The Office of National Scholarships and Fellowships hosted Ms. Sabeen Altaf, the senior program officer of the Whitaker International Program for biomedical research, on Friday afternoon to conclude its Fulbright Week.
The Whitaker Program is administered by the Institute of International Education, a non-profit organization that specializes in international education. In her presentation, Altaf said that they administer the U.S. State Department's flagship program, the Fulbright.
She said the Whitaker is similar to the Fulbright, as they both offer funding for study abroad opportunities. The Whitaker, however, specifically caters to those studying in the biomedical field.
Kristen Morgan, a UT graduate student, participated in the Whitaker summer fellowship in Australia after meeting Altaf at a biomedical engineering conference in 2012.
"I was working on a project, I do a lot of ACL injuries," Morgan explained. "We specifically do a lot of computational work, so it's hard to get data. That's what was great about the Whitaker program; with the people we have in Australia we could go collect data and then use it for our research."
Her time at the University of Western Australia was so influential that Morgan felt moved to encourage the undergraduate students that work in her lab to consider applying.
"I told them I don't know what their schedules are, but you need to look into it, it's just a really great experience," she said.
Altaf discussed her own publicity efforts for the highly field-specific Whitaker program. In her travels to conferences and universities, she has noted that the most successful applicants often come from institutions connected to Whitaker.
“A lot of times, the universities that are successful in recruiting are the big universities where the name 'Whitaker' means something,” Altaf said. “They already have biomedical engineering departments, buildings that are named after the Whitaker, they already have professors that have received a Whitaker foundation grant years ago … it’s where we’re going to see a good turnaround in applications."
She cited the University of Michigan, which has a widely respected biomedical engineering department. In 2012, U.S. News and World Report declared their undergraduate and graduate biomedical engineering programs the 6th and 7th best in undergraduate and graduate education.
A similar trend occurs at schools that boast former Whitaker participants among their faculty.
“If we have grantees and people that are on our board that went to Johns Hopkins, even though it may be a smaller program, we’ll see more applications,” Altaf said.
Altaf mentioned that, as far as engineers go, biomedical graduate students are often more interested in collaborative work than their peers, calling them the "low-hanging fruit" for this type of foreign study opportunity.
She added that the biomedical engineering field has a high ratio of women to men. Coupled with the fact that women are more open to going abroad than men, Altaf said that Whitaker recipients tend to be female.
“My grantee ration is 60/40, which is really high,” she said.
For more information on the Whitaker Program, visit the Office of National Scholarships and Fellowships at their offices in the Howard H. Baker Center for Public Policy or the program's website at www.whitaker.org