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Hear it from the Fulbrighters

Three scholars talk about their aspirations, their journeys to prestigious American universities and the realisation of long-held dreams
Hindustan Times | By HT Correspondent, New Delhi
UPDATED ON MAR 02, 2011 09:57 AM IST

Mudita Upadhyay
MA public health, Tulane University’s School of Public Health, New Orleans, Louisiana
Fulbright Master’s Fellow for Leadership Development 2008-10 batch

Faced with a hard choice
What bigger sacrifice could one make for a fully funded master’s degree abroad than leaving home a five-year-old baby at home. But thanks to Mudita Upadhyay’s parents’ who volunteered to fill in for her; she could fly to Tulane University School of Public Health on a Fulbright scholarship.

Upadhyay is a healthcare professional who completed her masters in health management from the Indian Institute of Health Management Research, Jaipur. After that, she spent three years at the Centre for Management of Health Services, IIM Ahmedabad.

Studying at a good American university, always Upadhyay’s dream, could only be fulfilled through a full scholarship. During the Fulbright interviews, she felt daunted with other co-applicants who included IAS officers and senior doctors.

The call from the Fulbright Foundation thus was surprising. “They select professionals from all fields including public health, journalism, science and literature,” she says.

To make the cut, one should be consistently good in academics and must be able to justify the area of study scholarship aspirants plan to pursue.

Her experience in public health got a fillip when she worked in health camps set up for the victims of hurricane Katrina which had hit during her stay in New Orleans.

Upadhyay got a chance to meet people from across the globe who were there on Fulbright scholarships. Her international exposure gave her the confidence to push herself to the limit. She now plans to study for her PhD.

Shailesh Kumar
Cornell University, Master of Public Administration (MPA)
Fulbright Master’s Fellow for Leadership Development 2007-09 batch

Ivy league or nothing
Born and raised in Kaushambi (near Allahabad, Uttar Pradesh), Shailesh Kumar could really feel the pinch of being a small-town boy. That modest upbringing triggered in him a yearning to contribute to society at large.
After studying zoology at the undergraduate level from Banaras Hindu University (BHU) and management from IIFM (Indian Institute of Forest Management),

Bhopal, Kumar worked in the area of microfinance with Basix (a livelihood promotion institution), nurturing dreams of studying at an Ivy League university because of his keenness “for international exposure”. Kumar’s applications to the top three Ivy League institutes — Cornell, Harvard and Columbia — were all accepted, but as luck would have it he could not make it to any of these for lack of sufficient funds. Next year, he applied for Fulbright scholarship and rest, as they say, is history.

Convincing the interviewing panel wasn’t a tough nut to crack for Kumar because he had already been working in the social sector. His advice to prospective

Fulbright applicants is: “Don’t be led by the stature of a university - whether it’s Harvard or Stanford. You should find out which good university is offering the programme you are interested in.”

Prerna Makkar
Harvard Kennedy School, Harvard University, Master in public administration in international development
Fulbright Masters Fellow for Leadership Development 2006-08 batch

The desire to change society
Prerna Makkar was determined to join the development sector.

She wanted to dwell on the broader aspects of healthcare and public policy. For that, she studied economics at St Stephen’s and then went in for a management degree from the Faculty of Management Studies (FMS), University of Delhi. Then a job with Accenture followed, but the fat salary couldn’t snuff out her desire to contribute to the society.
Even before getting the scholarship, Makkar had received an acceptance letter from Harvard in 2005 but got it deferred to buy time to arrange for funds. The application for Fulbright was made the same year and she got selected. After a master’s degree at Harvard, Makkar became one of the three fellows to have been chosen for a subsequent fellowship at UNO’s secretary general’s office for six months.

Currently, she is working as a south Asian director for a Washington-based charity - Deworm the World. “My background knowledge and expertise of analytics and the global context of development helps me understand the finer nuances of this job,” she says.

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