Education is the central mission of Boston University’s College of General Studies (CGS) and its professors, who don’t have teaching assistants, carry heavier course loads than most BU faculty. It is unprecedented and gratifying, says Natalie McKnight, dean of the college, that two CGS faculty members, Samuel Hammer and Meg Tyler, have received Fulbright Scholar Awards for the 2015–16 academic year. Hammer, a botanist, is an associate professor of natural sciences and mathematics. Tyler, who is a poet and chair of BU’s Institute of Irish Studies, is an associate professor of humanities.
“I’m thrilled that both Professor Tyler and Professor Hammer have received Fulbright awards to study, teach, and conduct research in Northern Ireland and Sri Lanka, respectively,” says McKnight, who is also a professor of humanities. “For most of the academic year, faculty at CGS teach outside their areas of specialization, and so awards like these give professors a much appreciated chance to immerse themselves in their areas of expertise and to recharge intellectually and creatively. Professor Tyler and Professor Hammer have both enriched their classroom teaching with their previous work abroad, and both have provided impactful undergraduate research and other experiential opportunities to their students, opportunities that their Fulbright experiences will hopefully help them to continue and expand. It’s important for our students to see that their professors are still learning, too, and are out in the world contributing to what is known in their fields.”
Hammer trains students in his urban ecology classes to look beneath the surface, whether the landscape they’re observing is a stretch of sidewalk along Commonwealth Avenue or Brookline’s snow-covered Amory Park in winter. He will spend summer and fall 2015 practicing what he teaches in Sri Lanka, documenting and analyzing the evolving urban and rural landscapes of a country that is rapidly developing after 25 years of civil war that ended in 2009. “To say I’m excited would be an understatement,” he says.
He will also teach at the University of Moratuwa and will work with colleagues there, as well as at Rajarata University, who are protecting Sri Lanka’s ancient cultural treasures and wildlife refuges where elephants roam free. “The rural landscape of Sri Lanka is characterized by thousands of years of sustainable water management and agriculture that is being eroded by contemporary practices,” Hammer says. “And the urban environments that we are focusing on are very old, heterogeneous neighborhoods in central Colombo [Sri Lanka’s capital] that are threatened by commercial development.”
Tyler will be a Fulbright Professor of Anglophone Irish Literature and Writing at the Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry at Queen’s University in Belfast, Northern Ireland, from January through June 2016. “I’ve been given oxygen,” she says Tyler, who is the author of a scholarly book about the late Nobel laureate Heaney. “Nothing makes me feel more alive than teaching and talking about poetry.”
She will also conduct research for a collection of essays she is writing on Irish poet Michael Longley, who lives in Belfast and has chronicled The Troubles, Northern Ireland’s late 20th-century conflict. “Studying Seamus led me to Michael,” Tyler says. “I’m so interested in how this Protestant poet in Belfast who was great friends with the Catholic poet Seamus Heaney writes about a time which was so politically fraught.”
“Michael is kind of becoming the father of Irish poetry,” she adds. “He is one of the oldest and most popular poets writing in Ireland today, and by popular I don’t mean it in a demeaning way. If you go to a poetry reading at the Lyric Theatre in Belfast, it’s sold out. Poets are the rock stars of the world there.”
Tyler and Hammer are two of some 1,100 US faculty and professionals who will travel abroad through the Fulbright US Scholar Program in 2015–16. The Fulbright US Scholar Program is administered by the Council for International Exchange for Scholars, a division of the Institute of International Education. The Fulbright program is the flagship International Educational Exchange program sponsored by the US government and is designed to increase mutual understanding between the people of the US and other countries.