College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

Fulbright Scholars Grant Awarded to Anthropology's Rhoads

Date: May 7, 2014

May 3, 2014

Fulbright Scholars Grant awarded to Anthropology Professor
Russ Rhoads for Project in Sierra Leone

Associate Professor Dr. Rhoads (Anthropology) was awarded a Fulbright Scholars grant to lecture at Njala University in Sierra Leone during the 2014-2015 academic year, the U.S. Department of State and the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board announced recently.

The project, “Developing Community Engagement Capacities at Njala University,” will involve Rhoadswith faculty, staff, and students in the School of Social Sciences at Njala, collaborating on community engagement projects. “I’m excited to become part of two new communities – the Fulbright scholar community and a new member of the academic and social community at Njala University.” Rhoads will participate in a range of activities on community engagement: teaching on action research; conducting workshops and seminars with faculty and staff to incorporate community-based learning into classes, and assisting in the creation of a Center of Community Engagement.

According to Rhoads, “In the post-conflict period in Sierra Leone, universities are exploring ways to connect the classroom to national development by putting into place a curriculum for skills-based and experiential learning. My collaborations with Njala will help students develop a toolkit of practical career skills and learn about local communities and NGOs working locally, applying their fields of study.”

Although Rhoads will bring ideas, models, and resources to Njala, he cautions that changes will need to be culture-specific aligning with the Sierra Leonean academic culture: “This is where my anthropology training comes in handy: knowing that the Sierra Leoneans will find the best expression for changes in their student training programs, and in the transformation of society through higher education.”

Rhoads will spend 7 months of his year-long sabbatical leave in Sierra Leone, collaborating with Dr. Kiran Cunningham (Kalamazoo College), his wife of 26 years.  Rhoads and Cunningham shared their first field study together in Mexico in 1985, followed by one year in Sierra Leone (1988-1989) living among the Mende. “It’s been 25 years of teamwork between Kiran and I, doing fieldwork and projects across the globe in such places as Mexico, Venezuela, India, and of course Sierra Leone.” This is yet another opportunity for the two as anthropologists to team up and connect to new learning communities.

Rhoads is particularly happy with the focus on community engagement and how Grand Valley has validated the importance of high-impact experiences in student learning. As Rhoads explains, “The institution is supporting my sabbatical to do something I have been working on when I came here in 1993 as an applied anthropologist: connecting students to the community in practical ways. For years, the anthropology department and its faculty have been at the forefront of this trend, with its field schools, student-directed research, internships, and study abroad programs. The Fulbright award means that these kinds of activities are valued internationally. Rhoads also appreciates the support he has received from his anthropology colleagues, the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and GVSU’s Office for Community Engagement. 

Rhoads is one of over 1000 U.S. faculty and professionals who will travel abroad through the Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program in 2014-2015. The Program is the flagship international educational exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government and is designed to increase mutual understanding between the people of the U.S. and the people of other countries, as well as to give professionals the opportunity to study, teach, and conduct research, exchange ideas and contribute to finding solutions to shared international concerns.


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