Kenyon Abroad: The Path to Fulbright

photo of street in Budapest with colorful architecture

Written by Samantha Neilson, Kenyon Class ’23

Wind whispers through the streets of Budapest. Perched on a rusted stool in a street café, you are at the heart of it all— the audience for a raging cacophony. A group of schoolgirls weaves through the cobblestone streets. A shopkeeper turns his gaze to the Danube beyond. Opening your notebook, you leaf to the next blank page. This is Fulbright in motion, when a life of observation and zest for learning become one.  

Kenyon continues to be a leading institution in producing Fulbright winners, joining a list of the top 19 US institutions for awards to both students and faculty in the 2019-20 academic year. Four Kenyon faculty members are included among this list of awardees — Associate Professor of Chemistry Yutan Getzler, Associate Professor of Psychology Irene López, Assistant Professor of Sociology Shaun Golding, and Professor of Chemistry Mo Hunsen. Pursuing research and teaching opportunities in Israel, Hungary, Norway, and Ethiopia, respectively, these faculty navigated the challenges presented by a global pandemic to bring Kenyon’s spirit abroad.

For Professor Getzler, Fulbright was the perfect opportunity to research polymer degradation and build upon his zest for travel. He first joined Kenyon’s chemistry department in 2004, where he specializes in catalysis, polymer chemistry, and recycling.

Taking the leap to embark upon a sabbatical year abroad, Getzler began brewing ideas for an international experience with his family and applied for scholarships and programs, among them Fulbright. After forging connections with faculty at Tel Aviv University, Getzler applied for the coveted Fulbright position in Israel, winning a Senior Scholar Fellowship to pursue the project, “New Materials for Controlled Degradation.” His research would focus on exploring the function and structure of polymers, honing in on analyzing the relationship between the structures and behaviors of these large molecules.

Tel Aviv University.

Behind Professor Getzler’s research is a cohort of student researchers cheering him on. He credits much of the success of his research and development of his project to student-faculty collaboration.

“At Kenyon, the work we do with students every day in the lab is extremely important.”

Professor Yutan Getzler

Getzler’s Fulbright was not his first exploration into examining the lifespan of consumer plastics. Written in collaboration with Geoffrey Coates, the Tisch University Professor in the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology at Cornell University, Getzler’s article, “Chemical recycling to monomer for an ideal, circular polymer economy,” also examines the function and future of polymers, specifically their potential roles in amplifying biological disease markers or lessening the environmental impact of waste.

Although Getzler ultimately postponed his Fulbright, he continues to explore these ideas daily at Kenyon and hopes to rejoin the program in the future.

Like Professor Getzler, Professor López shares a passion for international travel and research. She traces her interests in the psychology of immigration and social immigration— particularly the lived experiences of immigrant children— to her own upbringing in the Bronx. 

López joined Kenyon’s faculty in 2007 and teaches courses in Women’s and Gender Studies, and cross-cultural and Latino psychology. Her research interests include gender, acculturation, socioeconomic status and cross-cultural psychopathology. She became intrigued by Hungary’s multicultural history, particularly its transition out of occupation and influx of immigrants, while attending an international conference.

Colorful signs welcome López to Hungary.

Determined to pursue her interest in unpacking the Hungarian experience, López made contact with faculty at Eotvos Lorand University’s Institute of Intercultural Psychology and Education of ELTE PPK. She subsequently won a Fulbright for her proposal, “Towards a Pedagogy of Global Understanding: Comparing the Processes of Social Integration in the U.S. and Hungary.In Budapest, López juggled her time between teaching two courses — “The Psychology of Immigration” and “Social Behavior” — to students in the Masters Program of Social Integration, engaging with students coming from across Europe, snapping photos, and taking in the local coffee scene. In her spare moments, she documented her Fulbright experience in her blog, “Bad Choices Make Good Stories.”

A snapshot from López’s camera roll.

Though her time abroad was unfortunately cut short due to the pandemic, López warmly remembers her brief stay in Hungary.

“This experience really taught me the importance of compassion and acceptance in and out of the classroom.”

Professor Irene López

Over 1000 miles across the Baltic Sea, Professor Golding was learning parallel lessons in Norway. A member of the sociology department since 2016, Golding studies communities, the environment, social demography, and the environment, and teaches courses like “Powers, Energies and Peoples” and “Environmental Sociology.”

 After connecting with faculty at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Golding’s budding interest in global migration patterns and the impacts of labor on the environment in the context of Norway’s relationship with the Eastern European work force blossomed. Golding won a spot in the Core Fulbright U.S Scholar Program for his research proposal, “Labor Migration, Natural Resources, and Environmentalism in Rural Norway.” He focused on rural labor migration patterns, specifically examining the ecological impacts of immigrant labor regimes, the newcomers’ roles as environmental agents, and changes in their environmental beliefs and habits after settling.

Golding initially planned to travel to rural communities and conduct interviews but shifted to a questionnaire format due to the pandemic. While the results of his study continue to emerge, his initial quantitative analyses yield striking results: “One of the things that became readily apparent was the direct relationship between consumption and transportation patterns in places that receive a lot of foreign workers coming from eastern Europe to Norway.”

