Alicia, thank you so much for joining me today. It’s great to finally meet you. Can you tell me more about yourself, and how you got involved with the Fulbright Association?
My first real job was at the University of Maryland University College, which is now called the University of Maryland Global Campus. Afterwards, I went to Johns Hopkins University and then I ended up at the University of Maryland Career Center. There, I organized events – 90% of my job involved events in that role. Afterward, I decided to go into events, larger events. I got a job at NASPA, the largest association for student affairs professionals, and I was there for about five years before [I joined the team at] the Fulbright Association, and here I am. I’ve been here for almost a year. I chose [to work at the] Fulbright Association because I wanted to move back into a smaller office and apply what I learned to the Fulbright Association. It’s a prestigious name, Fulbright, and it is involved with higher education, which is my passion.
As the Director for National Events, can you reflect on a time when the Fulbright Association, or the program itself left a lasting impact on your cultural understanding?
Working here, I have developed a deeper understanding of what it means to be a Fulbrighter and how Fulbrighters give back. It’s not just a program for the rich; the Association is trying to make it more accessible and get the word out that this program exists for everyone regardless of background. In learning that, I saw how important the Program is. Also, when I first started, I got to sit in on the 2021 Annual Conference, and I got to meet people that had Fulbright experiences. The passion that they had was ridiculous. They were truly passionate about the work they did, the countries they went to, the people they met, the foods they ate — and they were always willing and excited to share that experiences. So, I think that opened my eyes more to the passion that people who experience the Fulbright Program have.
The upcoming 45th Annual Conference is the first in-person conference since the start of COVID-19. What are you hoping to accomplish with this year’s conference?
I want it to be a fun conference. It’s been a little over two years since Fulbright Association members have come together in person, and I want this to be a reunion at which they come together, have fun, and network. There will be a lot of educational sessions and professional development, but we’re trying to do a lot of fun things as well. There will be a party on Friday night during which there will be time for people to meet each other and talk to each other outside of that learning environment. I really wanted the conference to embody coming together again and making connections — hopefully, [attendees will] leave with more knowledge and more connections. I’ve noticed that people do want to be together again, and we’re taking the proper precautions…so they can have fun but in a safe way.
Can we expect any social distancing, or will guests be required to wear masks for entry?
Attendees are welcome to wear masks if they choose; however, everyone in attendance will be required to be vaccinated. We will have enough room for people to social distance as well. Recommended guidelines may change by October…so we will continues to follow those closely.
You have already touched on the theme of this year’s conference being a reunion. Are there any other highlights of this year’s conference that you are particularly excited about?
I mentioned the Fulbright party on Friday — that will be a new one! Also, the Fulbright Talks! The theme for this year’s Fulbright Talks is Resilience. It’s sort of like a like a TedTalk, just 10 minutes: say a few words about what it is that you’ve been through and how you overcame it.
I am also really excited about the keynote! Ukrainian Ambassador to the United States Oksana Markarova will deliver the keynote. Ambassador Markarova will speak on the war in Ukraine, then join a panel of distinguished scholars and diplomats, moderated by Association board member and Ambassador Réka Szemerkényi.
We’ll have a mobile app this year, which is new for a Fulbright Conference, and we’ll be able to send out push notifications if anything changes. If sessions get cancelled, people will know as soon as the app updates. I’m looking forward to implementing that this year.
Overall, I’m just excited that it’s my first Conference at the Fulbright Association.
Will Fulbrighters be able to communicate with each other via the app, much like social media?
Attendees will be able to see who else is in attendance and connect with each other. If we [as attendees] are near each other, we can shake our phones at the same time, and we will automatically connect that way. We can also chat with each other. There is a Facebook-like wall where people can post pictures, and the app can also be used as a schedule.
We will also have the program book, but as soon as the program is printed, it is already out of date. The app automatically updates, and it will still have the schedule.
Attendees will be able to add certain sessions and events to their own schedule, so they can create a personalized set schedule based on what they personally want to attend. The app will also have daily welcome videos, so now it’s just spreading the word and getting the attendees to download the app.
I’m sure they’ll know to download it now! Is there anything else Fulbrighters should know or anticipate ahead of attending the conference?
Expect lots of opportunities to network, to have a good time, and to reconnect!
Lastly, I’m curious to know, are there any plans in store for next year’s annual conference, or the conferences to follow?
Moving forward, we plan to regularly hold the Conference in a different location, rotating on a three-year cycle. Next year, we plan to have a conference in the U.S. but in a different state. The year after that, we plan to have an international conference, and then we’ll be back in D.C. again. It’s a purposeful rotation because we want to start meeting our Fulbrighters where they are. We have the Fulbright Prize which will always take place in D.C. For the Conference, we want to go to where our members are and also host an international experience, so we hope that future Conferences will reflect this idea. We don’t have the dates or locations nailed down yet, but the hope is that we’ll know where we are going by the time the 2022 Annual Conference begins, so folks will know we will be in 2023.
Thank you again for joining me today, Alicia!
Of course. I hope to see you at the conference in October!
Looking forward to seeing you there!
– Stephen Gardner, Public Engagement Summer Intern