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Fulbright Visiting Scholars experience American West

A group of 50 Fulbright Visiting Scholars from around the world gathered on the plains of the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve near Pawhuska on April 2 for a glimpse into the past. Their special introduction to Oklahoma’s wide open spaces was part of “Old to New West: The Role of Land in Shaping the American Story,” a four-day seminar hosted by The University of Tulsa, Gilcrease Museum and Tulsa Global Alliance.

Representing 28 countries, the academic scholars are visiting U.S. universities to study, research and lecture on disciplines ranging from biochemistry and religious studies to literature and public health. While in Oklahoma, the scholars attended talks presented by TU faculty and Gilcrease experts and learned about Oklahoma’s stewardship efforts to protect and restore the American West, including bison that roam the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve.

“Tulsa and the great American West are part of the great American narrative, and when you can see it and feel it, you appreciate how important the nature conservancy’s efforts are to partner with donors and philanthropists right here in Oklahoma,” said Joe Falk, a member of the International Fulbright Scholarship board. “For people to come together and save these plains and preserve them for generations to come – that’s important not only for world scholars but also for us as Americans.”

Fulbright Visiting Scholar Shanthia Johnson is a professor and associate dean in the faculty of kinesiology and health studies at the University of Regina in Saskatchewan, Canada. Originally from India, she said her inaugural visit to Oklahoma has sparked an interest in how land affects societal development. “This whole experience has me thinking about the role people play in shaping societies through the sharing of skills and knowledge and the preservation of our land,” she said. “The beauty of the sky and land – it’s absolutely fantastic to see the openness of people and this land and how it’s evolving.”

Fulbright Visiting Scholar Enrichment Seminars are implemented by the Institute of International Education’s Council for International Exchange of Scholars on behalf of the U.S. Department of State. Seminars offer a variety of enrichment activities designed to enable scholars to better experience America and to further the Fulbright Program’s mission to develop the relationships between people and communities in the United States and around world that are necessary to solve global challenges.

This is the second time Tulsa has hosted a Fulbright Visiting Scholar seminar; the first one was held in October 2013. Other cities hosting Fulbright Visiting Scholars Seminars in 2014-15 include St. Petersburg, Fla.; Huntsville, Ala.; and Baltimore, Md. Scholars at these seminars  explored topics including climate change, human rights and public health.

The Fulbright Program is the flagship international educational exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government and is designed to promote mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries. Established in 1946 under legislation introduced by then-Sen. J. William Fulbright of Arkansas, the Fulbright Program has provided more than 360,000 participants with the opportunity to study, teach and conduct research, exchange ideas and contribute to finding solutions to shared international concerns.

The Fulbright Program is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. The Fulbright Program awards approximately 8,000 grants annually and currently operates in more than 155 countries worldwide.