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16 Surprising Fulbright Alumni

  • Kimberly Collins
Sep 26, 2017

The Fulbright Program is a U.S. scholarship program of competitive, merit-based grants for international educational exchange for students, scholars, teachers, professionals, scientists and artists. Essentially, Fulbrights can be for anyone, in any field. People have used their grants as stepping stones on the way to Nobel Prizes (#3), performances at Buckingham Palace (#4), and widespread tourist paraphernalia (#15). Truly, any field. 

Among alumni, we can count 37 heads of state, 82 Pulitzer Prize winners, and 70 MacArthur Fellows (popularly known as “genius grants”). But between those, there are also singers, designers, scientists, activists, and so many more – several hundred thousand people to choose from, in fact.

Today, we’ll start with just 16, listed in order of the the year they received their grants, from most current to oldest.

1. Nilofar Sakhi

In: the U.S., 2007

Sakhi is an Afghan peace, human rights, and women’s rights activist. In 2002, she founded and directed the first women’s NGO in Herat, Afghanistan, and still serves as chairperson of the board. Since the fall of the Taliban in 2001, she has worked advocating for and furthering women’s rights to economic empowerment, education, and political representation throughout the country.

 

2. Terence Tao

In: the U.S., 1992

Tao is an Australian-American mathematician and by all layperson accounts, a genius. At age 9, he earned a 700+ score on the math section of the SAT. At 21, he earned a PhD from Princeton. At 24, he was promoted to (the youngest ever) full professor at UCLA. He’s published more than 300 research papers and 17 books, and is known for his work solving conjectures on circular law, prime tuples, Erdos discrepancies, and other complex math problems the rest of us didn’t know existed.

 

3. Linus Pauling

In: Yugoslavia, 1988

Pauling helped found the actual fields of quantum chemistry and molecular biology, and published more than 1200 papers and books. Following WWII, he became a powerful peace activist against nuclear weapons, and actually drafted the famous Hiroshima Appeal crucial in convincing key countries to sign a treaty. Pauling won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1954 and the Nobel Peace Prize in 1962, making him the only person to receive two undivided Nobel Prizes, and one of only two people to receive the award in two separate fields (the other was Marie Curie).

 

4. Renée Fleming

In: Germany, 1985

Renowned soprano and opera singer, Fleming has sung everywhere from Buckingham Palace to the Super Bowl to The Lord of the Rings soundtrack. She’s viewed as one of the greatest sopranos of all time.

 

5. Daniel Libeskind

In: Finland, 1984

Libeskind is the architect and creative mastermind behind the reconstruction of the World Trade Center site at Ground Zero. He’s also well-known for crafting the Jewish Museum in Berlin, alongside a host of striking memorials, museums, and miscellaneous buildings worldwide.

 

6. Juan Manuel Santos

In: United States, 1981

President of Colombia since 2010, Santos won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2016 for his work negotiating a peace deal with the FARC guerrilla group in Colombia. He was named one of TIME magazine’s 100 Most Influential People.

 

7. Craig Barrett

In: Denmark, 1972

Barrett is best known for his career at semiconductor giant Intel, serving from 1974 to 2009 as COO, CEO, and chairman of the board, where he was credited for leading the organization through the dotcom bubble and the recession. He earned a PhD in Materials Science from Stanford, taught there for a decade, and now teaches at the Thunderbird School of Global Management.

 

8. John Lithgow

In: England, 1967

Beloved American actor, singer, and comedian, Lithgow has appeared in over 50 movies, from Footloose to Terms of Endearment, and numerous television shows, from How I Met Your Mother to The Crown. He’s won two Tony Awards, six Emmys, and two Golden Globes, among numerous others.

 

9. Muhammad Yunus

In: United States, 1965

A Bangladeshi economist and social entrepreneur, Yunus pioneered the microfinance movement by founding the Grameen Bank in 1983, which provides grassroots microcredit to entrepreneurs in developing countries who do not qualify for traditional bank loans. Replicas of his model now operate in more than 100 countries. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006, was named #2 on Foreign Policy’s list of Top 100 Global Thinkers, and received the US Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009.

 

10. Joseph Stiglitz

In: England, 1965

Stiglitz is an influential economist known for his critiques of free market fundamentalism and poor management of globalization. He’s authored thirteen books and more than 300 papers, won a Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics, and was named among TIME’s 100 Most Influential People. He previously served as Chief Economist of the World Bank and Chair of the Council of Economic Advisors, and currently teaches at Columbia University.

 

11. Edward Albee

In: the Soviet Union, 1964

Distinguished even among Fulbrighters, Albee is the only alumnus to have won three Pulitzer Prizes. He was widely considered to be the foremost playwright of his generation, and is best known for his work “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”

 

12. Riccardo Giacconi

In: United States, 1956

An Italian astrophysicist, Giacconi laid the foundations of X-ray astronomy, which groups like NASA use to collect images of outer space. He served as the first director of the Space Telescope Science Institute, which fuels such operations as the Hubble Space Telescope. He won a Nobel Prize in Physics, and currently teaches at John Hopkins.

 

13. Sylvia Plath

In: England, 1955

Plath was a talented American poet, novelist, and short story writer known for her impressive works and for her tragic suicide at age 30. She was the first person to win a posthumous Pulitzer Prize.

 

14. Amar Bose

In: India, 1955

After earning a PhD in Electrical Engineering from MIT, Bose served as a professor there for 45 years. He also founded and ran Bose Corporation, producing “concert-hall-quality” speakers. Defying traditional business advice, he kept his company private and re-invested 100% of earnings into R&D. His net worth was over $1 billion.

 

15. Milton Glaser

In: Italy, 1952

Most famously, Glaser brought the world the “I heart NY” logo. He also co-founded Push Pin Studios and New York Magazine, designed the iconic psychedelic Bob Dylan poster, and was the first graphic designer ever to receive the National Medal of the Arts.

 

16. Aaron Copland

In: Italy, 1950

Often referred to as “the Dean of American Composers,” Copland contributed over 100 works to the American repertoire.

There you have it, sixteen surprising alumni of a surprisingly malleable and curious grant. Further proof that you really can make of the opportunity what you will!

About the Author

Kimberly Collins

Raised in Indianapolis, Kimberly now writes and travels from Montevideo, Uruguay. After studying global politics, she worked for a small tech company until a 2016 Fulbright grant plopped her in Uruguay. She’s since finished the grant but opted to stay abroad, continuing to advance her Spanish, bop around South America, and soak up all the learning and dancing she can.

Read more of Kimberly’s blogs

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