As Barnard stands poised to expand its global presence, it is only fitting that its students have received prestigious Fulbright grants at an impressive rate. Last year 16 Barnard students applied for these distinguished post-graduate awards, which provide funding either for independent research/study projects or English teaching assistantships. Seven students received grants, representing an acceptance rate of 44 percent.
With this percentage, Barnard was accorded inclusion in an October 19, 2009, article in The Chronicle of Higher Education documenting the country’s top producers of Fulbright scholars. As a point of comparison, this online and print newspaper for college and university faculty and administrators reported that in the same 2008-2009 period, 36 Wellesley students applied for Fulbrights, with grants going to nine of them. At Columbia’s undergraduate divisions, 48 students applied and 14 received grants, reflecting a 29 percent acceptance rate. This year 27 Barnard students applied for these grants. And with President Barack Obama’s request to Congress for more funding for the Fulbright program, there’s the expectation that Barnard will have even more students receiving these awards.
What accounts for Barnard’s strong showing? Aaron Schneider, senior associate dean of studies and responsible for helping students through the process, explains, “Barnard tends to attract students who are intellectually ambitious and self-reliant. These are students who come to college in New York City. Our students’ alignments tend to be good with the Fulbrights.” Schneider also suggests that Barnard attracts adventurous, independent young women undaunted by the prospect of moving to another country after graduation.
The Fulbright program, launched in 1946 and sponsored by the State Department, is available for research and teaching in 155 countries, with the mission of promoting “cross-cultural interaction and mutual understanding through engagement in the community and on a person-to-person basis in an atmosphere of openness, academic integrity, and intellectual freedom,” according to the program materials. This year’s Barnard Fulbright scholars are currently studying and working in the Czech Republic, Egypt, Hong Kong, Kazakhstan, Mexico, Nepal, and Spain. Two are English teaching assistants; others are exploring topics ranging from scientific research in immune diseases to esthetics and identity.
There are other factors contributing to Barnard’s success, adds Schneider, “At a small liberal arts college like Barnard, students have more opportunity for independent research with faculty members,” he says, which, in turn, means that students are often “seeking to develop those ideas further” through a Fulbright- supported project after graduation. Barnard candidates also receive significant faculty support throughout the process, from application suggestions to feedback on their essays to providing recommendations.
What also helps, suggests the dean, is the increase in the numbers of students Barnard has been sending on junior-year abroad study programs. “This increases our international profile,” says Schneider, adding that “some of our best Fulbright candidates have laid some groundwork while abroad during their junior year. There is strong institutional support for an increased international outlook at Barnard, which is part and parcel of the Fulbright [program].”
Read about alumnae Fulbright experiences at alumnae.barnard.edu/magazine.
-by Merri Rosenberg '78, photograph by Asiya Khaki '09