Boston University graduate Coleman Donaldson joined 1,600 American citizens who were awarded the Fulbright U.S. Student Program scholarship for the 2011-2012 academic year.
Donaldson, one of four BU students to receive the grant this year, is using it to study linguistics in Paris.
The program was started in 1946, under legislation by the late U.S. Senator J. William Fulbright of Arkansas, according to a press release. The scholarship is primarily funded by an annual appropriation made by Congress to the Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.
Donaldson traveled to Paris in early August to prepare for the upcoming year as he will be performing intensive research while taking classes at a French school of languages, Institut National des Langues et Civilisations Orientales, he said in an interview. The grant enables him to study “effective and inclusive language policy” in French-speaking parts of Africa.
An International Relations major with a French minor, Donaldson spent a year in the Peace Corps, where his interest in linguistics grew. In the West African nation of Burkina Faso, Donaldson worked with the locals conducting extra-curricular activities and discovered a linguistic conflict between the government and locals.
“In going to [Parent Teacher Association] meetings, I saw there was such a divide in the language spoken,” he said. “In the classroom and in all government business, French was spoken. But all the locals spoke Jula [a local language], so there was a definite barrier. It was incredibly painful to be in these meetings.”
Donaldson said he was fascinated by Burkina Faso’s linguistic complexity and began researching schools in Paris until he found a professor he wanted to work with.
“I wanted to figure out how I could go to this school and learn from this professor without paying for it,” Donaldson said. “It was in this backwards way that I discovered the Fulbright scholarship.”
BU assistant Provost Sue Kennedy, who guides students through scholarship applications, worked with Donaldson on the Fulbright scholarship and said he showed strong credentials.
“He really put together a great application,” Kennedy said. “What he wanted to do, studying different languages in Paris, has real utility in what he has done in the past, and what he hopes to do in the future.”
T. Jeffery Kline, a professor of French film and literature at BU, had Donaldson in one of his classes and praised him as a student, despite not having taught him in nearly four years.
“I’m really happy to hear that he received this scholarship,” Kline said. “Coleman has a wonderful intellectual curiosity. I remember he really took to film, and would come by my office to talk about the films we watched in class.”
Donaldson interned for a congressman in California and worked for the National Democratic Institute in Washington, D.C. before going to the Peace Corps. The experience made him realize that he could not work sitting at a desk, he said.
The scholarship will allow him to do research in the field while studying languages in Paris – just the kind of experience Donaldson said he anticipated.
“He is just a really wonderful kid, with inner strength and kindness,” Kennedy said. “He is going to do really well.”