July 25, 2008

Doctoral student wins Fulbright scholarship

by Tim Crosby

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- A graduate student at Southern Illinois University Carbondale this fall will study the ongoing political evolution of Romania as a winner of a J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship award.

Charles D. Harris, a doctoral student in political science at SIUC, also will serve as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant, working to improve the English skills of Romanian students and their knowledge of the United States. He will work at Lucian Blaga University in Sibiu, where he also will work on acquiring Romanian language skills.

Harris said he began working on the application for the Fulbright last summer and received word of his success during a difficult time in his life.

“I found out I had won just 10 days after my mother died,” he said. “I thought I had a chance at winning, but not a super strong chance. When I won, I was really excited but it felt like some really good news in the middle of some really bad news.”

Harris said he chose to study Romania because of its status as a former Eastern Bloc country and his growing up during the Cold War.

“My father was a career U.S. Air Force officer in secure communications, so I grew up very much in the Cold War,” he said. “To study the aftermath of that is very exciting.”

The presidentially appointed members of the Fulbright Scholarship Board selected Harris for the award, which is funded by the U.S. government, private contributions and foreign countries. The award carries a prestigious legacy, with many recipients going on to become leaders in government and higher education. Fulbright scholars have won almost 40 Nobel Prizes. In its more than six-decade history, about 300,000 scholars have received the award.

The award seeks to open communication and promote long-term international relationships, enriching the educational, economic, social and cultural lives of citizens in all countries. The board encourages recipients to get involved in the foreign communities where they live while studying and teaching.

Stephen C. Shulman, interim chair of the Department of Political Science at SIUC, said he strongly recommended Harris for the award based on his hard work and dedicated scholarship.

“Charles is very enthusiastic and has a great desire to learn about Romania and communicate with Romanians about America,” Shulman said. “It’s a great honor for him. These fellowships are very competitive and it says a lot about Charles that he was able to receive one. He will be a good ambassador and great asset for the University and our department as we continue to internationalize our program here.”

A native of Mascoutah, Harris earned a bachelor’s degree in political science at Washington University and a master’s degree in American Studies at Saint Louis University. He was a social science instructor at Southwestern Illinois College before deciding to pursue his doctorate.

A U.S. Navy veteran, he used his veteran’s educational benefits to pursue his educational goals. He hopes to finish his doctorate in 2011.

“Charles has said he wants to write his dissertation on Eastern Europe, so the knowledge he gains in Romania will be of great use to his scholarship,” Shulman said.

While in Romania, Harris will study the ongoing democratization of Romania, which during the last five years has joined both NATO and the European Union. He also wants to enjoy the culture and the lighter, less political history of the country, which includes Transylvania.

“My friends have told me they will want me to stand in front of a mirror when I return,” Harris joked, referring to the vampire legend.

Harris is the son of the late Warren and Marilyn Harris of Mascoutah, and the brother of Rick Harris of Nashville.