On April 24, 2019, the Fulbright Association officiated its newest chapter. After months of planning and coordination with both the local Fulbright community and the national Fulbright Association office, the Nebraska Chapter was born in the Midwest’s “Cornhusker” state.
Wael ElRayes, M.D., Ph.D., an instructor in the University of Nebraska Medical Center’s College of Public Health and project manager for the Global Center for Health Security, has spearheaded the chapter’s creation. Though not a Fulbright alumni himself, Wael is a Fulbright liaison for the university and strong supporter of the opportunities that Fulbright provides. He recalls that during his first five years at UMNC, he had heard little about the Fulbright Program or its alumni network until just last year he attended a Fulbright workshop in New Mexico, where he had the chance to learn more about the vast array of programs under the mantle of Fulbright. He brought back with him to UNMC fresh ideas and an ambition to increase awareness about the Program and propel the presence of Fulbright on campus.
Wael knew the best way to amplify awareness of the Fulbright Program on campus would be to engage a local alumni group. To his dismay, however, he found that there was no extant chapter. After running across the website of the Fulbright Association’s national office and speaking with the staff there, he decided that if there wasn’t a local Nebraska chapter, the next step would be to start one. He worked with the national office to find lists of local Fulbright alumni to gauge interest, and reached out to colleagues within the University of Nebraska system. He was able to get in touch with other Nebraskans interested in putting together a Chapter, included Elizabeth Lange from the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, and Lucy Morrison of the University of Nebraska, Omaha. As their core group grew, the goal of creating a chapter drew closer.
The state’s geography necessitated two interest meetings, so last September, Wael oversaw an interest meeting in Omaha, and Elizabeth held another in Lincoln. This allowed them to meet face-to-face with Fulbrighters and other members of the international exchange community to inform them about the purpose and scope of a potential chapter as well as share ideas on possible events and activities. The next step was identifying individuals who had interest in taking up a leadership role in the Chapter, and holding nominations. After working with the national office to sign an official charter, what started as a simple idea from a Friend of Fulbright became a reality.
For the future, the Nebraska Chapter hopes to be able to connect with communities throughout Nebraska to promote the Fulbright Program. “We want to engage in activities that benefit the community, build on the mission of Fulbright and inform people on the message we want to deliver,” says Wael.
“The revitalization of the Nebraska Chapter is a testament to the dedication of Fulbrighters in the state,” says Jordan Bradford, Manager of Membership and Chapter Relations at the national office. She has been working with Wael on chartering the chapter. “The Fulbright Association would not be as inclusive as it is without the commitment of alumni and friends who see a need and answer the call to bring the Fulbright network to all areas of the country.”
“I have been the UNMC Fulbright Scholar Liaison for about a year, but I have known about the Fulbright programs for decades and I always admired the program and the awardees,” says Wael about his passion for the Program even as a non-alumni. “Fulbright is all about building bridges between the American people and people of the world, what I see for our local chapter is continuing to build those bridges, sending more Nebraskans to different part of the world and getting people from allover the world to Nebraska. Also, the Fulbright is about exchange of knowledge and experience, by increasing the production and exchange of Fulbrighters we will help achieve this goal.”