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U of I among Top-Five Public Universities for Fulbright U.S Students

Champaign, Ill. – The University of Illinois is among the top-five public universities in the nation for 2015-16 Fulbright U.S. Students, according to information recently released from the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.

The Fulbright Program is the U.S. government’s flagship international educational exchange program. Top-producing institutions are highlighted annually in The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Fifteen students from the U. of I.’s Urbana campus won Fulbright awards for 2015-16, helping Illinois earn its top-five rank for public universities. Among those are four graduate students. This is the sixth consecutive year that Illinois has earned a place among the list of top producers.

The Fulbright competition is administered at the University of Illinois through a joint effort between the National and International Scholarships Program and the Graduate College Office of External Fellowships. Students interested in applying for Fulbright awards commencing in fall 2017 are encouraged to participate in events surrounding Illinois Fulbright Week, which takes place April 14-20.

According to Ken Vickery, Director of the Graduate College Office of External Fellowships, “Fulbright is one of the oldest and most celebrated international educational programs in the world, and Fulbright Scholars are recognized worldwide for their academic leadership as well as their roles as cultural ambassadors."

The current graduate student Fulbright Scholars are:

Michelle Asbill, of Los Alamitos, California, is a doctoral candidate in social work. She is conducting dissertation fieldwork in Bulgaria to uncover factors that help at-risk girls avoid going into prostitution. She developed her research interests during the four years she spent in Bulgaria as a community development worker with Greater Europe Mission, a nongovernmental organization dedicated to education and community development. She also worked with the Smile Bulgaria Foundation, an organization that serves institutionalized and orphaned teenaged girls. Asbill earned her MSW from the University of Wisconsin at Madison. She also earned a master's in European Union studies at Illinois and a master’s in European social work from New Bulgarian University.

Mark Frank grew up in Castries, St. Lucia, and Waxhaw, North Carolina. He is a doctoral candidate in the department of East Asian languages and cultures, where he specializes in modern Chinese history. He is conducting dissertation research in southwest China, studying the history of Xikang Province. Unlike most Chinese provinces, Xikang was ethnically diverse and had an altitudinal range of over 10,000 feet, creating unprecedented challenges for its public institutions. Though the province lasted only 15 years and has mostly slipped from popular memory, Frank's research aims to show that it served as a critical step in China's transition from an imperial to a modern nation. Frank earned a bachelor's degree at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, majoring in linguistics, and then a master's at Illinois in Asian studies.

Ana Martin-Ryals, of Ridgecrest, California, is a doctoral candidate in agricultural and biological engineering. She is conducting dissertation research in Barcelona, Spain, on ways to improve wastewater treatment. Barcelona houses the largest reverse-osmosis-based desalination plant in Europe, making the city particularly interesting for water research. Martin-Ryals’ research aims to help scientists and engineers design ways to sustainably reuse wastewater. She graduated summa cum laude from the University of Florida with a bachelor’s in agricultural engineering, and at Illinois she has been supported by a prestigious three-year National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship.

Joshua Shelly, of Oak Park, Michigan, is a master’s student in the department of religion. His Fulbright takes him to Germany, where he is conducting a one-year English teaching assistantship. He earned a bachelor’s in German and history from Wayne State University, then a master’s in library and information science from Illinois. Shelly plans to bring a variety of American musical genres – folk, Motown, hip-hop and pop – into the classroom, not only to help teach vocabulary but also to provide a window into American culture and history. Upon completion of the assistantship, Shelly will begin a joint Ph.D. program in German studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and at Duke University.

Agnes Sohn, of Chicago, is a doctoral candidate in anthropology who is conducting dissertation research in South Korea. She investigates how young Koreans in their 20s and 30s are responding to rapid modernization. Her project will take her to Jeju Island off the coast of South Korea, a destination for those seeking to escape the capital city of Seoul. She will carry out fieldwork among two groups: those who are relocating to Jeju to work for high-tech companies, and those who are abandoning a corporate lifestyle to open small, local businesses. Sohn has taught English and traveled extensively in South Korea, and she already has carried out several months of preliminary research. Along with the Fulbright, Sohn won the prestigious Fulbright-Hays fellowship this year.

Since its inception in 1946, the Fulbright Program has provided more than 360,000 participants – chosen for their academic merit and leadership potential – with the opportunity to exchange ideas and contribute to finding solutions to shared international concerns. Over 1,900 U.S. students, artists and young professionals in more than 100 different fields of study are offered Fulbright Program grants to study, teach English and conduct research annually. The Fulbright U.S. Student Program operates in more than 140 countries throughout the world. Lists of Fulbright recipients are available online.

The Fulbright Program is funded through an annual appropriation made by the U.S. Congress to the Department of State. Participating governments and host institutions, corporations and foundations in foreign countries and in the United States also provide direct and indirect support.

In the United States, the Institute of International Education administers and coordinates the activities relevant to the Fulbright U.S. Student Program on behalf of the Department of State, including conducting an annual competition for the scholarships.      

The Fulbright Program also awards grants to U.S. scholars, teachers and faculty to conduct research and teach overseas. In addition, some 4,000 new foreign Fulbright students and scholars come to the United States annually to study for graduate degrees, conduct research and teach foreign languages.

For more information about the Fulbright Program, visit the website of the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.