RIT Fulbright Scholars Association starts a family of its own

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A. Sue Weisler

Walid Yaqoobi from Kabul, Afghanistan, left, and David Narvaez from Panama, co-founded RIT’s newest club on campus: the RIT Fulbright Scholars Association. The club boasts 33 international students from around the globe who have “become like a family,” said Yaqoobi.

Walid Yaqoobi hails from Kabul, Afghanistan. Neither of his parents can read or write, but their son, the second youngest of 10 children, came to RIT as a Fulbright scholar to study for his MBA at Saunders College of Business.

“They pushed us to go to school and study hard,” said Yaqoobi, who attended American University of Afghanistan and also worked as a senior network administrator on a peacekeeping mission for the United Nations in Kabul for nine years.

Being away from home the past 18 months, Yaqoobi said he deeply missed his family. This encouraged him to find a new network of support at RIT with the help of another Fulbright scholar, David Narvaez from Panama, who is pursuing a master’s degree in computer science.

“We met while going to Pittsburgh for a Fulbright enrichment conference last March and said to each other, ‘I didn’t know you existed,’” said Yaqoobi with a laugh. “We realized we needed each other’s support.”

Together they co-founded the RIT Fulbright Scholars Association—boasting 33 international students from around the globe: Mongolia, India, Niger, Turkey, Congo, Russia, Haiti, Grenada, Azerbaijan, Guinea, Rwanda and beyond. The club’s advisers are Peggy Tirrell, senior associate director of graduate business programs and admissions at Saunders College, and Shawna Szabo, international student adviser in RIT’s International Student Services.

According to Jeffrey Cox, director of International Student Services, students from developing countries are often sponsored by the merit-based Fulbright grant program, which was created by Sen. J. William Fulbright in 1946 and now operates in 155 countries around the world. “We have 39 Fulbright scholars at RIT right now,” said Cox. “These students are very bright and motivated; it’s a highly competitive scholarship.”

Yaqoobi said the club meets regularly and hosts a variety of member events—movie nights, wine tastings, potluck parties and volleyball games. The group will also hold invitational meetings to encourage RIT students to consider possibilities of applying for Fulbright opportunities abroad.

Yaqoobi, who speaks four languages—Dari, Pashtu, English and Hindi—said the “United States experience is like a dreamland” because it’s so far removed from his childhood. He said the nightmares of war under the Taliban—and seeing people he loved die—resolved his decision to return home, hopefully working again for the U.N. after graduating from RIT next May.

“Before I go back to Kabul, I wanted to do something I am passionate about and that’s why I wanted the RIT Fulbright Scholars Association to become a reality—where students can connect, make friends, and become like a family. In a very short time, this group of people has become very close to my heart.

“Fulbright scholars are very much like cultural ambassadors, and as future RIT alumni, we want to keep our great minds together, regardless of our locations.”

Fulbright scholars on campus

  • RIT has been hosting Fulbright scholars for more than two decades
  • In RIT’s 2014 class, 39 Fulbright students represent 29 countries
  • Fulbright scholars offer a wider breadth of international country representation—hailing from Togo, Benin, Lesotho, Afghanistan, Mongolia and Mauritania