Three Fulbright winners represent Lehigh in 2017

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Two Lehigh professors and one student received Fulbright scholarships for the 2017-18 academic year.

Professors Jill Sperandio and Dinissa Duvanova along with Evan Gaj, ’16, G’17, will be working overseas through the Fulbright scholarship program. Administered by the U.S. government, Fulbright is an exchange program for faculty and graduating students to do research and teach abroad. The scholars can learn about the different countries and their cultures while doing research.

“The Fulbright program itself provides exceptional opportunities for professional and personal growth,” said Bill Hunter, director of fellowship advising and U.N. Programs. “It’s also a highly respected program. For the rest of your life, you will be known as a Fulbright scholar.”

Sperandio, an associate professor in the College of Education, will be teaching and conducting research for her book on the history of girls’ education in Azerbaijan, a nation east of Turkey.

“When I was there last, the country was just evolving after being part of the Soviet Union for a long time, and that also started renovating the school system,” she said. “It will be interesting for me to see how they evolved.”

She chose Azerbaijan because of Musa Naghiyev, a man in the late 1800s who created a school for girls at a time when it was unusual. Before coming to Lehigh, she was a school administrator in Azerbaijan, which enabled her to become familiar with the culture.

“I think it’s always fascinating being embedded in a country rather than being there short-term,” Sperandio said. “To be there long enough to see what life is like and have opportunities to see different educational systems — as well as interacting with experts in the field in Azerbaijan and at the universities — is a great opportunity.”

There are three steps in the Fulbright application process: submission of the application, an application review by the National Review Committee and a final review by the Fulbright Commission.

Hunter said an average college typically sees four students apply, with one being awarded the scholarship. Lehigh’s student, Gaj, who studies mechanical engineering, will be researching drones in Warsaw, Poland. Gaj was unavailable to comment.

“Evan (Gaj) is certainly someone who is clear about his future plans and was able to make a very convincing argument as to why he should be awarded a scholarship,” Hunter said.

The Fulbright program, Hunter said, looks for people who have good academic standing and know what they want to research on their trips. Hunter said the amount of money a recipient receives depends on the country they apply to but is fully funded through the scholarship.

The Office of Fellowship Advising helps students and faculty prepare their applications. Fulbright is one of multiple international scholarships offered. Hunter said while the office is there to provide assistance, it is the applicant’s decision to apply.

“One of the things that I think is so effective is we have a group of faculty who have won Fulbright scholarships before, and they are willing to get involved with the process,” Hunter said.

In the last six years, 10 Lehigh professors have won Fulbright awards through the Office of Fellowship Advising.

Professor Dinissa Duvanova won a 2017 Fulbright scholarship for her upcoming research in Kazakhstan. The Fulbright Program is sponsored by the United States Government as an international educational exchange program at Lehigh. (Courtesy of Dinissa Duvanova)

Duvanova, an international relations associate professor, will be traveling to Kazakhstan to teach national and political economy. She will also be conducting research on business relations for her upcoming book. 

Duvanova said she asked professor Vincent Munley, a former Fulbright scholar, for advice. She said Munley helped her make sure she addressed any and all concerns the committee might have with her application.

“They were in a good position to advise me in how to write a competitive application,” Duvanova said, “so I attribute a large part of my success in the application part to them. It was recently that I came to this stage in my career in benefiting tremendously from this grant. It was right for me, and I was right for this award at this point.”

Duvanova said she chose Kazakhstan because she was looking for a country that went through changes in its business structure. Although she first considered Russia, data already existed for her to use. She said she wanted a place that was not researched in depth yet.

“I’m curious on what kind of student culture the institution has and am excited to develop my teaching experience in a different culture,” Duvanova said.

She said if she did not get the Fulbright scholarship, she would have had to find another way to fund her research abroad. 

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