Dartmouth, University of Alaska Fairbanks scholars to lead new Fulbright Arctic Initiative


October 22, 2014

The U.S. Department of State announced this week that scholars at Dartmouth College and the University of Alaska Fairbanks will be partners in leading a new Fulbright Arctic Initiative.

Mike Sfraga of UAF and Ross Virginia of Dartmouth will serve as distinguished scholar leaders of the program, which will fund interdisciplinary work for 16 scholars from the countries that sit on the Arctic Council, an intergovernmental forum of eight nations, including the United States, that addresses issues faced by Arctic governments and peoples.

Mark Brzezinski, the U.S. ambassador to Sweden, former member of the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board, a Fulbright alumnus, and member of the Dartmouth class of 1987, announced the Arctic initiative on Oct. 13.

“I am so pleased to announce that the State Department will have its flagship overseas scholarship program focus on one of the most important strategic questions in the next couple of years,” Brzezinski said during an interview with Andrea Mitchell on MSNBC. “[The Arctic] has some of the most pristine areas of biodiversity and ecosystems in the world that could be changed because of climate change.”

The new program will be overseen by the State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.

“President Obama and Secretary Kerry have both affirmed that a secure and well-managed Arctic marked by international cooperation is a key priority of the United States,” said Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Academic Programs Meghann Curtis. “Bilateral and multilateral public diplomacy partnerships are essential and are a unique and critical part of the Fulbright Program. The partnerships we have with other nations on Fulbright strengthen our relationships and increase our capacity to advance shared foreign policy goals and solve global collective action problems, like climate change.”

Virginia, the Myers Family Professor of Environmental Science, and Sfraga, a vice chancellor and professor of Arctic policy, will work with the State Department to set goals and select scholars for the new Fulbright Arctic Initiative.

The program comes at a key time, said Virginia, as the United States assumes the rotating chairmanship of the Arctic Council in April 2015.

“We’ll have scholars from eight Arctic nations, from a variety of disciplines, and the challenge for this Fulbright program is to ask questions that are relevant to solving these problems,” Virginia said. “We need to develop research questions and themes for these teams of scholars that generate knowledge that will be useful to policymakers.”

The Fulbright Arctic Initiative scholars will work on advanced research and collaborative study, with guidance from Virginia and Sfraga, for 18 months starting in May 2015. The participants will be selected from the eight Arctic Council states through an open, merit-based competition. Canada, Finland, Iceland, Norway, the Russian Federation, Sweden, the United States and Denmark — which also represents Greenland and the Faroe Islands — all hold seats on the Arctic Council. Areas of research focus will include climate change, water, energy, health and infrastructure, among others, according to the Fulbright program overview.

“Fulbright has a long and prestigious history as the premier U.S. educational, research, outreach and public diplomacy program,” said Sfraga. “The decision by the State Department to establish the Fulbright Arctic Initiative underscores the importance the U.S. places on engagement and informed management of the Arctic at a time of rapid change that presents both challenges and opportunities.”

The Fulbright Program is the U.S. government’s flagship international educational exchange program. Since 1946, the Fulbright Program has provided more than 360,000 participants from more than 155 countries with the opportunity to study, teach and conduct research, exchange ideas and contribute to finding solutions to shared international concerns.

Tom Healy, Chairman of the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board, which establishes policy guidelines and selects candidates nominated for awards, sees the Fulbright Arctic Initiative as “a striking example of the creative approaches Fulbright scholars are taking to some of our most urgent global challenges.”

“The exciting innovation of the Fulbright Arctic Initiative is the collaboration of researchers from the eight countries of the Arctic Council working together,” Healy said. “Collaboration and trust have a multiplier effect.”

“The scholars will come from different countries and different fields but will share a commitment to working together to understand and address Arctic issues,” Brzezinski said. “I cannot wait to see what professors Virginia and Sfraga do with their new role.”

CONTACTS: Mike Sfraga, 907-474-2600, msfraga@alaska.edu. Ross Virginia, 603-646-0192, ross.a.virginia@dartmouth.edu.

ADDITIONAL CONTACTS: Marmian Grimes, 907-474-7902, marmian.grimes@alaska.edu. Justin Anderson, 603-646-3017, justin.anderson@dartmouth.edu. ECA Press at ECA-Press@state.gov or (202) 632-6552.