Nebraska Wesleyan University: Mints Fulbright Scholars as Part of Its Global Plan

By Connell, Christopher | International Educator, March/April 2009 | Go to article overview

Nebraska Wesleyan University: Mints Fulbright Scholars as Part of Its Global Plan


Connell, Christopher, International Educator


IF LUCK IS THE RESIDUE OF DESIGN, it is no coincidence that Nebraska Wesleyan University has produced 21 Fulbright and one Rhodes scholar since 2000. This "little college on the prairie," as one professor calls it, does not leave these matters to chance. A national prestige scholarship adviser, a Fulbright program adviser, and a cadre of like-minded faculty colleagues scout for talent in freshman seminars. They groom these students, ship them off to Washington for internships, and lead them on service and education abroad trips to Sri Lanka, Swaziland, and Panama - experiences that often provide fodder for the essays these young Nebraskans write for their Fulbright applications. Faculty help protégés polish those essays - one of the 2008 winners went through 20 drafts.

Nebraska Wesleyan pushes its faculty out into the world, too. Its sabbatical policy may be unique: faculty receive two-thirds salary on sabbaticals in the United States, but 100 percent if they spend that year in another country. "I know of no other place that does that," said President Frederik Ohles.

Methodist leaders founded the liberal arts school a few miles from the state capital in Lincoln, Nebraska, in 1887, envisioning that it might grow as did another Methodist institution, Northwestern University, outside Chicago. Within a year they had erected the imposing, Colorado red stone and brick landmark known as Old Main. But "Nebraska didn't develop quite like Illinois did," said President Emeritus John White. It remained a primarily undergraduate college on a 50-acre campus tucked into Lincoln's quaint University Place neighborhood, across town from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, with almost as many international students (1,500) as NWU has undergraduates (1,600) in 2007. Nebraska Wesleyan, which remains affiliated with the United Methodist Church, also has 200 graduate students pursuing master's degrees in nursing, forensic science, and historical studies. Though the college has gone through several mascots - the Sunflowers, Coyotes, Plainsmen, and now the Prairie Wolves - its brown and gold colors have remained constant.

When it comes to internationalization, NWU is an overachiever. "I suppose we don't have some of the bells and whistles and amenities that we might have if we were a wealthy college," said Ohles. "We make terrifically good use of all the resources we have. The faculty here are very busy. They're teaching four courses per semester ...The Great Plains go-get-it-done mentality is alive and well [at] Nebraska- Wesleyan." That mentality explains how political scientist Robert Oberst and a few colleagues won approval for an interdisciplinary global studies program in the early 1980s. Global studies made it through only because "it didn't cost any money. Everything had to be done by the seat of our pants," said Oberst. He has led NWU students on numerous education abroad trips to South Asia and taught at both Peradeniya University in Sri Lanka and Cairo University, where he was a Fulbright lecturer. In its heyday, global studies attracted 20 majors, although today it draws more minors than majors. Laura Reitel, an exchange student from the University of Tartu in Tallinn, Estonia, put Oberst at the top of her list of favorite professors. If possible, she said, "I would just stick him in my pocket and take him back home and show him to others. Our professors are not that amusing or anything like him."

Fulbright Factory

If Nebraska Wesleyan has gained something of a reputation as a Fulbright factory, it is due to the efforts of such faculty as Oberst, Kelly Eaton, Gerise Herndon, and Elaine Kruse. Eaton, chair of the Department of Political Science and Nebraska's Professor of the Year in 2003, said, "It is really the long-term nurturing and advising that produces the results in the end." Eaton is the National Prestige Scholarship adviser. She worked closely with Xuan-Trang Thi Ho, who in 2006 won the second Rhodes Scholarship in NWU's history.

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