October 23, 2013

Pact will bring top water science students to SIU

by Tim Crosby

CARBONDALE, Ill. – Top post-graduate water science students from Europe will spend a year studying with leading researchers at Southern Illinois University Carbondale under a new agreement.

The Hungarian-American Commission for Educational Exchange, a nonprofit foundation that administers that country’s Fulbright Scholars program, and SIU will jointly fund the effort beginning in the 2015-16 academic year, officials said.  The agreement will bring one top European graduate-researcher to SIU each year to work in the general area of water science, a field in which SIU is a recognized leader, and focus on multidisciplinary study.

“This is another case of SIU playing the big leagues,” said Nicholas Pinter, professor of geology in the College of Science at SIU.  “Fulbright scholarships are extremely competitive, with at least 10 applicants for each award, and SIU will see some outstanding scientists and engineers through this program.  Each student will work with SIU faculty and graduate students for one initial year and may also stay in Carbondale to complete graduate degrees thereafter.”

Pinter said he would like to attract students interested in civil engineering, hydrology, biology, zoology, geographic information systems or other fields related to the study of rivers, watersheds, river restoration and sustainable biodiversity.

The grant, which will provide the student with full tuition, a housing and living stipend, start-up expenses, health insurance and travel expenses, will build upon the university’s existing international educational and research profile, Pinter said.

SIU’s Center for International Education helped establish the new agreement by building a longstanding relationship with the Fulbright program worldwide. Carla Coppi, director of the center, said the agreement is special because it is with the Fulbright Commission.

“Also, the cross-disciplinary scope of the student exchanges is cutting edge,” Coppi said. “Most often, a student has one particular area of focus when they study abroad on a Fulbright exchange. This partnership will encourage students to explore their area of expertise from several different academic perspectives.”

The partnership with Hungary’s Fulbright program also is directly related to the university’s ongoing National Science Foundation-funded IGERT program, Pinter said. IGERT stands for “Integrative Graduate Education Traineeship,” and SIU is home to the six-year $3.2 million grant aimed at training the next generation of watershed scientists.  Part of that program saw students travel to central Europe to study watershed management systems and practices in the region.  SIU also partners with a similar program called SMART, which is funded by the European Union and seeks to advance doctorate-level research in river-related topics, Pinter said.

“This initial bilateral program with Fulbright Hungary is a significant accomplishment for SIU, but it is seen by both sides as just the beginning,” Pinter said.  “Fulbright is now exploring how to expand the relationship with SIU into a regional scholarship program that would bring as many as five top European student researchers to Carbondale each year.  Several sources of funding for this program are now being explored, and if successful, it would cement SIU as a world leader in water-related research and graduate education.”