Office of International Programs completes largest single virtual program in WSU’s history by creating orientation for 915 Fulbright grantees from around the world

Photo of students participating in a breakout session How do you provide orientation to 915 foreign Fulbrighters in 127 countries? Virtually, of course.

The Fulbright Program is the U.S. government's flagship educational and cultural exchange program, funded by the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. For the last two summers, WSU was one of several universities around the country that hosted in-person orientation but when the pandemic struck and social distancing guidelines were put in place, Wayne State was chosen as the sole orientation host for 2,000 Fulbright Foreign Student Program grantees. It was the first program of its kind and the largest single program in WSU’s history to be completed virtually. The Office of International Programs (OIP) put it together and launched it successfully in four months in collaboration with the Institute for International Education, which administers Fulbright Gateway Orientation on behalf of the State Department. 

Gateway Orientation helps grantees understand the requirements of their academic program, opportunities and expectations, the importance of networking and provides a cultural introduction to the U.S. Ahmad Ezzeddine, associate vice president for educational outreach and international programs, says the students benefited from their Wayne State experience before heading off to universities including Harvard, Stanford, Columbia, Yale and Johns Hopkins.

“The program was offered synchronously and asynchronously across multiple time zones and for a very diverse group of students both in backgrounds and disciplines,” he says. “Running such a program required significant contributions in effort, coordination, talent and time, and one crucial element was the role that faculty and staff volunteers played in facilitating the synchronous sessions. Their help and skills in navigating and facilitating the discussions – at times around sensitive topics - was commendable. I’m proud that we were able to showcase their amazing talent.

“This is just one example of the type and scale of programming that we are engaged in at Educational Outreach and International Programs, and it demonstrates the opportunities that are available for our staff, faculty, and students when it comes to engaging globally and embedding global and intercultural competencies and experiences in what we do at Wayne State.”

More than 40 volunteer facilitators from around campus participated in the three-week program. Associate Professor Jennifer Hart of history, herself a Fulbright alum, was immediately interested in participating.

“I fully support the opportunities for cultural exchange that this amazing program makes possible,” she says. “I also know that programs like this are critical at a time when funding for university education is being cut around the world.  As a person who has lived, researched, and taught in other countries, I know how difficult that transition can be. 

“Orientation programs like this are so important in providing you with tools, touchstones, context and connections to make the most of your experience abroad. I've done these sorts of orientations before for scholars in Ghana, so I told the OIP team from the beginning that I was all-in for this particular orientation. It's true that virtual connections are different, and that created its own challenges, but I loved being able to interact with grantees across the 14 different facilitation sessions that I participated in.”

Fulbright grantee Imran Khan
             Fulbright grantee Imran Khan

The pandemic has led many of the grantees to begin their programs online from their home countries, or delay their start until winter 2021. Imran Khan, a Fulbrighter from Pakistan, will pursue a PhD in civil and environmental engineering from University of New Hampshire.

“I am disappointed for not being able to attend the orientation in-person,” he says via email. “I would have loved to visit the Wayne University campus and Detroit. But considering the crazy times we are living in, I am glad we have a way to interact and the online orientation is an amazing experience.”

OIP will host orientation again in December for new awardees, and those who have delayed the start of their programs in the U.S. More facilitators will be needed for the asynchronous sessions, and Ezzeddine says he hopes the global engagement is interesting to volunteers and a positive distraction from the daily/routine grind of remote work during a pandemic. Hart says that it is.

“The Office of International Programs works so hard to support the university community and advance international teaching, research, and service,” Hart says.” I particularly appreciate the ways they reach out to involve faculty and staff in these kinds of opportunities.  These kinds of experiences are part of what make a university an exciting place to be.”

The Office of International Programs leads Wayne State’s global engagement by creating opportunities that foster international education and research, facilitate the exchange of individuals and ideas that promote global competencies and citizenship, and provide resources that support the expansion of the university’s global agenda. Follow us @WayneOIP.

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