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Department of Communications/
News Bureau
22 Davis Hall, 10 Lippitt Road, Kingston, RI 0288
Phone: 401-874-2116 Fax: 401-874-7872

Media Contact: Jan Wenzel, 874-2116

Two URI professors awarded Fulbrights
It’s the third Fulbright for one of them!

KINGSTON, R.I. -- May 6, 2003 -- Wherever the University of Rhode Island’s John Leo hangs his hat, he tends to call home. The next place Leo’s hat will land is at the Constantine the Philosopher University in Nitra, Slovakia, the location of his third Fulbright assignment. Nitra is about one hour from Vienna, Austria and Budapest, Hungry.

The Providence resident is one of the two most recent professors at URI to be awarded Fulbright Scholar grants. Donna Bickford of Wakefield, a lecturer in URI’s Women’s Studies Program, is the other recipient. The purpose of the Fulbright program is to build a mutual understanding between people of the U.S. and other countries.

"I feel like a vet," says Leo, a faculty member in URI’s English Department, who teaches film studies, cultural studies, romantic poetry, 20th- century British and American literature. His two prior Fulbright assignments have been to Poland, where he held the first Fulbright Distinguished Chair of American Studies at the Maria Curie-Sklodowska University, Lublin.
Leo will spend a year at the Slovakian university teaching American cultural studies and film studies and lending his talents to faculty development.

"I love borders and edges," says the professor in response to why he chose Slovakia. "I’m interested in distinctive elements of Slovakian culture and customs before they become parts of a rapidly assimilated Europe. Nitra is gorgeously medieval but not yet boutiqued."

Leo expects to help organize and participate in regional and international conferences on American cultural studies, not only in the Slovak and Czech Republics and Poland, but also in Belarus, Russia, Ukraine, and perhaps the Baltic countries Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia.

He has already been asked to participate in seminars in Belarus, Holland, and Italy. "It’s a wonderful opportunity to network and prepare necessary bases and collegial frameworks for faculty and student exchanges, grant writing, and other forms of institutional cooperation that are at the heart of the Fulbright program," he says. He also will be working with Polish, Czech, and Slovakian colleagues on a book he is authoring on the history of the gay rights movement in Poland after the collapse of Communism in 1989.

Sensitive to different learning traditions and a seasoned adviser to international students, Leo expects he will feel right at home. "I tend to ‘go native’ since I’m pretty fluent in Russian, other Slavic languages aren’t insurmountable. I can speak 'survival' Polish, am studying Slovak online now, and will have to master a minimum of Czech and German. The absolute best feature of living as a citizen of another country over an extended period of time is becoming friends with people from other nations. To liberally paraphrase William Fulbright, the Arkansas senator who founded the program about 50 years ago—a handshake does far more to promote understanding than a missile."

Leo was one of several URI professors who are enthusiastic about Donna Bickord’s Fulbright award. "Mary Capello and Jean Walton (URI English professors) are colleagues and mentors of mine," says Bickford. "They had a wonderful experience on their Fulbrights in Russia and encouraged me to apply."

Because the Fulbright is so competitive, Bickford was surprised and delighted to be awarded one the first time she applied for it.

She will spend the 2003 fall semester teaching two courses to students in the Department of Comparative Literature and the Institute of Women’s Studies at Abo Akademi University in Turku, Finland.

One course will be in feminist literary theory and the other will be in 20th-century women writers of the Americas, a course Bickford developed as a graduate student at URI.

"I’m extremely excited to have the opportunity to live and work outside of the U.S.," she says. "Much of my own scholarship has been about developing productive methodologies for comparative literary criticism and analysis, so it will be very useful to have an intercultural experience.

"The Scandinavian nations have a very well-developed system of social supports. I’m extremely curious about what it is like to live in a country with a real commitment to gender equality and where there are strong efforts to achieve equity and social justice," Bickford says, noting that Finland’s president and prime minister are women.

Both scholars agree that the Fulbright idea and exchanges have positive impacts in contributing to further internationalization of URI curriculum and research, promoting study abroad opportunities for URI students, or bringing visiting scholars to campus. Leo, who helped organize a series of workshops this month for students, staff, and faculty on how to prepare a competitive Fulbright application, says that URI's "administration has been just super in its encouragement and material to make URI more of an international presence in higher education. Whether it's the president's or the provost's offices, the deans and chairs of URI's colleges, all have recognized and sustained the purposes of international exchanges and contacts."

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