Donna Hart (left) and Laura Mccarty

If you want a J. William Fulbright Scholarship, Donna Hart is the person to ask. The director of undergraduate research in anthropology and adjunct teaching professor at University of Missouri–St. Louis has helped four students in as many years achieve this prestigious distinction.

Although she says there is no formula to ensure a Fulbright, she learns a little more each time.

“I think the key is to give equal acknowledgement to both important emphases of the Fulbright – rigorous research and interaction with the community in the host nation,” Hart said.

Fulbright scholars not only research in the field and labs all around the world, they also give back through outreach in the community where they work.

This year’s recipient, Laura McCarty, will analyze 3-D images of Neanderthal skulls and bones at the Eberhard Karls Universität Tübingen. She will work with Katerina Harvati, professor and chair of paleoanthropology in the Department of Early Prehistory and Quaternary Ecology and the Tübingen/Senckenberg Center for Human Evolution and Paleoecology at University of Tübingen in Germany. Harvati specializes in Neanderthal evolution and modern human origins. McCarty will also devise a multi-faceted curriculum for local school children centered around Neanderthal fossils while she is there.

“I was astonished when I got the letter (from Fulbright),” McCarty said. “This is the opportunity of a lifetime.”

She credits Hart for helping her with the highly competitive application process.

“I am grateful to the anthropology department and Dr. Hart for the remarkable support, assistance and encouragement she provided me throughout the Fulbright application process.”

Hart said the application itself appears easy at first glance. Besides letters of recommendation and an invitation from a host nation, it’s basically a one-page personal statement and two pages about the research the student would like to pursue and why.

“But we go through at least 20 drafts,” Hart said. “Every single word has to count and we do this together.”

So, how does the anthropology department determine who will apply? Hart said faculty keep an eye out for highly motivated students and approach them with the idea to see if they are interested.

Then Hart gets to work finding a researcher or government program somewhere in the world that matches her student’s research interests. She and the student reach out to the institution and arrange to receive the requisite official invitation from the institution. From there, they present all application materials to the Center for International Studies which sends it off to Fulbright.

Hart said it means a lot for her to help these students secure a bright future.

“This is something during their whole lives they can refer to as a testimony to their abilities,” Hart said. “It is a lot of work, but it’s something you can’t put a price on as far as your career.”

Fulbright is the most widely recognized and prestigious international exchange program in the world, supported for more than half a century by the American people through an annual appropriation from the U.S. Congress and by the people of partner nations. The research award program seeks out individuals of achievement and potential who will be outstanding cultural ambassadors for the U.S. and selects nominees through a nationwide open, merit-based competition.

The other anthropology alumni who received Fulbrights in past years are James Daugherty and Lana Kerker in 2007 and Angela Toole in 2009.

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Kylie Shafferkoetter

Kylie Shafferkoetter