A trio of Western Carolina University faculty members has been named recipients of prestigious Fulbright Scholar awards and will be heading overseas to engage in individual scholarly projects in Hungary, New Zealand and Mexico.
The three faculty members – Mimi Fenton, professor of English; Turner Goins, the university’s Ambassador Jeanette Hyde Distinguished Professor of Gerontological Social Work; and Paul Worley, assistant professor of English and director of the graduate program in English – received notification recently from the Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board that they have been chosen to receive the awards.
The Fulbright Program is the flagship international exchange initiative sponsored by the U.S. government and is administered through the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. The Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program in which Fenton, Goins and Worley will participate sends approximately 800 American scholars and professionals to about 130 countries annually to lecture or conduct research in a variety of academic and professional fields.
While WCU has had faculty participation in the Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program in the past, it is rare for a regional comprehensive university of its size to have three recipients in the same year, and it is an indicator of the overall quality of the faculty, said Alison Morrison-Shetlar, WCU provost.
“I was delighted to learn that the scholarly excellence of Mimi Fenton, Turner Goins and Paul Worley has been recognized by the Fulbright Scholar Program,” Morrison-Shetlar said. “These faculty members continue to be an inspiration to our community, and especially to our students who, through faculty mentorship and engagement in scholarly endeavors, also may aspire to excellence in a variety of ways, including by seeking Fulbright awards. I am proud of the recognition these awards have brought to WCU.”
Fenton’s teaching and research will take her to Budapest, Hungary, from January through June in 2018. She is an internationally recognized scholar of the works of English literary giant John Milton and will be working on two interrelated projects, “Public Milton” and “The Humanities in a Globalized Era,” as she continues her existing collegial relationship with faculty members of Károli Gáspár Református Egyetem, a university of 8,000 students in Budapest. She will team-teach on Milton’s public humanism, co-develop “The ‘Areopagitica’ Project (based on Milton’s tract about freedom of the press and expression), co-author an article, present at a national symposium, lead a multidisciplinary course on the humanities and globalization, and expand the public humanities pedagogies website she developed as WCU’s 2016 Hunter Scholar.
Milton’s humanist writings were crucial in the formation of British national identity and later in the development of American constitutional values, Fenton said. “It is no surprise that Milton studies have been revived in Hungary in the past decade after 40 years of socialist neglect and now stand as one of the cutting-edge areas of study for the Institute of English Studies at Károli Gáspár University,” she said. “My Fulbright project builds upon my existing efforts with the university in Budapest to reveal Milton’s significance in the public consciousness of Hungary and contributes to KRE’s and WCU’s strategic objects to increase public humanities and internationalization activities.
“Today, more than ever, the world needs John Milton, a writer who, more than almost any other in English, stood deeply rooted in the public discourse of his time, a period of political, religious and cultural revolution – a time not unlike our own,” she said.
Goins’ research project will take her to New Zealand from February through November in 2018, where she will take a qualitative approach in examining the meanings, beliefs and practices of healthy aging among a group of older Māori, the indigenous people of that country. The Māori make up 15 percent of New Zealand’s population, but the number of Māori over age 65 is expected to increase by 122 percent by 2026, compared to 60 percent for non-Māori, Goins said.
A study was initiated in New Zealand in 2010 to identify predictors of healthy aging that included physical, psychological, health, social and cultural factors, but the findings from that study contrast with the findings of a more recent one, Goins said. “My research is designed to complement and contextualize the information generated from those quantitative studies,” she said. “Qualitative studies on lay health meanings and beliefs are valuable in that they allow subjective understandings to emerge. This approach will yield information on how older Māori conceptualize healthy aging and the factors they experience that affect health aging.”
Little is known about healthy aging among indigenous populations around the world, Goins said. “Improving our understanding of healthy aging from the eyes of older Māori can be used to inform clinical practice and subsequent health promotion and health intervention efforts,” she said.
Worley’s project in Mexico also will include an indigenous focus. He will be teaching English at a university in the Mexican state of Chiapas and collaborating with faculty members there to create English language pedagogical materials designed to assist speakers of the Mexican indigenous language Tsotsil Maya as they seek to become teachers and speakers of English. Worley will be traveling to Chiapas in August and working on the project at the university through spring 2018.
“English-as-a-second-language programs in the U.S. and Mexico often assume that their students speak Spanish as a first language, which means that the curricula are not designed to meet the needs of other linguistic groups,” he said.
“The teaching component of my project is crucial insofar as it will provide me with first-hand experience in teaching English to speakers of Mexican indigenous languages that will, in turn, inform this research,” Worley said. “The project will have a broad impact on the field of language acquisition and the teaching of English on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border. As Western North Carolina is home to speakers of more than 10 Mexican indigenous languages, with Tsotsil being among them, WCU will benefit from greater opportunities for engagement with those communities when I return.”
Another Fulbright initiative, the U.S. Student Program, offers grants to American students, artists and early career professionals to study, teach English and conduct research overseas, and the Fulbright Program also offers opportunities for non-U.S. citizens to come to the U.S. as students, researchers and scholars.