Since the mid-1970s, FIU scholars have received Fulbright awards and made the Fulbright mission their own: to increase mutual understanding and support friendly and peaceful relations between the people of the United States and the people of other countries.
Returned Fulbrighters develop a life-long affinity to the program and continue to infuse people-to-people diplomacy into their academic life, including promoting Fulbright opportunities to colleagues and students and serving as peer reviewers of Fulbright applications.
Iqbal Akhtar—an associate professor who holds appointments in the Department of Religious Studies and Politics & International Relations and founding director of Western Indian Ocean Studies as well as program director of Jain Studies—was a Fulbright champion way before he even decided to apply himself for a Fulbright grant.
“I observed the wide breadth and depth of scholarship that visiting scholars and students sponsored by Fulbright (and other programs) brought to the Green School of International & Public Affairs and knew that, with some engagement and coordination, I could harvest their knowledge and talents to advance our programs,” says Akhtar. “This became particularly evident to me when I hosted an informal session for visiting scholars and students to share their projects and ambitions with us.”
Amit Ranjan was hosted by the Department of Modern Languages as a Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant (FLTA) for Hindi in 2015-2016. During Ranjan’s time at FIU, Akhtar noticed his extensive knowledge in Anglo-Indian and Hindi Literature and his keen interest in engaging with the on- and off-campus communities. “Dr. Ranjan’s expertise was ideal to support us in developing South Asian studies initiatives, and we agreed that we wanted to continue to collaborate,” Akhtar recalls.
This led to Akhtar submitting an application for a Fulbright Scholar-in-Residence award (S-I-R). The SIR is designed for U.S. institutions to invite a foreign scholar to teach courses or guest-lecture and lend unique knowledge in curriculum and new program development for a semester or a full academic year. Ranjan was thrilled about the opportunity to return to Miami to spend 2019-2020 as FIU’s first Fulbright S-I-R. Cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic, Ranjan returned to India in early 2020 but is expected to arrive at FIU in August of this year to complete the second half of his S-I-R project.
Since then, Akhtar has submitted a second S-I-R application which resulted in the successful award for a senior scholar from Sri Lanka. As a result, Professor B. A. Hussainmiya of the Department of Social Studies at Southeastern University of Sri Lanka joined SIPA in the spring of 2022. Hussainmiya will provide support with developing the Muslim World and Jain Studies centers as well as the Tamil endowment. He is expected to give public lectures, translate Tamil Islamic manuscripts and help with federal and local grant applications.
In addition, Akhtar also seized the opportunity to host four Fulbright FLTA visitors to teach Hindi, Turkish, Urdu, and Uzbek language courses and serve as cultural ambassadors in the campus and the local community in Fall 2021. FLTAs will be tapped by the Office of Global Learning Initiatives, International Student & Scholar Services, FIU Global and others to help with campus internationalization goals.
To advance his own research Akhtar will, as a Fulbright U.S. Scholar himself, soon leave to Pakistan for a project helping excavate Pakistan’s unique history for the international community. Throughout the fall, he will also work with the United States Educational Foundation in Pakistan and scholars at the University of Management and Technology in Lahore to develop capacity building by developing grant opportunities with the U.S. Department of State and U.S. Agency for International Development. Also, he will pioneer the development of the academic study of Jainism with leading universities in Punjab.
The cause of advancing relations with Pakistan and initiating collaborations with academics there is close to his heart.
“Pakistan has been shuttered for a long time but is now experiencing a new openness for international collaboration and exchanges,” Akhtar says. “Fulbright is giving me a unique opportunity to not only develop my own scholarship but to engage one-on-one with faculty and students whose interests intersect with ours and to initiate collaborative work.”
With champions like Akhtar, the Fulbright program, celebrating its 75th anniversary this year, is that much more successful in carrying out its people-to-people diplomacy mission.