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Two Lafayette professors have received prestigious Fulbright Scholarships to support scholarly research abroad. The grant recognizes James Lennertz, associate professor of government and law, and Gabrielle Britton, assistant professor of psychology, as leaders in their fields and as exceptional teachers and mentors of undergraduates.

The Fulbright Scholar Program gives faculty and professionals in the United States the opportunity to lecture and conduct research in an array of academic and professional areas across the globe.

Lafayette’s scholars have been given grants to teach courses at universities and further their research in Panama and Slovenia.

Britton, who lived in Panama as a child, began her work there in August. A neuroscientist, she is teaching a seminar on historical and current trends about gender as it relates to science through the psychology department at the University of Panama, which is the Central American country’s national university.

“My primary aim is that the students learn from history and current role models about how to succeed in fields where success seems out of reach,” says Britton, a role model in her own right who had only one female professor during her eight years of graduate work and worked in labs otherwise comprised exclusively of men during that time. “My hopes that more gender studies are offered in the future rely entirely on students and colleagues promoting the change — there are colleagues in Panama interested in seeing that happen. Also, role models exist. The goal is to put students in touch with them so that they can learn from personal experiences.”

To that end, she has organized a lecture series where local women scientists discuss with her students — mostly women studying nursing, medicine, psychology, and social sciences — the challenges they will face in their fields and how to develop strategies to achieve their goals.

“My hope is to identify the attitudes and aptitudes that predict success in scientific fields, as well as the difficulties faced by women in science, in order for students to find commonalities and use them to frame their questions and discussions,’’ Britton explains.

In addition to the teaching component of her Fulbright Scholarship, Britton is participating in research at Universidad Especializada de las Americas, or UDELAS, a research and teaching institution that offers specialized degrees for health professionals.

That research is aimed at identifying the proportion of women in senior scientific positions at research and postsecondary education institutions, as well as senior decision-making bodies, and highlighting the predicators of achieving that success. The study will attempt to predict the likelihood of women obtaining and sustaining positions at high levels in science and technology.

“That report will serve to get information out there for those who can benefit from it and to draw attention to these issues,” Britton explains. “No matter what the issue, the first step in promoting change is to collect information. Only when the data are available can the process of change begin.”

Previously, Britton received a National Institutes of Health grant to study how the brains of animals react to both threats and “safety signals,” which may provide insight into some anxiety-based human disorders. She involves Lafayette students in her research who have gone on to present their findings at national conferences such as the Society for Neuroscience meeting, Eastern Psychological Association meeting, Pavlovian Society Conference, and National Conference on Undergraduate Research.

Like Britton, Lennertz serves as a mentor for Lafayette students in their research projects. He also has coordinated many internships providing students work experience with politicians and government officials.

Although research plays an important role in his Fulbright Scholarship in Slovenia, a country situated in the northernmost region of the former Yugoslavia, Lennertz’s primary focus will be instructing a political science class on comparative public policy in the social science department at the University of Ljubljana in the country’s capital city.

Lennertz, who received a Fulbright Scholarship in 1981 to study in Grenoble, France, begins his work abroad in February and will teach the course in both the winter and spring terms.

“The course itself will be somewhat theoretical and comparative,” he says. “We will be looking at more general theories. With teaching public policy, there are really two kinds of focuses you can have. You can focus on the political process by which policy is formed, passed, implemented, and evaluated or you can look at the substance of the policy by examining the goals and means and how effective the policy is at reaching its goal. Most courses mix a significant amount of both.

“So we will be thinking about how the political system responds to demands for certain kinds of policies and looking at examples of policies in relatively comparative perspectives. For example, how environmental policy gets formed in Eastern Europe, the European Union, and the United States.”

Lennertz is distinctly remembered by many of his students for a sometimes-radical teaching style and was honored two years ago for his talent in the classroom when Lafayette created a faculty award in his honor. He will impart his knowledge to his Solovene students in the same way as at home.

“I believe a teacher must be as explicit about planning and executing pedagogy to guide and support the development of student faculties as he is about content,” he explains. “Based upon this commitment and my expertise, I continue to use the Socratic method in my law courses and, with appropriate adjustments, in other courses. I continue to develop the simulation as a flexible and productive tool in all my classes. Simulations are realistic, if not always real, representations of legal and/or political institutions, issues, and processes in which students are assigned to play roles. Concrete and problem-oriented yet open and with broad implications, strategic yet substantive, role-specific yet collegial, simulations attempt to promote active empathetic learning as well as intellectual insight.”

For example, Lennertz might ask his class to simulate the Slovene or European Union courts considering an environmental law case. Or a parliamentary committee or governmental agency developing or implementing policy on domestic abuse.

The research Lennertz will conduct focuses on a comparative chapter in a book he is writing on political representation to be called “We the People, in Order to Form a More Perfect Union”: Constitutional Politics in Representative Democracy.

“I will seek to conduct interviews with relevant public officials, academics, and activists in Slovenia and elsewhere in Europe, depending upon information and advice from my faculty and student colleagues at the University of Ljubljana,” he says.

Additional research will touch on gathering information and interviewing people to extend earlier works on abortion policy, domestic violence, environmental law and politics, and political representation. The new analyses, with their comparative treatment of the European Union and the United States, eventually will be published in article form.

While Lennertz has a variety of goals for his work, his overriding hope is that his time in Ljubljana will further his transformation from an “Americanist” to an “American comparativist.”

“Since my previous Fulbright, I have come to increasingly appreciate the lessons of cross-cultural comparison,” he explains. “New insights are likely to come from stepping away from our nation’s long-established and unexamined premises. Central and Eastern Europe’s distinct cultures, institutions, and experiences – historic and recent – provide an excellent opportunity to do that. Indeed, current issues with respect to the structures and processes of governance of the European Union are extremely relevant to my interest in political representation.”

Equally important to Lennertz as opening himself up to change is the fact that by working with new students and colleagues, he will become emotionally reinvigorated.

“My Fulbright in France changed my academic outlook because it made me appreciate the comparative perspective and the importance of immersing yourself in another culture,” he says. “So the reason I pursued a Fulbright again at this stage in my career was to dip into the well of that kind of experience and refresh myself again and expand my comparative interest.”

Just as he was able to draw from his experience in France to develop a course on comparative law and justice, he believes his access to European materials and people in Slovenia will allow him to extend his perspective beyond a prototype.

“At the very least, I will bring this orientation and these ideas back to my current courses,” he adds. “Perhaps I will even succeed in convincing colleagues that the old categories need review and revision.”

Like Lennertz, the Fulbright experience has given Britton a new outlook on a number of issues.

“The experience of stepping outside the laboratory has provided me with a unique perspective surrounding these gender issues,” she explains. “I am primarily a laboratory scientist and have never had the opportunity to explore topics away from neurobiology and basic behaviors. Two of my colleagues here with extensive experience teaching gender studies have provided me with much useful material that has not only prepared me to teach, but compelled me to think more about gender issues that relate to science than ever before in my career.”

That fresh way of thinking is coupled with a new sense of purpose.

“I am better prepared than before to verbalize my ideas, concerns, and interests — and therefore address students’ concerns about these issues,” she says. “I look forward to sharing the new perspectives I’ve gained with my students and colleagues when I return to Lafayette.”

Categorized in: Academic News