Outside of his research, Golding spent his spare time soaking up Norway’s cultural experiences. Among his favorite memories are hiking in the Lofoten Islands, celebrating the 17th of May (Norway’s national Constitution Day), and attending the Nobel Peace Prize Ceremony in Oslo. “Most years, the Fulbright office in Oslo receives a few tickets to the ceremony, and I was lucky enough to win one of them by lottery. The event was entertaining, educational, and moving, especially given the recent tenor of American politics. Remembering it through the fog of a global pandemic, the musical performances and glamorous attire stands out.”

Golding’s view from the Nobel Peace Prize Ceremony.

Though Fulbright enables many scholars to explore new horizons, for others, like Professor of Chemistry Mo Hunsen, Fulbright presents an opportunity to experience one’s home nation in a new light. Born and raised in Ethiopia, Hunsen attended Addis Ababa University, where he maintains close ties with faculty members.

Hunsen traces the moment that sparked his interests in the environment and seeking sustainable resources to the beginning days of his PhD: “I remember my advisor found ways to make expensive chemicals out of cheap sugars like lactose milk sugar. … I was amazed by this process of converting natural resources into something bigger.

Joining Kenyon’s faculty of chemistry and biochemistry in 2001, Hunsen has centered his research around his guiding principles of seeking green and sustainable resource alternatives. 

“I was amazed by this process of converting natural resources into something bigger.”

Professor Mo Hunsen

After deciding to pursue a Fulbright in Ethiopia, Hunsen set his eyes on his alma mater. He connected with a fellow researcher whose interests in isolating renewable resources from natural oils complimented his research in harvesting carbohydrates for drug development back home at Kenyon. Together, they planned to jumpstart biodegradable materials in Ethiopia by isolating oils from a weed that grows wild in arid areas in Ethiopia.

The pandemic may have postponed Hunsen’s return to his home country, but it can’t diminish his passion for teaching or love for the culture in which he grew up. Among the things he most looks forward to post-pandemic, when permitted to begin his Fulbright, is reuniting with family and exploring the local food culture. In his spare time, Hunsen hopes to travel across Ethiopia and deliver seminars to university students and aspiring STEM learners.

As Getzler, López, Golding, and Hunsen would readily share, the path to Fulbright is not easy, but its many rewards outweigh its challenges. Golding encourages anyone with a passion for research to consider this incredible opportunity: “I would say absolutely pursue it. I think Fulbright is special not only for its research opportunities but what this experience can do for your own outlook. … International collaboration is really important so try not to be too deterred by the hurdle presented by living away for a long period of time. The challenge is well worth it.”

For these Kenyon professors, Fulbright provided the unique opportunity to explore new avenues of research while simultaneously developing a global perspective and learning the merits of connecting with community. Navigating foreign cities, experiencing potential language barriers, and dedicating up to a year in fully immersing themselves in new cultures, Fulbright awardees seek to revolutionize the ways in which they think about the world around them. Kenyon’s Fulbright alumni return home to Gambier with emboldened perspectives and fresh approaches for interacting with their students, colleagues and communities.

“I think Fulbright is special not only for its research opportunities but what this experience can do for your own outlook.”

Professor Shaun Golding

Fulbright draws upon the critical thinking skills Kenyon fosters daily. When asked what she believes are the most foundational qualities for the Fulbrighters of tomorrow, López offered a message of resilience and grit: “Two qualities reflect the attitude of Fulbright: creativity and adaptability. While it is an amazing experience, it is also an unstructured one. … You have to work backwards and push yourself to do something every day.”

Feeling the sudden urge to explore new cultures or peruse the bookstore for a special notebook to inspire award-winning ideas of your very own? Sit tight for the nitty-gritty:

“Two qualities reflect the attitude of Fulbright: creativity and adaptability.”

Professor Irene López

First introduced to Congress in 1946 by Senator J. William Fulbright, the Fulbright Program was established with the hope of granting funding and access to emerging scholars. The Program welcomes passionate U.S. scholars with clear research or teaching goals to apply for study, research, and English Teaching Assistant (ETA) awards. Each year, Fulbright awards ~8,000 grants to live, research, and forge relationships in over 160 partner countries.

After determining their research or teaching objectives and choosing an appropriate opportunity from Fulbright’s annual “Catalogue of Awards,” aspiring applicants streamline their application through one of three sections: English Teaching Assistant Awards (ETA), Research  awards (including arts awards), hybrid Research/Teaching awards and Special Programs, including the national geographic storytelling fellowship. At this stage candidates must consider their core goals and resources needed for their proposed work, create a personal statement, and obtain a letter of affiliation from the host university or country of interest.

Once the selection process is complete, awardees join a cohort of accepted researchers in each country. Leaving their home countries behind, Fulbrighters delve into experiences bound to shape their global perspectives and that offer immense opportunity for academic excellence and development. Applications for the 2022-23 Fulbright competition opened in February and the deadline for submissions is September 15, 2021. The OSFP encourages interested faculty members to explore Fulbright’s website (https://cies.org/us-scholar-awards) and to contact either William Billiter or Deedra Sukrungruang for more information, guidance, assistance with proposal development, or questions.

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