Top 15 Moments from the 40th Annual Fulbright Association Conference

Top 15 Moments from the 40th Annual Fulbright Association Conference

The Fulbright Association gathered nearly 400 Fulbrighters in Washington, D.C. for our 40th Annual Conference and Advocacy Day from November 4-7, 2017. The four-day conference was filled with powerful programming, interesting research, and opportunities to network and build connections with fellow Fulbrighters. Thank you to all who joined us and helped make the conference into such a remarkable gathering. Click here to view photos from the conference.


Here are just a few of the highlights from the gathering:

  • 2017 Fulbright Lifetime Achievement Award recipient David Bradley, Chairman of Atlantic Media and Fulbright alum to the Philippines, was recognized during our Awards Gala. During a moving speech, he shared his conviction that “The Fulbright Program is American diplomacy at its finest.”

  • Award-winning journalist and Fulbrighter Barbara Cossette moderated a session on “The Politics of Foreign Policy” that featured three esteemed speakers: Larry Pressler (former Senator from South Dakota and Fulbright alum), Mark Pryor (former Senator from Arkansas and member of the Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board), and Ryan Evans (Legislative Assistant for Senator Johnny Isakson of Georgia). All reflected on the value of the Fulbright Program for American foreign policy and security. Senator Pryor remarked that, “When we understand each other better, we understand the world better, and we make better decisions.”

  • Arkansas Senator John Boozman spoke to the impact of international exchange during our Fulbright Reception at the Embassy of Canada. “The way you change the world is through personal relationships. The grassroots support you give for Fulbright is important. Thank you for all you represent,” he said.

  • Charity Tillemann-Dick — soprano, recording artist, author and Fulbrighter who is also the recipient of two double lung transplants — sang two operatic arias during our opening reception. In her keynote address, she described how her Fulbright “family” in Hungary provided support through her medical challenges and musical successes. “Fulbright helps us to achieve that elusive goal, where we recognize that that which was once foreign as the same,” she reflected.

  • The safeguarding of global human rights was an important topic that reverberated through the weekend’s plenary sessions. Allan Goodman, President and CEO of the Institute of International Education, spoke about the work that IIE leads in rescuing and protecting threatened scholars around the world through the Scholar Rescue Fund.
  • A panel on forced displacement brought together three leading scholars and practitioners in the field: Alex Aleinikoff (Director of the Zolberg Institute on Migration and Mobility at The New School), Paul Spiegel (Director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Humanitarian Health), and Lara Ho (Senior Advisor for Health Research at the International Rescue Committee), who each illuminated critical areas related to displacement and refugee support.
  • Mary Ellen Iskenderian, President and CEO of Women’s World Banking, spoke about how technology can be a critical tool in promoting financial inclusion for women. “Technology is anything but gender blind,” she noted, sharing how Women’s World Banking is using research and data to increase global access to financial technology.
  • Rebecca Davis, Founder of MindLeaps, had the crowd on its feet as she delivered the Selma Jeanne Cohen Dance Lecture. Davis explained that over 263 million children worldwide do not attend school — and that even when out-of-school youth have the opportunity to receive an education, the transition to a structured school environment is often a major challenge. MindLeaps works in Rwanda, Guinea, Bosnia and Herzegovina and uses dance training programs to develop critical cognitive and social skills that will allow at-risk youth to succeed in school. Davis led the crowd in choreographing a short dance of their own to illustrate the key skills that MindLeaps’ program builds through dance, including memorization, language, and grit.

  • Four Fulbright Association chapters were recognized in our second annual Chapter Awards Ceremony. Congratulations to these chapters and their leaders: Northern California (Excellence in Advocacy), National Capital Area (Outstanding Programming), and Central Virginia and Minnesota (Committee’s Choice). The Awards Gala also offered an opportunity to formally thank our outgoing President and Vice President of the Board: Nancy Neill and Kim Eger. Their devotion to the Fulbright Association and tremendous talents have had an immeasurable impact on the Association.
  • Many of our chapter presidents were on site before the formal conference program began for our Chapter Leadership Workshop, a full day of sessions designed to help chapters succeed in programming, membership, and networking. Afternoon breakout sessions led to fruitful discussion and idea sharing. The time and energy that our volunteer chapter boards dedicate to supporting Fulbrighters in their communities is at the root of what we do. The annual Chapter Workshop during our conference offers a fantastic opportunity to bring them together to share their successes and learn from one another.

