World of Opportunities

By Mitzi Bible, February 20, 2015

The prestigious Fulbright scholarship program, though fairly new to Liberty University, is already speaking volumes about the quality of Liberty’s academic programs and faculty. In the past year, a graduate student and a philosophy professor were awarded grants to travel abroad to research, teach, and exchange ideas between cultures — the hallmark of the program.

Sponsored by the U.S. government and administered by the Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, Fulbright is the flagship international educational exchange program for students and scholars. It was named after Sen. J. William Fulbright of Arkansas, who introduced the legislation in 1946 as a way to promote mutual understanding between nations after World War II. The competitive scholarship program is currently active in over 155 countries.

With the full support of university administration, Liberty became an official partner of the Fulbright program in 2011, joining over 500 other U.S. academic institutions. Liberty’s Fulbright Program is overseen by the Liberty University School of Law, under the direction of its dean and the Fulbright Committee, which is made up of faculty and staff representing different areas of the university.

“Liberty’s Fulbright Committee has been tremendously successful in the short time it has partnered with Fulbright,” said Rena Lindevaldsen, interim dean for Liberty Law. “The School of Law is pleased to continue to administer the program and to encourage students, faculty, and staff to take advantage of Fulbright worldwide opportunities. This academic exchange program enables the law school and the university to accomplish its Christ-centered mission overseas.”

Students are typically accepted after they receive an undergraduate degree. Cheryl Walton, who is pursuing a Master of Arts in Management and Leadership at Liberty, became one of Liberty’s first student Fulbrighters when she applied to teach English to middle and high school students in Malaysia last year through the Fulbright English Teaching Assistant (ETA) program. Walton returned to the U.S. in December after 11 months abroad.

Walton said the trip was a chance for her to grow spiritually and to fulfill Liberty’s mission of Training Champions for Christ.

“As one of Liberty’s first Fulbrighters, it is an honor to represent Liberty University, but more importantly the Lord Jesus Christ as one of His ambassadors,” she said. “While most look at a title, I choose to look at the bigger picture of serving the living God every day.”

Possibilities abound for students like Walton, but there are also many opportunities for faculty and staff to pursue their research and teach overseas.

Michael Jones with his wife, Laura, on the Black Sea.

Michael Jones with his wife, Laura, on the Black Sea.

Dr. Michael Jones, associate professor of philosophy and theology, serves on the university’s Fulbright Committee. Since September, he has also been conducting research and teaching as a visiting professor with the Fulbright Scholar Program at the University of Bucharest in Romania. He returns in July.

Jones is one of 1,200 U.S. scholars and 900 visiting scholars to receive a Fulbright award in the past year. He earned a student Fulbright scholarship to the country in 2000, where he conducted research, and has traveled there on short-term mission trips and for conferences. Much of Jones’ current work focuses on the 20th century Romanian philosopher Lucian Blaga, a shining star on the country’s intellectual scene between World War I and World War II, who was expelled from his university teaching post and prohibited from publishing when the Communist party took control. Jones is working to translate the last of Blaga’s books into English, with the hope of publishing it in America and opening the doors for more study of this philosopher in other countries.

“Being here in Romania gives me a great opportunity to experience another culture and, as a result, to become more sensitive to cultural differences and more aware of our own cultural situation,” Jones said.

As a member of the Fulbright Committee, Jones said he is proud to see Liberty students and scholars show interest in these opportunities and is hopeful that more will follow.

“I’d really like to see LU faculty and students who have never had a Fulbright succeed in applying and have the great personal, professional, and ministry opportunities that a Fulbright provides,” he said.

Edna Udobong

Dr. Edna Udobong is Liberty’s Fulbright Program advisor and campus representative.

Liberty Law professor Edna Udobong, also a Fulbright scholar, joins Jones on the committee and serves as the university’s Fulbright campus representative. She received a Fulbright grant to teach and conduct research in Nigeria in 2008 and was awarded a Fulbright senior specialist grant to South Africa in 2013. Her work has focused primarily on international law and human rights. When she came to Liberty in 2010, she immediately recognized the potential for the university to join the Fulbright program.

“This is the home of missions, and if you want to go serve overseas, the beauty of Fulbright is that there are no financial obligations,” she said.

The Fulbright application process is rigorous, but a grant is well within reach for students and faculty in many different disciplines. The key is to demonstrate an interest in collaborating with other institutions to make a significant contribution to both the applicant’s own country and the country in which they are serving.

Even if students are not accepted, they still gain valuable experience — from writing essays to communicating with foreign countries. Members of Liberty’s Fulbright Committee provide support to students throughout the entire application process.

“My personal experience with a Fulbright grant in India was a life-changer for me,” said Associate Professor Sharon Wheeler, director of the Center for Teaching Excellence and a member of Liberty’s Fulbright Committee.

Liberty’s world-class academic programs are nurturing the type of faculty and students who can compete with applicants from schools that have participated in the Fulbright program for decades.

“All across Liberty University are students and professors doing the quality of work worthy of the international recognition and support that the Fulbright program brings,” said committee member and English professor Karen Swallow Prior. “Identifying and encouraging Fulbright applicants from Liberty serves to further enhance the work already being done here as well as to increase our school’s stature on the global stage.”

Dr. Barry Moore, Liberty’s vice president for outreach and strategic partnerships, serves as the committee’s chair. He said that being a partner in the Fulbright program broadens the scope of an institution and leads to further success for students and faculty.

“There’s almost nothing a student or faculty member could do, except perhaps win a Nobel or Pulitzer Prize, that would increase personal skills and knowledge more, and help ensure a career-long boost in reputation, than to have been a Fulbright scholar,” he said. “It’s a terrific program that dedicated Liberty University students and employees should seek out, and just go for it.”

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