The J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board, which I chair, recently held its 251st quarterly meeting in Washington, D.C. Established by Congress and appointed by the President of the United States, the 12-member bipartisan Board supervises the Fulbright Program, the U.S. government's flagship international exchange program, sponsored by the Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. Sweeping societal and technological changes have transformed the world since 1946 when Senator Fulbright championed the Fulbright Act that established mutual understanding as a core principle of American foreign policy. Today's Fulbright Program is strikingly innovative, robust, and adaptable, and is uniquely positioned to address the major challenges of this century.
Educational exchanges strengthen both U.S. competitiveness and national security. The Fulbright has provided opportunities to over 300,000 participants from more than 155 countries to study, teach, conduct research, exchange ideas and contribute solutions to shared international concerns. The program is a model for international cooperation and cost-sharing -- both with partner countries and through cooperative agreements with the private sector. Annually, more than 8,000 students, scholars, and professionals are selected to participate as a vital element of U.S. foreign policy.
The J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board establishes worldwide program policies, including application review and selection of the students, scholars, teachers, and others who participate in programs under the Fulbright umbrella. In the past six months alone, the Board members reviewed 10,000 applications. It is a working Board in every sense.
Our meetings are largely open to the public, and we discuss innovations and opportunities in a range of countries. We are briefed by government officials, hear firsthand accounts of the Fulbright experience from grantees, and review program administration with partner organizations. At our recent meeting, Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs Ann Stock reported on her travels this year to Indonesia, Malaysia, Turkey, Kuwait, and Iraq, where Fulbright alumni and current Fulbright English Teaching Assistants offered a firsthand look at the life-changing impact of the program. A particularly momentous occasion was her joining with U.S. Ambassador to Iraq James Jeffrey to commemorate the 60th Anniversary of Fulbright Exchanges in Iraq. Assistant Secretary Stock said, “The promise and excitement of Fulbright are alive and well in Iraq.”
Senator Fulbright's legislation called for the institution of Binational Commissions, a tremendous strength of the Fulbright Program. Our Board meeting featured a panel of Binational Commission Executive Directors:
- Henry A. Harman Guerra of the Commission for Educational Exchange between Peru and the United States, who reported on enhancing program diversity through outreach to indigenous communities and women;
- Mele Wendt of the New Zealand-United States Educational Foundation, who highlighted business development efforts as well as emergency management and response activity following the February 2011 Christchurch earthquake; and
- Arnaud Roujou de Boubee of the Franco-American Commission for Educational Exchange, who presented on dual degree programs and possible impacts of emerging institutional trends in France to develop them.
Next, the Board next focused on program innovation and engagement in the Western Hemisphere. The forward-looking Fulbright Regional Network for Applied Research (NEXUS) Program supports U.S. foreign policy priorities by promoting academic cooperation that will help fight poverty and encourage innovation in creative, market-driven and socially responsible ways. As these nations work more closely on shared challenges, Fulbright NEXUS offers a collaborative model for scholarly exchange that moves beyond theory to bridge the gap between talent and opportunity across the region.
The Department of State has expanded its outreach within the United States to include diverse populations who may not traditionally apply for the Fulbright Program. The number of African-American and Hispanic-American students on U.S. Fulbright student grants rose by more than 52 percent and 9 percent respectively over the last year.
Around the world, the Fulbright supports strategic outreach to minorities and the underserved, including the economically disadvantaged and young women and girls. Educational opportunity for women and girls is directly linked to the advancement of their communities and societies.
English teaching is another strategic objective and Fulbright helps to prepare young people for a better life through programs such as the Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship Programs and the Foreign Language Teaching Assistantship Program. The ripple effect of English Language programs is significant in reaching youth in rural areas and creating more qualified candidates for employment, academic studies, and the global community.
We were delighted when the Ambassador of Peru and Luis Valdivieso honored the Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board with a joyful reception, at their residence in Washington, D.C. Both the Ambassador and Mrs. Valdivieso are Fulbright alumni, and met during their respective Fulbrights.
That personal story reminded me that whenever I meet Fulbrighters, they always say, "Fulbright changed my life." Fulbrighters without exception are mindful of the priceless gift they have been given. They also recognize the opportunity they have to use that gift to improve and enrich their lives and the lives of others.
Anita McBride serves as Chair of the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board. She is a member of the U.S.-Afghan Women's Council and is Executive in Residence at the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies at American University's School of Public Affairs.