  • Mary Kirk, Director of the Office of Academic Exchange Programs in the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, moderated a panel featuring diverse Fulbright experiences from around the globe. Three speakers shared their research: environmental journalist Janice Cantieri, who spent time in Kiribati and Fiji through the Fulbright-National Geographic Storytelling Fellowship; Noor Johnson, who was part of the inaugural class of Fulbright Arctic Initiative Fellows; and Richard Harknett, who was a Fulbright Scholar in Cyber Security at Oxford in 2017. “Fulbright gave me the opportunity to embed myself in an international community of scholars that I️ would never have otherwise had,” Harknett noted.
  • Six international Fulbright Commissions Executive Directors shared highlights and updates on the Fulbright Program in their countries. Erica Lutes of Fulbright Belgium lead the conversation, and Adriana Gaviria Duque (Colombia), Norma Gonzalez (Argentina), Alberto Lopez San Miguel (Spain), Terhi Molsa (Finland), and Arnaud Roujou (France) participated.

  • Fulbright students and scholars shared their research in a variety of academic fields throughout the weekend. Topics ranged from education to human rights governance to architecture, underscoring the breadth of fascinating work produced by members of the Fulbright community. During a signature panel on “Pathways to Peace, Health and a Sustainable Future in Malawi” sponsored by Mercer University, The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind author and native Malawian William Kamkwamba (below) shared his powerful story of invention. His fellow panelists included Dr. Jack Allison, a 1967-69 Peace Corps volunteer who penned a number of songs and jingles to promote public health during his tour, one of which became a #1 hit on Malawian radio stations; and Dr. Craig McMahon and Dr. Zipangani Vokhiwa of Mercer University. A session on“Deconstructing the Dilemma of Fake News” engaged media experts in a discussion about the phenomenon of fake news, how to spot it, and what can (or should) be done about it. “Global Technology Solutions and the Fulbright Network” touched on how the Fulbright network and higher education institutions can provide valuable partnerships to the private sector, particularly in clean technology and international development. Accomplished architects discussed the impact of their international Fulbright experiences on their work during “Fulbright Scholarship: Influence on Professional Careers”; and speakers on the “Future of Public Diplomacy” panel focused on the Fulbright public policy fellowship and the role of international organizations in capacity building. Higher education was a driving force behind many conference sessions including: a panel on “Transforming Higher Education Through Transdisciplinary Action, Research, and Advocacy,” a Fulbright Adviser Session for faculty and staff involved with the Fulbright Program on their campuses, and a panel on “Bringing the Virtual Student Foreign Service Internship to Your Campus.” In addition to panels, poster and roundtable sessions allowed for personal conversations about work, research, and Fulbright projects.

  • We had a record number of young professional registrants at this year’s conference. The program included a focus on career development after Fulbright, particularly for recent returnees and young professionals. Career counselors spoke on a panel called “Your Career: The Next Step,” and offered individual advising sessions to provide personal guidance on resumes, cover letters, and how to frame the Fulbright experience in interviews with potential employers.

  • The conference concluded with our largest-ever Fulbright Advocacy Day on Capitol Hill. 230 Fulbrighters participated in 140 meetings with Congressional offices from 36 states. Each group met with representatives or their staff to share the impact of the Fulbright Program in their state and convey the significance of the Fulbright exchange experience through personal storytelling. Together, we represented a strong, unified voice in support of the Fulbright Program. Click here to view a full album of Advocacy Day photos.

The Association thanks our conference sponsors for their generous support of this year’s program: Auburn University, German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, Fodor’s Travel, Mercer University, Texas A&M University – San Antonio, Thrivent Financial, University of Arkansas, University of the Incarnate Word, University of South Florida, the Fulbright Association San Antonio Chapter, and the Fulbright Association National Capital Area Chapter.

—Michelle Dimino

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