The Making of a Fulbrighter

Denise Scott and children
Professor of Sociology Denise Scott interacting with girls from the neighborhood near her guesthouse in Srinagar, India.

Professor of Sociology Denise Scott Completes Fulbright Research in India

By Tony Hoppa

In 2010, Professor of Sociology Denise Scott did an academic U-turn. After years of research and writing – including one book-of-the-year-award finalist title and journal articles on corporate lobbyists and their interactions with government – she yearned for change.

"I was at a point in my career where I felt I needed to do something different," she explained. "So I decided I would just explore – intellectually and physically – and travel to decide where I wanted to go, research-wise."

Ultimately, Scott found her way to India, which led to not one but two Fulbright Awards in her career: a Fulbright-Nehru Scholar Award in 2010 to teach political science and sociology at the H.N.B. Garhwal University in Srinagar, and this spring, a 2019 Fulbright U.S. Scholar Research Award that brought her back to conduct research there and also at Doon University in Dehradun.

In between these awards, she returned to India on her own in 2014, cobbling together funds from various sources and taking a sabbatical leave from Geneseo. Scott used her time to conduct in-depth interviews with students at five different colleges in Srinagar and Dehradun. Her work not only yielded valuable research that would later support her 2019 Fulbright research proposal; it helped her identify and secure the necessary accommodations and connections that would make her second Fulbright experience successful.

Once stateside, Scott will begin analyzing data collected as part of her Fulbright research project titled, "Student Aspirations and the Construction of Gender, Class, and Nation in Northern India." Working with graduate students and faculty in India, she interviewed approximately 80 students evenly divided between the H.N.B. Garhwal University and Doon University.

Her research aims to answer several questions, including:

  • To what extent, and how, do non-urban, non-elite college students’ aspirations and attitudes reflect and legitimize the hegemonic standards established by the New Middle Class in India? And how does gender affect the aspirations and attitudes of students and thus reflect and reinforce dominant constructs of the ideal Indian woman and man?
  • How do college students’ aspirations and attitudes affect their well-being and empowerment in and out of the home?
  • What are the implications of these findings for reinforcing or diminishing class and gender distinctions and inequality?

For Scott, this latest Fulbright brings her scholarly passion full-circle, after being drawn to India nearly a decade ago as she contemplated a new research focus.

"I decided that India would be an interesting place to do research because it’s very diverse and there’s just so many sociological questions that could be asked," she said.  "And I knew a few people who had gone to India, including Steve Derné [Geneseo Professor of Sociology] – who already had a couple of Fulbrights and had a lot of experience with grant applications – as well as colleagues from other institutions who had been there."

Denise Scott and researchers
Denise Scott and her two research assistants, Paritosh and Nivedita.

Scott applied for a teaching Fulbright first, desiring to spend time in-country to learn about the culture and gain a sense of what some of the important questions might be for research. She was awarded the competitive grant in 2010 to teach at the H.N.B. Garwhal University on its Srinagar campus, similar in size to Geneseo. When Scott arrived, however, it was transitioning to a central university, receiving support from the government which raised the status of the institution.

"There were a lot of rules and regulations pertaining to getting into the university, and when I got there they weren’t set up for my teaching," she said. "So I had about a month to do what I wanted. I explored and traveled, visited temples, and talked to many people including my colleagues at the university. And then I taught – only not the courses I went there to teach."

Instead, she was asked to teach in the business school because there weren’t any social sciences classes offered at that particular time.

"I went into the class and asked, ‘What would you like to know? These are the things sociologists focus on – I can talk about gender, I can talk about families …’ – and so I made it work," she recalled. "And actually, those students whom I met in my first month are probably my closest friends now in India."

Scott later taught social science courses once classes were in session, but the initial experience left an indelible impression. Her strongest advice for anyone applying for a teaching Fulbright, especially in a so-called undeveloped country, is just two words: Be flexible.

"It’s important to change plans if need be, sometimes on the spot," she noted. "You have to be willing to say, ‘Okay, I’ll do that, now how can I do that’ – and then find a way to do it."

That includes dealing with non-teaching challenges as well. During Scott’s first Fulbright tenure, she experienced the region’s monsoon rains which left her without power for two weeks in the university’s guest house in the hills.

"It was fine for me because I adapt pretty well to those kinds of situations," she said. "I found that the people were so wonderful and they became sort of my second family."

Scott returned to Geneseo shaped in new ways by her Fulbright teaching experience. She developed a new course, "Women in South Asian Society," drawing upon her experiences in India. And she knew that she wanted to focus her research on the aspirations of non-cosmopolitan college students in the non-cosmopolitan cities of Srinagar and Dehradun.

"It definitely helped to have those experiences," she acknowledged. "It informed my teaching and it informed my research – it all kind of worked together."

With most of the current research centered on India’s upper class, educated young people or the poor in terms of aspirations, Scott hopes hers will shed light on how aspirations of young people may reinforce and in some ways create dominant middle class ideologies.

Future plans include writing journal articles and a book that will serve as culmination of her research findings, and teaching another course on South Asian society.

Reflecting on her career, Scott is somewhat surprised that she ended up at Geneseo, where she’s taught for 20 years. Having earned her doctorate and master’s degrees from The University of Massachusetts – Amherst, she envisioned teaching at a major research university. But then she came to Geneseo.

"Ever since I started at Geneseo, I’ve felt very fortunate to have the support for both my teaching and my research at a primarily teaching college," she said. "We focus on teaching, and we care very much about what we do in the classroom with our students, but when I realized that Geneseo supported research, too, it became the perfect environment for me. I can accomplish everything I want to as a faculty member."

Scott credits Geneseo for instilling a culture that encourages risk-taking, and appreciates that she and her colleagues are given the resources, time, and encouragement to apply for Fulbright Awards and other competitive grants.

"More recently, I’ve seen a real kind of explosion in the number of people who get these kinds of grants – the number of faculty and students," she observed. "And it feeds itself and creates a culture of grant application and mentoring for each other as well our students, who are motivated and take the initiative. They are supported in so many ways by faculty and our administration."

Scott had the unique opportunity to experience Geneseo’s culture of mentoring with one of her closest students, Shauna Ricketts ’18, who served as a teaching assistant in her classes – and won a Fulbright herself to teach English in Bulgaria.

"Shauna was telling me as I was telling her about our Fulbright awards," she remembered. "We were on the edge of our seats wondering if we’d get the grants, and we both did! That’s one of the things I love about being a faculty member: seeing my students achieve grants and awards and get opportunities to do what they want to do. It is so fulfilling."

Advice for Future Fulbrighters from Denise Scott

  • Seek models and obtain samples of successful grants; talk with someone who has been through the process recently.
  • Take advantage of the Fulbright online resources and talk to people at the Fulbright organization. "You want to do the best job meeting their criteria."
  • Don’t put all your eggs in one basket; apply for other grants at the same time as your Fulbright.
  • Re-apply if you are rejected. "Fulbright doesn’t provide much feedback but apply again; don’t assume that your first application wasn’t strong because it could be a matter of the pool."
  • Once accepted, know that flexibility is key. Adapt.
  • Be aware of environmental issues in your Fulbright country.
  • Take advantage of these opportunities. "This is wonderful for your teaching and for your research, and Geneseo will support you in your efforts."

For more information on pursuing a Fulbright, visit Geneseo's Fulbright Program website or contact:

Sue Rubright, Proposal Developer and Fulbright Liaison:

Michael Mills, Director of National Fellowships and Scholarships (students):