WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Fulbright Association—the alumni organization of one of the most renowned international academic exchange programs—held its 36th annual conference over the weekend and the gathering had more of a feel of a family reunion—albeit one with more of a critical and focused goal.
With more than 250 Fulbright Program alumni, supporters and current fellows attending, the diversity epitomized the vision of the late U.S. Senator J. William Fulbright, the program’s founder.
“It’s an amazing opportunity; It’s given me the chance to study at a great school,” said Gessye Ginelle Safou-Mat, a student from the Republic of Congo. “I’m studying International Development at American University, which is one of the best programs in the world. I don’t know if I could have done it myself if I didn’t get the Fulbright Scholarship.”
Once she finishes her two years in the States, Safou-Mat intends to help the poor break the cycle of poverty and lead the fight against climate change wherever her career takes her.
The Fulbright Program, sponsored by the U.S. Department of State and funded by an annual appropriation from Congress, is active in 155 countries and is dedicated to increasing mutual understanding between the people of the United States and of other countries. Created in 1946 in the wake of World War II, the program awards approximately 8,000 grants a year to students and scholars from the U.S. and abroad.
The broad imprint of the program continues to grow.
“I’m meeting more people from places I never heard of and schools I didn’t know existed,” said James Meredith, American rights icon and writer, who served as the keynote speaker at the conference’s Friday luncheon. Meredith, who studied in Nigeria after making history in 1962 by becoming the first Black student to attend the University of Mississippi, is not a Fulbright alum but is married to one, Dr. Judy Alsobrooks Meredith.
With more than 310,000 alumni, the association is looking to galvanize its membership to better execute the overall mission. The group, which has produced 54 Noble Prize and 81 Pulitzer Prize winners, addressed issues ranging from crowdfunding to fostering public scientific literacy to the challenges of health care in Africa.