Internationalize Your Campus: Foreign Scholar Impact at U.S. Community Colleges

By Stacye Fraser Thompson, Coordinator of International Student Services, Jefferson State Community College

As an international education professional for 23 years, one of the most rewarding interactions I have had is with the Fulbright Program’s Outreach Lecturing Fund (OLF) and the Fulbright Scholar-in-Residence (S-I-R) Program. The OLF brings Fulbright Foreign Scholars already on assignment in the United States to another campus and community for a short-term stay, typically two to six days. Many of the foreign scholars selected for OLF are serving as a S-I-R. The Fulbright S-I-R Program allows foreign faculty to teach on U.S. campuses that are looking to strengthen their internationalization. 

When I arrived at Jefferson State Community College in Alabama in 2014, there was little campus internationalization. I looked for opportunities to bring global engagement to our community college, despite budget constraints. Attending a NAFSA: Association of International Educators conference, I was introduced to the Fulbright Outreach Lecturing Fund (OLF). After learning about the program, I immediately contacted Fulbright representatives of OLF to bring this wonderful program to campus. Fulbright Scholars coming to my campus through OLF have contributed to the intellectual life of our campus, and built a future for further international exchange. 


Caption: Professor Jairo Viales of the National University of Costa Rica Sarapiqui (UNCR) visiting Jefferson State Community College in Alabama.


At Jefferson State’s International Education Week in 2016, we were lucky to host Dr. Catherine O’Rourke from Ulster University in Ireland as an OLF participant. Dr. O’Rourke was a Visiting Scholar at the University of Minnesota’s Institute of Global Studies. During her visit, Dr. O’Rourke delivered class lectures on Human and Women’s Rights for more than 50 students, faculty, and staff. It was also the first year Jefferson State began study abroad programs, and our first trip was, fittingly, to Ireland. 

The following year, Jefferson State collaborated with Troy University in hosting Professor Farong Zhu of Shandong Agricultural University in China as an OLF. A professor of American Literature with a special interest in Zelda Fitzgerald, she gave a wonderful program on Chinese culture and the art of tea, as well as lectures on Fitzgerald, and Henry David Thoreau’s Walden. She also lectured at the Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald Museum in Montgomery, Alabama, which provided professional development for both her as a scholar, and the audience.


Caption: Professor Farong Zhu (far right), 2017 Fulbright Visiting Scholar at The City College of New York (CUNY), posing with Jefferson County Community College students after her lecture, "Chinese Elite Pastoral Activities Compared with Thoreau and Brooks Farm Experiment," as part of the Fulbright Outreach Lecturing Fund.


In addition, the Outreach Lecturing Fund has allowed us to find several foreign scholars who were in the United States as Fulbright Scholar-in-Residence, resulting in Fulbright Foreign Scholars becoming a central component of our educational programs and lectures. In 2018, Professor Jairo Viales of the National University of Costa Rica Sarapiqui (UNCR), who was a Scholar-in-Residence at William J. Harper Community College in Illinois, visited our campus through the OLF. My institution planned a joint OLF visit with the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), which has resulted in a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between UAB and UNCR. Additionally, there is a Jefferson State-National University of Costa Rica proposal for a study abroad hospitality program in Costa Rica being considered.


Caption: Jefferson State Community College students participating in an OLF lecture.


In 2018-2019, we increased our participation in OLF, allowing our biology students to interact with women in STEM fields globally, as well as learn new approaches to peace and reconciliation. We invited to campus biologists Dr. Syed Hafiza Benish Ali, a Pakistani Fulbright Visiting Scholar at the University of Miami, and Dr. Yemisi Jeff-Agboola, a Nigerian Scholar-in-Residence at Auburn University, who lectured on women’s role in Nigerian food and Mycotoxicology for students in health fields. The UAB Institute for Human Rights and Jefferson State had the pleasure of jointly hosting Dr. Derrick Wilson, Scholar-in-Residence at St. Phillips College, and faculty member from Ulster University. Dr. Wilson is a member of the Corrymeela community, a group of people from Northern Ireland who contribute to their communities through restorative practices and community relations. These visits offered an enriching global view, professional enlightenment for both Jefferson State faculty and students, as well as personal and professional fulfillment.  

The beauty of the Fulbright S-I-R and OLF Programs are their accessibility for any size institution. To help with cost sharing, we housed visiting scholars at the homes of Jefferson State faculty and at my home. During these informal homestays, I learned how to make Chinese dumplings “the way grandma and Mom used to make them,” and have established new contacts and international friends in different places. As a Ph.D. student, talking to these world-class scholars made me challenge my own biases and contexts.


Caption: Stacye Thompson with Professor Jairo Viales of the National University of Costa Rica Sarapiqui (UNCR).


The Fulbright Program, and in particular, programs like Scholar-in-Residence and the Outreach Lecturing Fund, create opportunities for academic collaboration, engagement, and enrichment. These programs, while benefiting visiting scholars, also spark a U.S. student’s imagination, and help move faculty beyond their classroom into a global context. The interlacing of dialogue with different perspectives changes people, and builds understanding.