Each year, the U.S. State Department’s Council for International Exchange of Scholars spearheads the Fulbright Scholar program – an academic exchange that sends professionals and top-tier faculty in all fields around the world to foster collaboration, innovation, and partnerships. The Core Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program offers nearly 800 grants each year to assist in over 125 countries around the world, and at the University of Central Florida no one is more familiar with the Fulbright Program than Dr. Karen Biraimah.
Dr. Biraimah, Director of International and Special Programs for UCF’s College of Education and Human Performance, has spent much of her career helping develop curricula and educational opportunities throughout the world. This January she will embark on her second trip to the African continent as a Fulbright scholar, working with faculty at the University of Namibia to build and grow teacher education programs that enhance equitable access to quality education through the adoption of more culturally appropriate pedagogy. One of the primary goals of this project is to enhance the national system of education in Namibia for all children as it encompasses a diverse array of customs, traditions, and ways of knowing.
Describing her upcoming Fulbright project in Namibia, Dr. Biraimah said that “building upon Namibia’s drive for greater access to quality education as a cornerstone of national development and poverty alleviation, my project will focus on factors affecting access to schooling and the development of quality education for every student in Namibia.”
In addition to this latest award, Dr. Biraimah has received two previous Fulbright Scholar Awards to work in Malaysia and Kenya. As a faculty member at the University of Malaya in Kuala Lumpur she worked to increase the use of creative and critical thinking in teacher education programs, and at Kenyatta University in Nairobi her assignment focused on developing educational programs to reach children in rural and remote areas of Kenya. In addition to her three Fulbright Scholar Awards, Dr. Biraimah has also been principal investigator and program director for three Fulbright-Hays Group Projects Abroad to Singapore/Malaysia, Peru, and Botswana – programs designed to include local teachers as well as UCF faculty and students.
In addition to supporting programs that provide UCF students with study abroad experiences in Spain, Botswana, and elsewhere, Dr. Biraimah is also interested in “bringing the world home” through two efforts; one that encourages returning Peace Corps Volunteers to enroll in UCF graduate programs, and one, funded by the US State Department, that introduces practicing teachers throughout the world to life in the US, at UCF, and in our local schools. One upcoming example this spring will see the College of Education and Human Performance host 20 practicing English teachers from Pakistan for a six-week seminar.
The majority of Dr. Biraimah’s international projects have been designed to benefit students and faculty throughout the college and university. Looking back upon these diverse efforts, Dr. Biraimah has seen the benefits of offering students and teachers a wider range of experiences – an expanded field of vision that pays dividends for students, instructors, and faculty alike. “It is not only important for UCF faculty to explore the world beyond their own classroom, but they should also feel responsible for sharing these life-changing opportunities with their colleagues and students.”
Thanks to her extensive international experience and the work she has done with the Fulbright Scholar program (including six years as a member of Fulbright peer selection committees for East Africa and SE Asia programs), Dr. Biraimah has become an incredibly valuable source of information for UCF scholars interested in pursuing Fulbright opportunities. “As the UCF Campus Representative for the various faculty Fulbright programs, I have a unique opportunity to share my experiences by assisting other faculty in obtaining their own Fulbright Award,” she tells us. “There are so many great opportunities out there, and helping connect faculty with them is a big part of what makes my work fulfilling.”