U-M among nation’s top Fulbright-producing institutions


University of Michigan students and faculty scholars were offered 40 Fulbright grants for the 2020-21 academic year. The university is among the top producing institutions in the country for both programs. 

The grants — one of the U.S. government’s most prestigious awards — represent an offer to fund the research of 28 students, the most among public universities, and 12 scholars overseas for six to 12 months.

The Fulbright Program has not yet released the names of its faculty scholars. Unlike in previous years, its current data reflects the total number of awards offered, rather than the number of awards accepted. The change was in response to COVID-19 program adaptations, the organization said on its website.

Student Fulbright applications are coordinated through the U-M International Institute. While there is no similar campuswide clearinghouse for Fulbright Faculty Scholars at U-M, fellowship advisers at the International Institute can provide comprehensive support and professional advice on structuring an application.

This year, student interests range from researching the biradari system and caste hierarchy in India, the design optimization of floating wind turbine substructures in Norway, and understanding the access to justice for survivors of conflict-related sexual violence in Bosnia, among other topics.

“In a year with many challenges, especially for international education and research, the International Institute is so proud of our awardees. The Fulbright experience is transformative,” said Mary Gallagher, International Institute director. “At a time when barriers to international travel, education, research and collaboration have been steep, we are heartened to witness Michigan students’ and scholars’ determination to engage the world, to build lasting ties of understanding and connection.”

Peter Rohrer, a U-M naval architecture and marine engineering graduate student, arrived in Norway at the end of December 2020 to work on his master’s thesis. He is studying design optimization of floating wind turbine substructures at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim.

“I am building off previous research done at NTNU and the specialized experience of the faculty here. Norway has led the world in floating wind research and development, and there is no shortage of people to learn from here,” he said.

Brittany Puller will begin her fellowship in August. She is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Asian Languages and Cultures and will spend nine months in Punjab, India, researching how biradari, a form of relatedness, created communities across caste, religion and biological kinship through land sharing practices and military affiliations in early modern Punjab. 

“I am incredibly grateful for this opportunity, which will allow me to conduct archival research, collect oral histories and genealogies, and translate texts that are crucial to my research,” Puller said. “I hope to learn more about 18th-century Punjab, a critical yet understudied period of history that gave rise to new forms of belonging prevalent in North India and Pakistan today.”

Sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, the Fulbright program seeks to increase mutual understanding between the U.S. and other countries, as well as help the recipients achieve their academic goals.

Nearly 1,100 U.S. students, artists and young professionals from 100 different fields are offered Fulbrights each year. During the 2019-20 academic year, 21 U-M students and 11 scholars received the highly competitive award. 

According to Mary Kirk, director of the Office of Academic Exchange Programs in the State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, these institutions benefit from new viewpoints from abroad and new international collaborations, which often lead to discoveries and breakthroughs that have a global impact.

“Fulbright U.S. scholars benefit professionally throughout their career by expanding the scope and reach of their research and bringing a global perspective to their teaching,” Kirk said. “Fulbright U.S. students enrich their education, advance their careers and make valuable contributions abroad and at home.”

Kate Powers, a recent graduate of the Michigan Law School, was offered a student research fellowship in Bosnia and Herzegovina. With departure planned for September, Powers will be in Bosnia for nine months, researching the access to justice for survivors of conflict-related sexual violence. Although the conflict ended 25 years ago, she said, many survivors have yet to receive any kind of remedy, which is a right under international law.

“I am particularly interested in how, if at all, the country responds to outside pressure. I want to look at what measures politicians at local or national levels have considered and either adopted or abandoned — and why,” Powers said. “Broadly, my research methodology would include a lot of interviews, including with policy makers, civil society leaders and activists, academics and, when appropriate, with survivors themselves.”


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