Helen Chan, professor of materials science and engineering, has received a Fulbright scholarship to pursue her research on ceramics with colleagues at Graz University of Technology in Austria this fall.
The Fulbright Program is an international educational exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government. It offers university faculty year- or semester-long grants to research and teach overseas, as well as short-term consulting grants. More than 20 Lehigh faculty and staff members have received Fulbright scholarships since 1988.
“I knew I was going to be going on sabbatical, and it seemed like a good opportunity to get support for a sabbatical leave in a foreign country,” Chan says. “It’s a visiting professor position and it has both teaching and research responsibilities.
“Fulbright has a list of projects from different countries. I tried to choose a project and a place which best match my research interests and my teaching interests. It helped that some of our faculty knew some of the faculty there and had visited Graz previously, so there was sort of a semi-formal relationship ahead of time,” she adds.
Chan is currently working on a Navy-funded project with materials science colleagues Martin Harmer and Jeff Rickman. They’re analyzing the properties of ceramics at high temperatures and finding additives that will improve oxidation resistance and diffusion.
Her visit to Graz will give her access to the Austrian Microscopy Center, which has state-of-the-art instrumentation such as high-resolution electron energy loss spectroscopy that’s not available yet at Lehigh. She’s also hoping to learn more about the European academic and research environment and build relationships with Austrian colleagues.
“When you send people to another place, that’s when you strengthen the contacts,” says Chan. “So hopefully that will lead to some of our students or more of our faculty going over there and vice versa and even some collaborative research. I think the personal connection is often times a big thing.
“The purpose of the Fulbright is to be a representative of the U.S.,” she adds. “And hopefully by meeting with these other folks and talking about where I come from and what the U.S. is like—academic and the research environment—we can build greater mutual understanding of the different cultures.”
Chan isn’t the only Lehigh person traveling through the Fulbright Program. Student Carlie Skellington ’16 just finished a nine-month visit to Indonesia, where she taught English to high school students.
Skellington was inspired to apply for the Fulbright by her experience in the United States-Indonesia Partnership Program, which brings students from Lehigh and other universities in the United States and Indonesia to study religion and democratic society in both countries.
In her work as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant, Skellington learned about lesson planning and adapting to her students’ needs.
“Most of what I have learned through Fulbright, however, has been by purely living and immersing myself in my community,” she says.
“I also discovered many of the causes of particular public health problems of my city, such as diabetes, malnutrition, respiratory diseases, lack of sanitation, etc. … As I continue working towards my future goal of becoming a physician, this understanding of people in different cultures and environments will be invaluable when communicating with patients in this increasingly global society of ours.”
Like Skellington, Talia Dunyak ’16 will spend several months teaching English overseas. She has wanted to apply for the Fulbright since first hearing about it in high school and fell in love with Austria while studying abroad in nearby Germany.
She received the Fulbright Combined Student Grant from the Fulbright Program and will be studying how the Austrian education system looks at the last century of the country’s history.
“It is truly a dream come true,” she says. “The Fulbright is an amazing life-changing opportunity to live, work and research in another country, while making meaningful relationships with locals, and I cannot wait to do just that. Without the support of my fantastic professors at Lehigh, I never would have been able to make this dream a reality.”
Story by Emily Groff