A group of community college faculty is preparing to head to Ghana, France, South Korea and other international locations after being named 2022-2023 Fulbright scholars.
The Fulbright program, which is run by the U.S. State Department, provides opportunities to teach, conduct research and carry out professional projects around the world. This year, 11 faculty members from community colleges were selected for Fulbright Scholar Awards.
‘Opportunity of a lifetime’
Among them is Tiffany Thames Copeland, a professor in the media arts and technologies department at Montgomery College in Maryland. She didn’t know a lot about the Fulbright program but started looking into it after getting her doctorate in 2020.
Thames Copeland is heading to Ghana. There, she will conduct research and interview African Americans and others from the African diaspora who responded to Ghana’s “Year of Return,” a Ghanaian initiative to bring the global African community to the country to help develop Ghana’s economy and help people reconnect to their roots.
Thames Copeland wants to find out why Africans have returned, what their experiences have been since coming back to Ghana and how they are contributing. The opportunity coincides with her sabbatical, so she can take a full academic year to immerse herself in the research.
Thames Copeland says she is interested in different cultures and how other people live, so this experience will be “the opportunity of a lifetime.”
A broader purpose
At Montgomery College, Thames Copeland teaches about new media. Her Fulbright project will help her learn (and teach) how new media has affected people who are looking to reconnect to their culture.
While she will be in Ghana for research, it will also be a personal experience. Her family was part of the Great Migration. Her grandparents were sharecroppers in rural Mississippi who left their home in the middle of the night for a better life down the road in Meridian, Mississippi. Thames Copeland’s parents moved from Mississippi to Chicago where, as she was coming of age in the 1990s, drugs and crime were prevalent, and she would “see men my age dying.”
“I see this Fulbright as an opportunity for not just myself, but for my grandparents, and those people I saw dying,” Thames Copeland says. “I’ve been able to live out my life. I get a chance to go back to the continent and live to the fullest extent, to develop as much as I can. Others didn’t get this opportunity.”
She adds, “I feel as though this opportunity is bigger than myself.”
Bringing research to the classroom
Lone Star College (LSC) is home to two 2022-2023 Fulbright scholars.
John J. Theis, professor of political science and director of the LSC-Kingwood Center for Civic Engagement, will travel next year to South Korea, where grew up as the son of Methodist missionaries. While there, he saw Fulbright participants come and go, so he “had it in the back of my mind” to apply, he says. “The timing was never right.”
But the Covid pandemic postponed his sabbatical and “that gave me the window. I knew I had sabbatical coming up next spring. This was my chance to apply,” Theis says.
He will teach about American government at Dankook and Hanshin Universities from March to July. During his semester there, he wants to gain in-depth knowledge of Korean higher education and learn more about Korean politics and political engagement.
Upon returning, Theis hopes to set up a study abroad program to Korea.
“Korea is extremely popular among our students,” he says. It’s also an important part of the world, culturally and politically, and he wants students to have opportunities to experience it – even if only for a short time.
Theis also wants to use what he learns to inspire LSC students to become more civically engaged.
“Growing up in Korea, college students were political activists,” Theis says. “When I came to the States to go to college, that was kind of gone.”
Theis says lessons can be learned from Korean students about why and how they get politically and civically engaged.
A global STEM experience
For Claire Phillips, it was a newsletter from the Community Colleges for International Development (CCID), which is hosted at LSC, that brought her attention to the Fulbright program. In her mind, opportunities only existed for faculty at four-year colleges.
Phillips is the dean of instruction, science and engineering at LSC-CyFair. She will participate in a two-week intensive seminar to learn about France’s educational system.
Phillips joined a study abroad program in France when she was in college. Now she’ll have an opportunity to see how the country’s educational structure has changed. She plans to visit with some of the technical institutions and make connections for possible study abroad and internship opportunities in France.
At LSC-CyFair, she’s in charge of the STEM curriculum area.
“We need to internationalize STEM courses,” Phillips says. But faculty don’t always know how to do that. Through her own Fulbright experience, Phillips ultimately wants to “broaden the perspectives of faculty and encourage them to do more study abroad and internationalization.”
Giving students and faculty global experiences is a tradition for LSC. The college’s Honors College takes students beyond the classroom with opportunities to participate in Fellows International Capstone opportunities, off-campus educational and cultural events, service-learning opportunities, conferences and special seminars.
A new outlook
Garvey Lundy participated in a Fulbright experience in 2017 and is now a Fulbright Scholar Alumni Ambassador. Lundy, a sociology professor at Montgomery County Community College in Pennsylvania, applied for the Fulbright program to expand his “scholarly and academic outlook,” he says.
But he had reservations about applying.
“I know the best teachers in this country are from community colleges,” Lundy says. “My reservation was whether Fulbright was aware of the plethora of resources available at the community college level.”
When he was selected as a Fulbright scholar, he was “indeed surprised.”
Lundy’s project took him to Cameroon. He was born in Haiti and has roots there, but he wanted to “connect the dots” to Africa. Though he taught while there, sharing his perspective about American society – one of his courses was called The American Dream – he learned even more.
“It was a transformative experience,” Lundy says. He went into the experience thinking that he’d return with the resources to become a “revolutionary,” but instead “it softened me,” he says.
His time in Cameroon “showed me the commonality of the human experience. We have more in common with each other than differences.”
He now shares his experience with colleagues and students, and he weaves what he learned in Cameroon into his lectures. He also likes to “spread the gospel of the Fulbright.”
Worth the rigor
A Fulbright experience isn’t a paid vacation – and the real work begins during the application process.
Theis spent six weeks completing his application.
“It’s a complex process,” he says. He had to write five essays and find a partner college, which he says was the biggest hurdle. “If you’re going to apply, start looking for a partner college well in advance.”
Talking with Fulbright alumni can be helpful during the application process, Theis says.
Thames Copeland is grateful to Montgomery College for helping her “put all this in place.” Though the process has been rigorous, just like when she got her doctorate while teaching, “it’s been beneficial in more ways than it’s been rigorous,” she says.
The application process is now open for the 2023-24 Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program. The deadline is September 15.