Our Best & Brightest Go Abroad

by Carolyn Arnold

Over the years, Fairfield University students have built a strong reputation for successfully applying for and receiving prestigious Fulbright Scholarships, the U.S. government’s flagship international educational exchange program. More than 60 Fairfield students have received the coveted scholarship and studied and taught in all corners of the world. Just recently, the Fulbright Program announced that Fairfield University was among the nation’s 14 top-producing schools in its category.

“Working with our Fairfield students who apply for Fulbright fellowships is one of the most rewarding experiences I have had as a teacher and mentor,” said Dr. Janie Leatherman, professor of politics and director of the Fulbright Program at Fairfield. “It is truly exciting to see how our students work for months or even a year or more with the support of many faculty and advisers on an idea that has captured their imagination.”

In the 2012-13 academic school year, three students, as well as biology professor Dr.

Brian Walker, won scholarships that sent them to Ireland, Thailand, Jordan, and Brazil. Three more young alumni recently recalled their Fulbright experiences, which took place in 2008-2009, and talked about how the opportunity helped shape their careers.

Brazil

Michael Davis ’08

The environmental impact of ethanol production

For Michael Davis, a double major in international studies and individually designed major in the College of Arts and Sciences, a willingness to “go with the flow” and integrate with the local people helped him adapt and thrive in Brazil.

Davis decided to apply for a Fulbright scholarship to Brazil after he spent a semester studying abroad in the country. His research project investigated the environmental impact of ethanol production. Today, Brazil is the only country that uses ethanol as a complete gasoline substitute, and is the world’s largest producer of sugarcane-based ethanol.

“I wanted to research the institutional history of the biofuel program in Brazil, because they have something that we don’t have: an ethanol option at every gas station in the country. They’ve had that since the 70s and were able to build up a national industry and nationalize it,” he said. “When I was first there [studying abroad] I saw people putting alcohol and natural gas in cars and wanted to explore that, but didn’t have time to do it.”

Davis conducted his Fulbright research in 2008-2009 at the University of Sao Paulo, the largest Brazilian university and one of the country’s most prestigious educational institutions. At the request of his program director, he assisted in designing a curriculum for a two-week intensive course on biofuels. The course was targeted towards doctoral and post-doctoral students and taught by government employees from Brazil and the U.S., including the USDA, Department of Energy; industry leaders, such as Petrobrás and DuPont; and both Brazilian and American research institutes.

Originally the course was very science focused and Davis worked to ensure that it was also accessible for non-science students. “It was fun to be in the room with the others who were designing the course and add my two cents,” he said. The project was commissioned for publication, which Davis helped to organize and write.

Today, Davis is completing law school at the University of Connecticut and interviewing for positions at district attorney’s offices to pursue a career in criminal prosecution. This may seem like a far cry from his work in Brazil, but Davis noted that the Fulbright program was really twofold. “You have the academics and then you have the connection with the people — and that’s the part that I took the most to heart.”

Prior to his Fulbright, Davis trained in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, which he was able to continue once he was there. “I spent a lot of time training and I think of that as my cultural passport. I was able to go places that I otherwise wouldn’t have been able to go and meet so many different people. All of your differences really go away as soon as you put on the kimono and step on the mat,” he said.

His time building relationships with people at the university and in the city helped him expand his people skills. “Prosecution is a people business,” he explained. “You have to be able to connect with a variety of people and do it genuinely. My time in Brazil taught me that people are people and we all have the same basic needs, desires, and wants. When you understand that, you can connect with anyone at an equal level.”

Germany

Kathleen Bakarich ’08

The impact of international financial reporting standards on German accounting

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