Lisa Caputo: Fulbright Program serves the national interest; see how you can participate

Lisa Caputo - Contributing Columnist | November 15th, 2015 11:20 pm

This is International Education Week. Each year, the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board joins federal agencies, local schools, higher education institutions and partners throughout the U.S. and abroad to highlight and celebrate international education.

As a member of the scholarship board, I am deeply passionate about this important topic and strongly believe that international education is in our national interest.

The term “national interest” often evokes security – be it economic, defense or cyber. Often the policies that best support national interests also buoy the people and communities of that nation. President Franklin Roosevelt’s Civilian Conservation Corps, a Depression-era program that put Americans to work to build our nation’s infrastructure, is a prime example of policies that supported the interests of the U.S. and its citizens. The Fulbright Program is one example of a U.S. government-sponsored program serving not one nation and its citizens, but many.

Beginning in the wake of World War II, the Fulbright Program has a legacy of nearly 70 years of success. U.S. Sen. J. William Fulbright had an aspiration following the war: to build bonds of mutual understanding between people of the United States and the people of different countries and cultures. The program was initially funded through sales of U.S. war surplus to foreign governments. Built on a foundation of the debris of destruction, the Fulbright Program has now grown to become one of the most respected international exchange programs in the world. It has directly impacted the lives of hundreds of thousands of people around the globe, who have each influenced their communities, nations and sectors.

Fulbright is a comprehensive and cost-effective way to support U.S. interests. For around $250 million a year of taxpayer dollars, which attracts nearly $150 million in partner government, higher education and private sector support, more than 8,000 people travel to or from our nation for months of study, research, teaching and other projects. They gain and give direct cross-cultural perspective, which influences their relations with U.S. citizens and people around the world. The Fulbright Program offers greater understanding of the U.S. to people in more than 150 countries, and in so doing, fosters vital friendships, allies and partners in the global arena.

The Fulbright Program has become highly valued by both foreign governments and private-sector organizations. Foreign governments see the benefit of this program, and are taking steps to engage the U.S. higher education community and foster leadership development through two-way exchange programs. Private-sector organizations see the potential to invest in future innovators and talent.

In an increasingly global economy, it is more important than ever for American students to develop strong language skills and awareness of international perspectives. Fulbright connects U.S. colleges and universities to the world and helps to internationalize our campuses, giving American students the benefit of broader perspectives, deeper knowledge and new networks. Fulbright is also a catalyst to study abroad, with application rates at an all-time high. More Americans gaining direct international experience translates into greater competitiveness in the world market.

Fulbright awards also support cutting-edge researchers who focus on issues of global concern – from climate change to pandemic disease, social justice to rule of law or energy security to food security. Fulbright recipients teach English to underserved populations, providing a pathway to more people for improved access to information, education and job opportunities. They support entrepreneurs, lawmakers and campaigners for human rights, who improve conditions in their own countries, which often improves economic and diplomatic relations with the U.S. “Fulbrighters” work toward nearly all aspects of the national interest.

For International Education Week and beyond, join me in supporting the national interest by becoming a more involved global citizen. Get involved in the Fulbright Program. Attend a lecture by a Fulbright visiting professor at a local college or university. Apply for a Fulbright or encourage a friend or family member to apply.

Broaden your perspective and share your experience with a visiting Fulbrighter because “International Education” works both ways.

Lisa Caputo

Contributing Columnist

Lisa Caputo, a Wilkes-Barre native who lives in New York, was appointed by President Barack Obama to the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board, where she has served for five years. Previously she served as the deputy assistant to President Bill Clinton and as the press secretary to First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton.