Door to the World

Meet UMBC’s 2014 Fulbright Scholars.

Mitchell Donovan describes his study abroad in New Zealand as an incredibly valuable, eye-opening experience, but it didn’t quench his thirst for cross-cultural knowledge. It left him with an even greater appetite for learning. After receiving an M.S. in geography and environmental systems, Donovan is now preparing to study abroad again, this time as a Fulbright scholar in Finland.

Donovan is among four UMBC students who were awarded 2014 Fulbright grants. Two earned English teaching assistantships for Indonesia: Joshua Gehret ’14, English and ancient studies, and Lauren Raubaugh ’11, English and history, and ’13, M.A., TESOL. Two others won Fulbright research grants: Ke “Coco” Tang ’14, political science, history and visual arts, and Donovan ’11, geography and environmental systems, and ’14 M.S., geography and environmental systems.

The prestigious Fulbright Student Program was established by the U.S. government in 1946 as the country’s flagship international educational exchange program. The program offers opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students to conduct teaching and advanced research in more than 155 countries worldwide.

“They all had very specific research agendas that they really wanted to dive into,” observes Brian Souders, associate director of international education services and Fulbright program advisor, describing this year’s scholars.

Building on research completed through a previous Boren Scholarship and UMBC Undergraduate Research Award, Coco Tang is returning to Jordan to explore the politics of water access among Jordan’s Syrian refugee population. “This is tremendously meaningful,” Tang says. “I feel extremely honored, and this is a great privilege that not many people get to experience.”

Donovan plans to research river water quality and sedimentation in Finland through the University of Turku. Specifically, he will examine agricultural sources of sediment and how they’re affecting the Baltic Sea – a similar system to the Chesapeake Bay, which he studied as a graduate student.

“I’m excited to pursue environmental science in a new culture and mindset, with scientists who might have completely different beliefs on how to approach a scientific question,” says Donovan. “I think that diversity of perspectives will strengthen my work.”

Through teaching assistantships, Gehret and Raubaugh will offer English language instruction in Indonesian villages and small towns where residents have little to no exposure to Americans. “I look forward to meeting the other teachers and students, and to learning how they see themselves and Indonesia’s place in the world,” says Gehret. “It’s a country with great global importance in the 21st century.”

“I can’t describe how meaningful and powerful it is, and will continue to be, to apply the education I received at UMBC to an entirely different culture and part of the world,” Raubaugh shares. “I want the students to learn from me, but I also want to learn from them – their cultures, their languages, anything I can. The mission of the Fulbright program is cultural exchange on both sides, so that is what I am looking forward to the most.”

Fulbright recipients are selected based on their academic and professional achievement and demonstrated leadership within their fields. At UMBC, the application process for the Fulbright program begins several months before the October application deadline. Students develop research ideas, write essays and statements of purpose, gather letters of support, and receive advice throughout the process from mentors like Souders.

As UMBC begins to recruit applicants for the 2015 Fulbright Student Program, Souders has a powerful message for any student who is considering applying: “The Fulbright experience can open doors for you that you never knew existed, and can dramatically shape your career and outlook on the world. With hard work, students have been very successful in applying for these competitive grants. We are so proud of all of UMBC’s Fulbright applicants and recipients, who go on to act as cultural ambassadors, researchers and teachers, and take those experiences with them throughout their lives.”

Homepage image: Mitchell Donovan was inspired by his undergraduate study abroad experience in New Zealand to pursue a Fulbright research grant for Finland.