The University of Montana had eight Fulbright Program applicants accepted into the international scholarly exchange program last year, and though many universities can boast more yearly Fulbright Scholars, few can boast UM’s 53 percent acceptance rate.
To put that number into perspective, the top three Fulbright-producing doctoral and research institutions in the country last year – the University of Michigan, Northwestern University and Yale University, respectively – each had more than 20 applicants accepted into the program, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education. However, based on the number of total applicants from each of those universities, their average acceptance rate was only 22 percent.
UM consistently has a high percentage of applicants accepted into the prestigious Fulbright Program each year, despite a smaller overall pool of proposals. The program, sponsored by the U.S. Department of State and the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, funds students, scholars, teachers and professionals in international programs to conduct research or teach English for one year.
In the 2011-12 academic year, 15 applications to the Fulbright Program were submitted through UM, and eight of those applicants were ultimately offered positions in the program, though one declined to pursue a doctorate.
Liz Ametsbichler, co-chair of UM’s Department of Modern and Classical Languages and campus Fulbright adviser, knows the University’s success at having applicants accepted into the program is no fluke.
“I think it speaks to the caliber of UM’s students and the caliber of the mentorship they receive here,” said Ametsbichler.
Students, faculty and researchers from UM compete with scholars around the nation for prized positions working in countries such as Germany, Sweden, Nicaragua, Vietnam, Spain, Mexico and Georgia. Applicants all have attained at least a bachelor’s degree and usually must speak a second language to function in their country of choice.
Despite the requirements and steep competition, the Fulbright Program appeals to scientists, writers, journalists, aspiring teachers and professionals alike.
Ametsbichler reaches out to faculty in the spring, looking for professors to contact gifted students and encourage them to apply to the program. Putting together an application is tough work, but she helps UM applicants get an early start.
“I encourage them to start thinking about it in the spring, so they can start working on their proposals in the summer,” she said.
Applications are due for review by the UM Fulbright Scholarship Committee in September. The committee – composed of UM faculty in the humanities, social sciences, business school, sciences, and English and creative writing – interviews applicants and reviews their projects, ultimately passing their proposals on to the national program in October. Once the Fulbright Program experts have reviewed hundreds of national applications, they recommend candidates to the countries identified in the proposal. Finally, those countries make the final choice whether to offer an applicant a Fulbright position.
Shane McMillan, a 2010 UM graduate with bachelor’s degrees in journalism and German languages and literature and a minor in international development studies, remembers how Ametsbichler caught him after a German class early in his first semester and firmly planted Fulbright in his future plans.
“Before that day in her classroom, I had never given Fulbright a thought and wouldn’t have if she hadn’t pointed me in that direction,” McMillan said. “Like so many fresh college students, I didn’t know how much I didn’t know.”
McMillan, a native of Ronan, eventually received a Fulbright scholarship in Germany designed specifically for journalists. During the year, he was able to produce a documentary that looks at the future of Germany through the eyes of kindergarteners from Berlin’s most famous migrant neighborhood. He also completed an internship with the Associated Press, shooting photos in the German equivalent of the White House and covering other stories in the capital.
McMillan feels the advising he received from his professors and the UM Fulbright Scholarship Committee helped him gain confidence and prepare himself for moving forward in the process. The experience helped him gain a new view of the world and explore complex topics through his research.
“It was not the easiest year of my life. My experiences were not perfect and I wasn’t always happy with everything,” McMillan said. “But I was learning and was making headway toward my professional and life goals.”
Following his Fulbright year, McMillan stayed in Berlin and is now a resident of Germany. He continues to work as a freelance journalist and has helped to develop a free online school for people in the developing world called Allversity.org.
The application process for 2013-14 is in full swing with the upcoming campus deadline of Sept. 24.
“I look forward to interviewing candidates with the Fulbright Scholarship Committee,” Ametsbichler said. “They include some of the best and brightest students that UM has to offer. It is always a rewarding learning experience for the committee.”