international education program, the college said. Over the past eight years, it has hosted 14 Fulbright foreign language teaching assistants. This year, the college will offer study abroad programs in Costa Rica, Ireland, South Africa, France and Argentina, as well as a community travel opportunity to Scotland in October.

Additionally, DCCC offers many campus events and a global scholars program to provide an international perspective to students.

Part of the mission of community colleges in the state is to produce culturally competent students who are prepared to live and work in an increasingly interdependent world, according to LaVenture.

“The more international connections and experiences we foster for our students, faculty and staff, the stronger our institution becomes at preparing the people of Davidson and Davie counties for a modern and global workforce,” she said.

American-Italian connections

At New Jersey’s Raritan Valley Community College (RVCC), Lauren H. Braun-Strumfels, an associate history professor, traveled to Italy through the scholarship to research and teach U.S. history and American studies at the University of Roma Tre. Her work is part of a project, “Immigration Restriction in Transnational U.S. History,” which focuses on U.S. immigration restriction and Italy’s role in shaping U.S. policy.

Braun-Strumfels will teach graduate seminars on U.S. foreign policy and immigration history in the university’s master of arts (MA) program in international studies. She also will mentor graduate students and advocate for the crucial role that community colleges play in American higher education.

Braun-Strumfels hopes to establish an ongoing relationship between Roma Tre and RVCC through a curricular and programmatic focus on Italian-American history, culture and relations, and to invite selected graduates of the Roma Tre MA program to occasionally teach U.S. history at RVCC as adjunct faculty.

A rich Fulbright history

At Austin Community College in Texas, sociology professor Blanca Alvarado last year visited the University of Costa Rica, where she spent more than eight months visiting communities, co-teaching, and attending lectures and conferences.

“Having received the Fulbright grant has transformed my life. There is no other grant that would give me the kind of cultural experience I was afforded,” Alvarado said. “When I returned to ACC in fall 2019, I was able to coordinate a two-week scholar visit with one of the faculty members. They came into my classroom and worked directly with my students. It’s the kind of immersive learning opportunities our students need.”

Check out our Global Connections columns.

This semester, Alvardo will host video conferences with the University of Costa Rica to continue bridging connections between ACC and the university.

ACC has a rich history of Fulbright Scholars, with faculty and administrators who have studied in Romania, Vietnam, Argentina and Denmark. This year, Heather Barfield, an adjunct drama professor will visit France through the program.

About the Author

Matthew Dembicki
is editor of Community College Daily and serves as publications director for the American Association of Community Colleges.