Chapter Spotlight: Mid-Florida

Chapter Spotlight: Mid-Florida

The Mid-Florida Chapter of the Fulbright Association leads an active community of Fulbright alumni and scholars in Florida. The Chapter regularly engages its broad membership and a large number of visiting Fulbrighters at local institutions, and works closely with the University of South Florida, a top Fulbright producer.

In October, the Mid-Florida Chapter kicked off its annual programming with a Fulbright Welcome Reception. Held on the University of South Florida campus in the Patel Center for Global Studies, the event was attended by 75 guests with connections to the Fulbright Program. In addition to Fulbright alumni and visiting Fulbrighters at USF and the University of Central Florida, the event was open to applicants for the 2018-2019 grant cycle and to non-Fulbright international scholars at USF, in the hopes that they will share their knowledge of the Fulbright Program with colleagues upon their return to their home countries.

The event was organized in collaboration with USF World, the global office of the University of South Florida system. Chapter President Darlene DeMarie is both a USF faculty member in the Educational Psychology department and the Fulbright Faculty Adviser for USF World, and has contributed to a strong partnership between the two organizations. A staff member from USF World designed a printed program for the event that included information about the the Fulbright Association and Mid-Florida Chapter, details about how to become a member, and a list of upcoming chapter events. Upon arrival, guests enjoyed appetizers and refreshments and had the opportunity to mingle, network, and visit poster displays presented by five Fulbright alumni and a Fulbright visiting student.

Following welcome remarks by Darlene DeMarie, keynote speaker Kristen Zernick from USF World led an interactive activity that promoted understanding of cultural diversity. Zernick described four cultural dimensions used to measure a country’s values — individualism, long-term orientation, uncertainty orientation, and power distance — and assigned each table a nation to discuss. The tables were asked to rank their country on a 0-100 scale for each construct, then Zernick revealed the actual ratings and moderated group discussion. Following the organized activity, introductions were made of the different groups of Fulbrighters in the room: alumni, recent returnees, current scholars, outgoing Fulbrighters, and applicants. The final hour of the event was reserved for mingling and discussion between members of the different groups.

Prior to leaving the event, attendees were asked to fill out surveys and provide feedback on the experience. Respondents were asked to evaluate the event on a four-point scale according to three distinct and useful measures: whether the event (1) constituted a good use of my time; (2) exposed me to different perspectives, new information, ideas, and people; and (3) broadened my understanding of Florida culture. The Welcome Reception scored very highly in each category. Attendees particularly enjoyed the educational activity, and both the event organizers and guests agreed that providing ample time for networking and socialization was key to its overall success.

Chapter President Darlene DeMarie was a Fulbright Scholar at the University of Limpopo-Turfloop in South Africa in 2007-2008 and 2008-2009, and has gone on to publish work about her experiences co-creating a child care center for the university there. During her remarks at the reception, she noted how much she enjoyed being among Fulbrighters, and how rare it can be to have interdisciplinary, intercultural experiences at universities as large as USF and UCF. This event afforded people a lot of opportunities for dialogue and discussion,” she shares. “Fulbright alumni sought out visitors from the countries to which they went on their Fulbrights. It felt as though the event would have been perceived by Senator Fulbright as the perfect way to bridge cultural understanding.”

“We applaud the Mid-Florida chapter on its ongoing engagement with the local Fulbright community, which was showcased perfectly by their Welcome Reception this year. Their strong partnership with USF continues to amplify their reach, provide valuable resources for chapter activities, and tap into a supportive international community in Florida,” agrees Fulbright Association Chapter Relations and Membership Manager Kelsey Poholsky.

—Michelle Dimino

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