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Fulbright At 75 – Future Challenges and Opportunities

The Public Diplomacy Association of America celebrated the 75th anniversary of the founding of the Fulbright Program at a luncheon discussion on September 13, 2021. Five speakers presented their experiences with America’s premier academic exchange program. Video of the program is available here.

  • LAURA HOCHLA – Is director for European Affairs at the NSC and was a Fulbright US Student program participant in Granada Spain. A mid-career Foreign Service Officer, Ms. Hochla was  Deputy Director, Office of Caucasus Affairs and Regional Conflicts (2020-2021) in the EUR Bureau at State, Deputy Economic Counselor, U.S. Embassy Madrid, Spain (2017-2020), Internal Political Chief, U.S. Embassy Tbilisi, Georgia (2014-2017), Economic Officer, Office of Russian Affairs, Washington, DC (2011-2013), Vice Consul, U.S. Embassy Bogota, Colombia, (2009-2011), Assistant Public Affairs Officer, U.S. Embassy Pristina, Kosovo (2006-2008). Laura is a Harvard University Graduate School of Education alum and earned her undergraduate degree from Wellesley College.
  • PHILMON HAILE — Before joining the Foreign Service, Philmon Haile worked in humanitarian assistance, development, and international education. A resettled refugee from Eretria, he grew up in Seattle, WA. Philmon participated in the OWN – One World Now program that led to his studying in China for a year. Philmon and his family’s experience building a new home in the United States instilled in him a deep desire to be of service and a profound reverence for education. He believes international education and people-to-people exchange are powerful tools that allow citizen diplomats to serve as cultural ambassadors, build empathy, and develop competencies critical for a global marketplace. Philmon attended Washington University for his BA degree and completed his MPA at Princeton University and is honored to represent his country as a Public Diplomacy Foreign Service Officer. Philmon was a 2014 Fulbright participant in the  U.S. student program to Jordan, and a Rangel Fellow.
  • KELLY MCCRAY – Is the Southern Caribbean Desk Officer in the WHA Bureau, and was recently a watch officer in the Executive Secretariat. She Was a 2009 English Teaching Assistant in Thailand and was a 2014 Rangel Fellow. Her first overseas posting was as cultural affairs officer in Guangzhou, China. Ms McCray was a public diplomacy student at Syracuse University, earning an MS in public relations from the Newhouse School and an MA in international relations  from the Maxwell School. She is a proud graduate of Howard University.
  • COLLEEN O’CONNOR – Is Manager for Curriculum Development @ 2U, a leading company that works with colleges and universities to bring courses to students through telecoms. Previously she worked in China- related programs with  CET Academic Programs, National Geographic, Wild China, and Radio Free Asia.  Colleen was a graduate researcher under Fulbright auspices in Yunan Province, and is one of a group of Fulbright alumni actively seeking restoration of the program in the PRC. Colleen graduated from the University of Pittsburgh.
  • KELLEY WHITSON – is serving in the AF Bureau Office of Economic Affairs as Gender, Entrepreneurship and Health Officer.  Previously she served in  Copenhagen, Denmark. Her first tour was as a Vice Consul in the U.S. Consulate General in Monterrey, Mexico. She was a 2012 Rangel Fellow. After the Rangel Summer Enrichment Program, she worked for the Department of Transportation and became a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in Terengganu, Malaysia. She received her MA in 2012 from American University and a BA from Spelman College in 2009.

Former PDAA President Michael Schneider introduced the subject:

What role should the Fulbright Program play in fostering human rights and social justice?

The internationally esteemed Fulbright Program turns 75 in fraught times; humankind around the world faces a number of critical global challenges.

We’re all aware of these challenges:

  • accelerating climate change,
  • a global pandemic for which most nations were unprepared, revealing terribly inadequate medical and public health facilities
  • Varied internal and international threats to civil society, stability and democratic governance
  • The declining space for democracy and civil society arising from corrupt and authoritarian regimes … and the dangers posed by dis- and misinformation
  • And so many other conflicts and concerns such as human and narcotics trafficking, the rising gap between rich and poor, etc.

Sadly one of the “legacies of the past” even in these “modern” times are ongoing injustices around the world related to race, caste, religion, gender and identity. The world urgently needs to understand that disenfranchised individuals and groups are disproportionally the losers in the ongoing contest for goods and benefits, services and influence.

The absence of fundamental rights and equal opportunities makes less certain changes conducive to enhanced human security within and among nations.

And without vibrant civil society and enhanced human security sustainable progress is impeded in the promotion of sustainable national and international security.

This point of view is not just a set of reformist values; the 1948 UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights ( – converted good intentions into international law.

For 75 years, the Fulbright quest for a better world has contributed to mutual understanding so necessary for cooperation.

In an increasingly complex world, how can the Fulbright program contribute to more concerted progress in meeting challenges related to race, religion, gender and identity and the underlying values of social justice and fair play?

How have Fulbrighters been affected by contemporary issues and what steps would they prescribe for future programs? To what extent are there non-traditional options for future programs that merit consideration? Are there opportunities that the U.S. should seek to expand or re-open Fulbright programs? What would Fulbright alumni recommend for the program’s future?

These questions were addressed by the panelists and by the participants in the discussion, held at DACOR/BaconHouse.

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