Just days before Robert Burack’s recent graduation from UM-Flint, he received the good news that he will be heading to Turkey. The letter came from the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board (FFSB), and culminated a year-long application process.
“I began working with Dr. Mary Jo Kietzman (UM-Flint Fulbright Program Advisor (FPA)) over a year ago. This initial period was time spent figuring out my goals for the experience and crafting dreams I could believe in. Over the summer I wrote a personal and intellectual biography and a statement of grant purpose, and revised them in the fall while working to secure recommendations from faculty members,” said Burack
The Fulbright U.S. Student Program is the largest U.S. exchange program offering opportunities for students and young professionals to undertake international graduate study, advanced research, university teaching, and primary and secondary school teaching worldwide. The program currently awards approximately 1,800 grants annually in all fields of study, and operates in more than 155 countries worldwide. In 1945, Senator J. William Fulbright introduced a bill in the United States Congress that called for the use of surplus war property to fund the ‘promotion of international good will through the exchange of students in the fields of education, culture, and science.’
In Turkey, Burack will mainly be teaching English language and culture courses at a university yet to be determined by the Fulbright program. He will have time and intends to work on his own creative writing and research. He noted a few formative undergraduate experiences that he says have prepared him for the Fulbright.
“For five semesters I served as a peer facilitator for two first-year seminars in the College of Arts and Sciences. My role involved general course facilitation, assistance in structuring curriculum and individual student consultation. Assisting with these interdisciplinary courses–one focused on personal and social identity, another on food policy–provided me with a breadth of instruction experience. Additionally, working with these first-year students, who have drastically different levels of preparedness, has taught me how to address a diversity of needs in the classroom.”
Burack dealt with international issues while he lived and worked in the Pantanal region of Brazil, and learned how to successfully integrate community work and teaching practices. Pantaneiros, the local inhabitants of this ecologically important region, who engage mainly in sustainable cattle ranching, were being increasingly pressured to abandon their practices and move to cities, partially because of problems accessing educational resources. He was part of a team that worked to examine existing educational resources and conduct a census of potential students–both actions were required by the Brazilian Minister of Education for many of these communities to receive resource-funding.
Burack views his Fulbright selection as “an opportunity to holistically combine my interests and corresponding skills in global scholarship, effective teaching and intercultural dialogue. The program provides a space to more deeply engage with issues of identity and modernity in Turkish culture–which I’ve previously explored through research on the presence of political and ethnic dialogue in Turkish literature.”
It has been 19 years since the last UM-Flint student was selected for a Fulbright. Brian Mathis traveled to Germany in 1994 for an English Teaching Assistantship.
Burack credits Mary Jo Kietzman with the revival of the campus’ Fulbright program. He said she works extensively and enthusiastically with each student interested in applying.
“My role as FPA is an extension of my job as a teacher of literature: I want to open the world for as many students as possible to explore. I want them to write their own stories and learn to connect with real people—not characters—whose lives they could not have imagined,” said Kietzman. “I hope that Robert’s selection will be the beginning of a continuous stream of UM-Flint students to the far corners of the globe, giving and receiving true wisdom that only comes through interpersonal exchange.”
“I congratulate Robert on this wonderful achievement,” said UM-Flint Chancellor Ruth J. Person. “His selection validates the efforts and programs we have in place to further internationalize our campus and strengthen our commitments to experiential learning.”
Students interested in applying for a Fulbright Fellowship should contact Mary Jo Kietzman at email@example.com. The deadline is October 17th to be considered for grants that begin September 2014.