U-M tops public universities for Fulbright student awards


University of Michigan students and faculty scholars were offered 25 Fulbright grants for the 2021-22 academic year. The university is among the top Fulbright-producing institutions in the country.

The grants, one of the U.S. government’s most prestigious awards, have been offered to fund the research of 18 U-M students, the most among public universities, and seven faculty scholars overseas for up to 12 months.

The Fulbright Program lists as confirmed faculty scholars from U-M:

  • Stephen DesJardins, the Marvin W. Peterson Collegiate Professor of Education and professor of education in the School of Education.
  • Gary Freed, the Percy J. Murphy M.D. and Marcy C. Murphy R.N. Professor of Pediatrics for Child Health Delivery, and professor of pediatrics in the Medical School, and professor of health management and policy in the School of Public Health.
  • Kenn Oldham, professor of mechanical engineering in the College of Engineering.
  • Bruce Tharp, professor of art and design in the Penny W. Stamps School of Art & Design.

Three other U-M faculty members have been offered Fulbright grants, but they are not yet listed by the Fulbright Program because the grants have not yet been fully confirmed.

DesJardins spent four months last fall working on grade inflation, college access and success in Porto, Portugal.

“I was impressed by how Fulbright really could help me make connections with higher education economists in the country who have similar interests,” he said. “When that happens, you have potential for some long-lasting kinds of relationships and can help to make connections with other people. So that’s a big benefit.”

DesJardins said that within Portugal and Europe, grade inflation is a problem with serious consequences for individuals, schools and universities. Together with other scholars from the University of Porto, he built a longitudinal database with all high school students in Portugal for 10 years, including their college application, test scores and information about their college performance.

“Our project had two aspects of it,” he said. “First, to document that there is grade inflation in high school, and second, to look at how it affects different individuals, different schools and what the consequences of this are for access and success in higher education.”

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 2020-21 academic year, 28 U-M students and 12 scholars received the highly competitive award.

“Since its creation in 1946, the Fulbright Program has been essential in promoting international and regional studies to American scholars and students,” said Mary Gallagher, director of the International Institute.

“Research and teaching on global issues are impossible without access to study and research abroad. In addition, this program promotes foreign language expertise, deep area studies knowledge and experience, and a broader worldview. We need these skills now more than ever.”

Ross Bernhaut is a doctoral candidate in his fourth year of the Ph.D. program in the history of art, specializing in South Asia’s art and architectural history. He will begin an 11-month Fulbright in May, pursuing a long-term study of the architectural development of the fortified hilltop city that towers hundreds of feet above the congested urban sprawl of Gwalior in Madhya Pradesh, India.

His project endeavors to reconstruct the original appearance of the hilltop by analyzing dislocated sculptures, reconstructing iconographic programs, and investigating the adaptation and transformation of structures over time. It will also utilize textual and material evidence to postulate which buildings may have once stood but no longer remain.

“I want to understand how subsequent interventions responded to existing structures on Gwalior hill,” Bernhaut said. “Ultimately, I hope to expand our understanding of the role Gwalior hill has played in the political, social, religious and architectural landscape of northern India, and contextualize its specific history within regional developments in hill fort urbanism.”

Mary Kirk, director of the Office of Academic Exchange Programs in the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, said the institutions with Fulbright recipients 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,” she said. “Fulbright U.S. students enrich their education, advance their careers and make valuable contributions abroad and at home.”

Rachel Brichta of the International Institute contributed to this article.


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