James Madison University

Nursing Professor Engages the World

By: Daniel Vieth
Posted: February 3, 2016

Beyond working with the Harrisonburg community, JMU faculty strive to engage with the world. One way that they accomplish this is through Fulbright scholarships; grants that give researchers and instructors the chance to bring their expertise to schools across the world. Nursing faculty member Erika Sawin was awarded a Fulbright-Nehru scholarship to teach nursing, public health, and medical students at the Jawaharlal Institute for Postgraduate Medical Education and Research (JIPMER) in Puducherry, India in spring 2015. Sawin was joined on the trip by her husband and two children.

PHOTO: Sawin Fulbright

Originally started by J. William Fulbright in 1946, the Fulbright Scholarship Program is a massive initiative run through the United States Department of State. Fulbright awards approximately 8,000 grants a year, providing students and scholars the opportunity to work in one of the over 140 countries that the program represents across the world. Sawin applied specifically for the Fulbright-Nehru Scholar Program, which is focused on teaching or research in India.

Sawin had wanted to travel to India since she was a graduate student, but never had the chance. After her husband received a Fulbright grant to teach in Croatia in 2008 and 2009, she became inspired to also apply for a Fulbright award. "Traveling to India was on my goal list for my own professional life," said Sawin. "It took a couple of years to set up, but eventually I was awarded the scholarship." Sawin also wanted to fill in some of the gaps of the Fulbright program as a whole, which despite having public health and medicine grants did not seem to clearly represent nursing. "I didn't know if there were nursing Fulbrights, as they seemed to be humanities and hard sciences focused, and nursing seemed more nebulous," Sawin explained. "As it turned out, though, there were other people who received Fulbright scholarships for nursing related projects, so I got into contact with them." With the advice from other nursing Fulbright recipients, Sawin was able to narrow down her choice of location to JIPMER.

PHOTO: Sawin Fulbright

Once there, Sawin taught students in the nursing, masters of public health (MPH), and preventative and social medicine (PSM) programs. "It was really cool, because here I only teach nursing undergraduate students, but there I had all different types of students" Sawin explained. "Some students had already worked professionally as nurses, lab technicians, physicians of both Western and non-Western medicine, and I even had an engineer." In addition, Sawin helped with faculty development for the nursing department, which is still relatively new at JIPMER, as well as helping students build resumes. Outside of the institute, Sawin did clinical work with her students at local health centers, and participated in a tobacco control program working to reduce the widespread usage of cigarettes and other tobacco products in India. 

"I think that the students at JIPMER were really similar to JMU students in their dedication to the profession they were going into, be it public health or nursing," Sawin continued. ""They were really diligent, and really engaged." According to Sawin, the biggest difference between JMU and JIPMER was the infrastructure. The students at JIPMER usually shared textbooks in the library, and typically only graduate students had personal technologies like laptops that they brought to class. "Even though JIPMER is pretty well-funded at the federal level, it's nowhere near a place like JMU," Sawin continued. "I came away with a big appreciation for the infrastructure we have here; we really do have amazing resources."

PHOTO: Sawin Fulbright

"For me professionally, this trip broadened my sense of the scope of nursing, and helped me put American nursing into an international perspective" Sawin added. Sawin's work in India is an example of JMU faculty engaging with the world. "They have a lot of respect for the American nurse and nursing education system, and feeling that respect was really valuable."