Appalachian named top producer of Fulbright scholars

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The Appalachian Online

Tommy Culkin

Appalachian State University was recently named a top producer of Fulbright scholars by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.

The Fulbright Program is a highly competitive and prestigious national grant-awarding program for international educational exchange available to both professors and students.

According to ETA Grant Application Statistics, only 17 percent of applicants for research grants were accepted and only 24 percent of applicants seeking Teaching Assistance grants were accepted.

In the 2015-16 year, three Appalachian State faculty members received Fulbright grants, tied for the second most among master’s granting institutions. Since 2012, Appalachian State has produced 12 Fulbright scholars.

One Appalachian State professor currently fulfilling his Fulbright scholarship is Al Harris. Harris is teaching courses on global information technology at Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznan, Poland.

In 2013, Harris began an annual study abroad program where he would take a group of students to Poland for a week, and they would work on a research project along with Polish students.

Harris believes that pre-existing connection he has to Poland helped him receive the grant.

To Harris, the cultural learning experience is far more important than the coursework he is teaching in the classroom.

“[Global information technology] is a field that I’m very passionate about,” Harris said. “That being said, I’m far more concerned with the cultural interactions. I’m learning more about their culture, and I’m answering any questions my students have about American life, because they’re very curious about us.”

Harris began teaching in Poland in mid February and his Fulbright ends at the end of June.

This is his second Fulbright. In 2006, Harris taught in Portugal for six months.

Poland doesn’t have the level of technology available in the United States, and Harris said he hopes that his Polish students can take what he has taught them to help propel Poland.

“When I leave, I’d really like for my students to understand how Poland can enter the global business world,” Harris said.

Another Appalachian State professor who received a Fulbright grant this past year is John Tashner.

Tashner worked with the faculty at COMSATS Institute of Information Technology in Islamabad, Pakistan.

Tashner got the idea to apply for the Fulbright scholarship the year before, when a doctoral student from Pakistan encouraged him to go there.

Tashner provided assistance and guidance to the professors to help them improve their distance education program.

At COMSATS, professors didn’t actually directly teach classes, professors designed the course and syllabus, and then intermediary instructors actually delivered the information to the students. The problem with this model, Tashner said, is that students never have the opportunity to meet the instructors outside of class, and the instructors never have any interaction with the professors.

Tashner said he got the distance education department to come together and figure out ways to improve the program.

“I sat them down, and asked them to list all the problems they were having,” Tashner said. “What I realized is that they had never talked about any of these things.”

For Tashner, the most rewarding aspect of his time in Pakistan was meeting new people and breaking down stereotypes.

“The best part of the experience was gaining new cultural lenses,” Tashner said. “It’s important to remember that people are people, and are always more complex than they’re made out to be.”

Story by Tommy Culkin, Senior News Reporter