photo of Darcie Vandegrift
Darcie Vandegrift

Drake prof receives Fulbright Grant to teach in Venezuela

Darcie Vandegrift, assistant professor of sociology at
Drake University, has been awarded a Fulbright Scholar grant to teach and
conduct research in Venezuela during the 2008-09 academic year. 

Recipients of Fulbright awards are selected on the basis
of academic and professional achievement, as well as demonstrated leadership
potential in their fields. Vandegrift, who joined the Drake faculty in 2004,
recently received the Outstanding Teacher of the Year Award in Drake’s College
of Arts and Sciences.

She is one of approximately 800 U.S. faculty and
professionals who will travel abroad in 2008-09 through the Fulbright Scholar
Program. Established in 1946 under legislation introduced by the late Sen. J.
William Fulbright, the program is designed to build mutual understanding
between the people of the United States and the rest of the world.

“I’m humbled and honored to be chosen,” said
Vandegrift, who lives on the west side of Des Moines. “The role of a
Fulbright scholar is to be a cultural diplomat. I see the biggest opportunity
in the chance to communicate with Venezuelans I meet that people in the United
States are more than their foreign policy and president. I also look forward to
hearing the stories of Venezuelans from all walks of life.” 

As government-to-government
relations between the United States and Venezuela become more strained,
academic exchange has gained significance as a means of mutual understanding.

In 1998, Venezuelans elected
President Hugo Chavez, a former army officer who led a coup attempt against the
government in 1992.

He has pursued populist policies
aimed at helping the poor and concentrating power in his own hands. Oil
revenues fund lavish social programs. Chavez has also sought to strengthen
Venezuela’s regional influence, and to reduce U.S. influence, through
diplomatic and economic overtures towards its neighbors in the hemisphere. The
president won a third term in elections in December 2006 and in early 2007 he
was granted sweeping powers to rule by decree for the next 18 months. Political
polarization has characterized his term in office.

Vandegrift remains undeterred
by the political tensions within Venezuela and between Venezuela and the United

She is eager to begin teaching
classes in globalization and research methods at the University of the Andes in
Mérida, 200,000 population, the main center for education and tourism in
western Venezuela.

Her own research project will
involve interviewing adults born between 1970 and 1990 about how they see their
economic futures and national identity in light of the changes that have
occurred in the global economy and in Venezuela, which has been enriched by its
abundant oil supply, but is rife with political divisions between pro- and
anti-Chavez factions.

“I am interested in seeing how young adults view
themselves as political and economic actors as their nation undergoes a shift
in how it is seen on the world stage,” Vandegrift said. “I hope to
interview elite and non-elite adults. I lived in Venezuela for one year as an
exchange student 20 years ago, so I look forward to returning.”

Move a family affair

When she returns to Venezuela in late August, she will be
accompanied by her husband, Victor Tonelli, and their children, Anson Tonelli,
11, and Risa Vandegrift, 5.

Her husband plans to continue his computer consulting work,
run the household and take some Spanish courses himself. The family is still
working on school arrangements for the children.

“The kids are excited about living in the Andes
Mountains,” she added. “One of the most attractive aspects of the
Fulbright was the opportunity to take my children to another country to gain
another way of seeing the world.”

America’s flagship educational exchange program

The Fulbright Program, America’s flagship international
educational exchange program, is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State,
Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.

Since its inception, the Fulbright Program has exchanged
approximately 273,500 people — 102,900 Americans who have studied, taught or
researched abroad and 170,600 students, scholars and teachers from other countries
who have engaged in similar activities in the United States. The program
operates in more than 150 countries worldwide.

More information about the Fulbright Scholar Program, which
is administered by the Council for International Exchange of Scholars, is
available online.