State Department officials recently expanded the reach of the Fulbright Scholars Program and both grant recipients and applicants from the University are hoping the expansion will mean more opportunities for University graduates.

The program, which offers students grants to pursue English Teaching Assistantships, independent research and study in countries around the world, will now offer grants specifically designed for students with interdisciplinary interests like entrepreneurship, sustainability and innovation. Two hundred-fifty students pursuing ETAs have either left for their assignments or will be leaving in early 2011 thanks to the expansion, according to Rosalind Swenson, director of the Fulbright program at the Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.

Swenson attributed the expansion to officials in Congress and President Barack Obama’s administration who were interested in expanding opportunities for students to pursue exchange programs. She added that the bureau’s emphasis on enhancing the use of English abroad also contributed to the expansion of the ETA program.

“English is basically becoming the tool by which all exchanges can take place … and one (can) learn more about the United States … the English Teaching Assistantship is a critical component of that whole initiative to increase the teaching of English worldwide,” Swenson said.

Swenson added that the expansions would mean an increase in the opportunities available to students applying for Fulbright’s grant program.

“It should make it easier to get a grant in theory because the number of awards is increasing,” she said. “But what has also been happening in the past couple of years is that we have seen a large growth in the number of applications.”

Swenson went on to say that 9,335 students have applied to the program this year, up from 8,600 last year.

“It does allow for more opportunity but, by the same token, we are seeing more American students interested in taking part in the Fulbright program,” she said.

Fulbright applicant and University alum Khadeejah Sani hopes to pursue sustainable energy engineering research in affiliation with the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology in Abu Dhabi. Sani said she believes the expansions would have an effect on her proposed project.

“Since my project is in direct alignment with the fundamental principles of the new direction of the Fulbright program, I will have more of a chance to gain acceptance as a Fulbright scholar,” Sani said.

“The expansion happened right after I applied to the program, so if I am not accepted this year then I most definitely will re-apply next year in anticipation of an increased chance of gaining acceptance,” Sani added.

Fulbright recipient and University alum Anna Clark, a former writer for The Michigan Daily, will use her grant to pursue a creative writing project in Nairobi, Kenya. She said that she thought the expansion to the program would lead to increases in acceptance for more students from the University.

“Michigan has one of the best records in the nation for its students, alumni and faculty getting Fulbright fellowships,” she said. “I had an excellent experience working with the International Institute on my application, and I have no doubt that they will take every opportunity they can in making it possible for more Michigan students to experience the world.”

According to the International Institute website, the University ranks first in the number of Fulbright grantees this year, with 39 students in 24 countries. This is the fourth time the University has led in the number of grants since 2005.

University alum Sharief El-Gabri, who originally applied for an ETA grant in Egypt, received one for Amman, Jordan. He said that he will participate in a conference in Amman in mid-January aimed at contributing to the growth of the program. Gabri said he believes the expansions will lead to more University students attaining fellowships.

“The expansion will most certainly lead to more Michigan students pursuing the various grants,” he said. “It’s great that there are even more opportunities to take advantage of the Fulbright program, which is committed to promoting understanding and bridging differences.”

Ginger Cline, a University alum who is pursuing an ETA in France, said the recent expansions wouldn’t affect applicants looking for grants in France as the number available hasn’t changed.

“Fulbright operates on a country-by-country basis, and from what I saw on the website, nothing about the program in France has changed,” she said.

She said the expansions in the program would mean there are more opportunities for University students, citing the addition of three new ETAs in Laos.

Benjamin Fox, a University alum who pursued a Fulbright Scholarship in eco-city development in Taiwan, said his own proposal was wait-listed at first. He said he was accepted to the program when more funding was made available. According to Fox, expansions could result in more acceptances of University students.

“Once students make it past the first cut, they are all worthy of receiving a grant. The number of fellowships finally awarded is largely predicated on how much funding is available,” Fox said. “U of M will keep producing qualified candidates; and the more money available, the more U of M students that will end up getting grants.”

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