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Two Geography Professors Awarded Fulbrights


By Sarah Geegan

The UK College of Arts and Sciences will see two of its professors, Richard Schein and Sue Roberts, travel to Finland on Fulbright Scholarships throughout the 2012-2013 school year. 

schein with studentsSchein, a professor in the Department of Geography, was appointed as the Fulbright Bicentennial Chair in American Studies at the University of Helsinki, Finland, which ranks among the most distinguished Fulbright honors. The Award focuses on American Studies, ranging from American history, political science, cultural studies, sociology and international relations.

"I will work immediately with the students and faculty in the North American Studies program at the University of Helsinki – including graduate and undergraduate students," Schein said. "I also will probably teach a course and direct a seminar for the grad students – probably in my research areas of the American Cultural Landscape, historical geographies of the US and US urban geographies."

Schein will also conduct his own research, some of it expanding on his work on historical geographies of land and property in the US, and some of it exploring the Northern European and Finnish tradition of landscape study.

However, what Schein dubs "the bigger picture" of his award involves him serving as an ambassador for American studies, geography, UK and the United States. Through this position, he will speak with people about the American experience from his own expertise as a cultural geographer.

"That means I also will be travelling to other universities in Finland, meeting people, making connections, giving seminars," Schein said. "I also will have opportunities to travel throughout Europe doing the same. Finally, I will be bringing some of my experience as an American academic to the job – I help to choose the students who are on the Finnish Fulbright program, and I will offer my experience as a graduate advisor to the North American Studies program."

The research that Fulbright scholars conduct often opens doors for collaborations with international colleagues. Schein plans to bring these collaborative experiences and opportunities to the classroom, and to further enhance the global opportunities that UK offers.

"This will help to embed UK in ever-more tightly drawn webs of global interconnectivity," Schein said.

The award supports his work in Finland for nine months; luckily his entire immediate family will have the opportunity to accompany him."

sue robertsMy colleague, professor Sue Roberts, is also my wife; so we are especially excited to have two Fulbright awards in the same country," Schein said.

Roberts, chair of the Department of Geography, received the Fulbright University of Turku Scholar Award, an honor designed to foster greater understanding between the US and Finland through educational exchange of individuals from the professional and academic communities.

A research award, the honor will also allow Roberts to meet with graduate students in Finland and deliver lectures. She will be based at the University of Turku, a prominent Finnish university in the south, about two hours west of the capital Helsinki.

"During my time there I will continue my ongoing research project on the use of private contracting firms in development - specifically focusing on the practices of USAID (US Agency for International Development), but my main project will be to write a book on global inequality," Roberts said. "This will be a book that takes a geographical approach to inequality at different scales. It will bring together theoretical and conceptual advances in economic geography, political geography and development studies."

A major impetus for her writing this book stems from her efforts to take her research and scholarship into the classroom.

"As part of the University of Kentucky’s wholesale restructuring of the university’s undergraduate core general education curriculum (2009-2012), I developed and offered a new course - “Global Inequalities"  - designed to give beginning undergraduate students, predominantly with majors in fields other than geography, a basic sense of the patterns and contours of inequality defining the contemporary world," Roberts said.

Roberts said that her Fulbright experience will further enhance her expertise and ability to teach this course. Learning from Finnish experts will also allow her to avoid taking US-centric view as she writes her book.

Having served as department chair for four years, Roberts said she looks forward to re-focusing on her research and scholarship through this award.

"I feel very lucky to have this opportunity to do so in Finland where economic and political geography have always been very strong," Roberts said. " I really enjoy getting to know other parts of the world and meeting different sorts of people, so I hope I learn more about Finland, a fascinating country in many ways, in addition to learning more about what is going on there in terms of social and geographical scholarship."

Both Roberts and Schein attribute their success in part to the Department of Geography and other UK Programs, particularly the Committee on Social Theory, within the College of Arts and Sciences.

"UK, the College of Arts and Sciences and the Geography department in particular, really supports pure academic research and intellectual freedom-- and rewards academic productivity," Schein said. " My colleagues in the Geography Department are an international crowd and have helped me to have a global perspective."

The couple's 15-year-old twins, Will and Betsy, will accompany them to Finland and attend school there throughout the duration of their parents' stays.

Schein said that the twins have also accompanied them on previous sabbatical leaves in Mexico and Australia, giving them international experience at a young age. Both Schein and Roberts said they are excited for their children to experience yet another international setting.

"I am thrilled about this Fulbright," Roberts said. "It is an honor, and I am really looking forward to my time in Turku. Even the prospect of a long cold winter is not dampening my excitement!"