By Vanessa Miller/The Gazette May 11, 2016
Enrollment numbers are rising across Iowa’s public universities, and this spring that has meant bigger graduating classes, larger venues, and more top honors.
The University of Iowa later this week will award degrees to more than 4,900 undergraduate and graduate students — a 6 percent bump from five years ago. Iowa State University last weekend graduated 4,601 students — representing its largest-ever graduating class and prompting administrators to move the undergraduate commencement to Jack Trice Stadium for the first time.
University of Northern Iowa saw 1,625 students participate in commencement on Saturday — topping last year’s 1,464.
Mirroring that growth, UI on Wednesday announced a record 14 students and alumni have landed Fulbright U.S. Student Program grants to conduct research, attend graduate school, pursue creative work, or serve as English teaching assistants overseas in the 2016-2017 season.
That total tops last year’s record-breaking tally of 13 UI Fulbright placements, which earned it a spot among the nation’s “top producers of Fulbright students for 2015-2016,” according to the Chronicle of Higher Education.
The 13 UI Fulbright scholars in 2015 moved the university into a tie for No. 27 on that list of peer institutions and represented a 63 percent increase over the school’s eight recipients the prior year. In fact, over the past four years, the number of UI Fulbright scholars has more than quadrupled.
In its 70 years, the Fulbright Program — administered by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs — has provided more than 360,000 students the opportunity to “exchange ideas and contribute to finding solutions to shared international concerns.”
Of the tens of thousands who apply, more than 1,900 U.S. students and other young professionals annually receive Fulbright grants to teach, research, or create in more than 140 countries. Recipients are chosen based on academic or professional achievement and demonstrated leadership potential.
This year’s crop of UI recipients includes a former UI diving team captain headed to Greece to help “Greek students reach their personal athletic goals;” a UI Ph.D. candidate in musicology bound for Hungary to study Bartok’s “First Piano Concerto;” and a UI graduate student planning to create a film club in Colombia involving social media-based debate between American and Colombian students.
Amanda Kloser, 28, will join the thousands of UI graduates this weekend when she receives her master’s degree in secondary education, and then she’ll continue with the elite group of UI Fulbright scholars in the fall when she takes off for Turkey. With her English teaching assistantship, Kloser hopes to use “group work and daily immersion exercises” to foster her Turkish students’ English skills. She also plans to use her background as a technology assistant to collaborate with Turkish university colleagues on extending curriculum to online environments.
Although Kloser’s from Dubuque and has deep farm roots, she developed a love for and fascination of different cultures at UI and wanted to experience parts of the world depicted in the texts that captured her.
“I thought it would be really fascinating to go and see where all this literature comes from,” she said.
But the Fulbright application process takes more than a year, and Kloser said she knew the competition was steep and profuse. So when she learned in March that she had been selected, “I think it’s fair to say my jaw hit the floor.”
Kloser will be abroad for nine months and, once she returns, hopes to land a job teaching high school English — preferably in Iowa or the Midwest. She hopes the Fulbright experience will give her tools to deal with a range of classroom challenges, especially those associated with an increasingly diverse population.
“It will help me hone my skills as an educator and reach more students,” she said.
With two more years left in her religious studies doctorate program at Iowa, Gwendolyn Gillson said her yearlong stint on a Fulbright grant will support her exploration of “Pure Land Buddhism.” Through research in Japan, Gillson will investigate ways women in the Jodo sect are transforming religion in modern Japanese society.
She plans to spend the first six months in Kyoto, working with women volunteers in soup kitchens and on disaster relief projects, and the second six months in Tokyo with a nun who runs a counseling group for younger women.
When Gillson, 29, learned in early March that she would be going abroad she was stunned.
“I called my husband a minute after opening the letter, and I couldn’t explain why I was breathing so heavy,” she said. “It was great.”
Fulbright is paying for her husband to travel with her for the year — pitching in a monthly stipend for rent and funding his plane ticket. Gillson said she hopes her experience will enrich her research and career and help her introduce more Americans to the beauty of “the way these Japanese women interpret their religion.”
IF YOU GO
What: The University of Iowa is holding a series of commencement ceremonies between Thursday and June 3 – most of which occur on Friday and Saturday.
When: The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences will graduate half of its programs at 9 a.m. Saturday and the other half at 1 p.m. Saturday.
Where: Carver-Hawkeye Arena
For more information: Visit now.uiowa.edu/2016/05/university-iowa-graduates-celebrate-commencement