Bringing Potential to the Global Equation
Fulbright Scholar Porfessor Erin Wilkinson 230x160

By Catherine Sengel

In 2008, Erin Wilkinson, DBA, a marketing professor on the Providence Campus, spent three weeks assisting women’s groups in villages on Zanzibar, a small island state in Tanzania, to help them build viable shell craft jewelry businesses. Last spring, she did similar work in Gambia. What Wilkinson began as a volunteer with the Coastal Resources Center (CRC) at the University of Rhode Island (URI) in a sustainable entrepreneurship program funded by the United States

Agency for International Development (USAID), she will continue and broaden as Johnson & Wales University’s first faculty Fulbright Foreign Scholarship grantee and its third Fulbright recipient.

Established in 1946 by Sen. J. William Fulbright (D-Ark.), the program is the flagship international educational exchange sponsored by the U.S. government to foster understanding between the people of the U.S. and those of the more than 150 participating countries.

The highly competitive program funds close to 8,000 new grants annually — several hundred for educators and professionals — for U.S. citizens to go abroad and non-U.S. citizens to come to the U.S. to study, teach and conduct research. Past recipients have gone on to become heads of state, CEOs, poets, cabinet ministers, artists, ambassadors and university presidents. Forty-three have been awarded Nobel Prizes. Wilkinson was funded for a full six months.

In spring 2012 she returns to Tanzania to bring her perspective as an entrepreneurial consultant to the Rhode Island Small Business Development Center (SBDC) on the JWU Providence Campus to a developing African nation. Throughout the East African country, fishing has been a livelihood for centuries, and a man’s job. With over-fishing and dwindling resources, the government is seeking new commerce.

“Anecdotal evidence suggests that there are huge unrealized opportunities for rural microenterprises in the local ecotourism industry,” says Wilkinson. “What they need on the ground there is some kind of SBDC — small business development center — where these people can come for training and assistance.”

She will teach a course in Marketing for Microenterprises at the Institute of Marine Sciences (IMS) at the University of Dar es Salaam. Designed for graduate

students preparing for future academic work and coastal managers, the emphasis will be on shaping policies and projects that support sustainable livelihoods built upon solid business strategies.

Wilkinson will study how successful marketing strategies are adapting to or imposing a barrier against sustainability as businesses mature and grow. Determining the most effective methods and tools for development will be part of her research, as well as how US marketing education needs to be reshaped to be effective for rural Tanzanian microenterprise — shell craft jewelry production, beekeeping and milkfish, seaweed or pearl farming. Working with local educators and project managers, she hopes to supply programs and “marketing tool kits” for everyone from grade school students to marine scientists to make microenterprise development an important component of education. Sustainable entrepreneurship is at the forefront of small business development. “By letting future researchers or NGO project managers be class participants, they can train small-business owners in marketing, which will support self-sufficiency,” she says, adding, “Less dependence on outside instruction and resources would make it more sustainable.”

JWU Fulbright Scholar Stella GustafssonWhile Wilkinson is JWU’s first faculty Fulbright recipient, the honor of introducing the Fulbright to the university goes to a native of Reykjavik, Iceland, Stella Sigfúsdóttir´ Gustafsson ’96 MBA, CHS. Before the days when “health” and “spa” conjoined, Gustafsson had done groundbreaking research on the therapeutic value, particularly for skin disorders, of bathing in the mineral- and algae-rich waters in Iceland’s Blue Lagoon. Wanting to do graduate work in hospitality management in the United States, she applied to JWU because of its reputation as one of the world’s best in the field. She learned she was funded for a Fulbright to do further research in therapeutic tourism at the same time she was accepted to Johnson & Wales.

For the new graduate student to be allowed to pursue dual degrees in hospitality administration and international business and use her Fulbright to study in Providence, Johnson & Wales University was subjected to intense Fulbright review to prove its curriculum approached the highest levels of educational variety and quality. Martin Sivula, PhD, director of research in the Alan Shawn Feinstein Graduate School, was made Gustafsson’s Fulbright advisor.

“His understanding and academic insight into the importance for the university of my deciding to study at J&W under my Fulbright Scholarship really made all the difference,” she says. As a Fulbright Scholar she could have attended any institution in the U.S.

During her studies at JWU, Gustafsson continued her research into the therapeutic treatment of skin disorders. After graduation she and a partner started Spa Academia, offering consulting, education and training for the spa industry. She created spa products that sold in Scandinavia, the U.S., England, the Canary Islands and Asia; has served as spa director at the AAA Five-Diamond Spa at Ponte Vedra Inn & Club, Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.; and was manager of the NEST project, a multinational collaboration on sustainable tourism development, sponsored by the European Union under the Interreg IIIB Northern Periphery Programme. In March 2009, Gustafsson was invited to speak at the Asia Spa & Wellness Summit (ASWS) in Bangkok, Thailand. The gathering is the largest spa industry conference in Asia, the fastest-growing continent in the spa industry. She was nominated as Corporate Leader of the Year by the National Association of Professional Women at the 24th Annual Women in Business Award 2010 in North Florida, recognizing those who epitomize success in the business world. She is currently consulting as interim spa director, helping shape the environmentally responsible Crystal Mountain Resort & Spa in Michigan.

Wellness spas are among the fastest-growing service industries in the world. The challenge of offering therapeutic programs in a resort setting calls for specialized management skills taught by few educational venues, she notes. Gustafsson is reorganizing Spa Academia to include new international partners and expand the daily operations into Europe and Asia, in addition to the United States. Her knowledge and expertise are in high demand around the world.

“I take great pride in being a Fulbright Scholar,” Gustafson says. “It certainly opened the door for me to so many opportunities, especially in my groundbreaking work, to have a Fulbright,” she says. “I am very fortunate to have been a part of that elite group.”

Sivula underscores the degree of the honor. “When looking at Fulbrights, we’re looking at a very select group of individuals.” Gustafsson’s entry established Johnson & Wales as an institution of Fulbright caliber and opened a path for others to follow.

JWU Fulbright Scholar Emmanuel VincentEmmanuel Vincent ’09 EdD, JWU’s second Fulbright Scholar, had been an education policy fellow at Northeastern University when former Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis was a Distinguished Professor there. At the height of the program he was awarded a Carnegie Fellowship to study ways to innovate education for the 21st century, in particular for African-American and Latino students coming through the public education system.

Vincent came to Johnson & Wales to earn a doctorate in educational leadership, having just completed his master’s in special education. Knowing that Sivula had worked with a previous Fulbright Scholar, Vincent, intent on applying for a Fulbright, sought him out to be his major advisor. Vincent’s interest lay in charter schools and special education, comparing educational approaches of other nations to build on the best components of all.

“When I got the Fulbright, it was icing on the cake,” says Vincent. “I was very excited. I came from a small place in Liberia, West Africa and came to America. I’ve been presented with all this opportunity.”

With Fulbright funding, Vincent traveled to Japan. Along with other educators, he spent three weeks touring a special education school, a middle and a high school, observing how the education system works, especially for those with special needs. Combining his experiences there with research he’d collected in Costa Rica, Puerto Rico and Europe, Vincent used the data in his doctoral dissertation, “The Emergent Charter School Model for Ninth Grade Mildly Disabled Students: Extending to Africa.”

He is now an assistant professor of special education at Springfield College in Springfield, Mass., and founder and creative director of Pink Grape Consulting LLC. Vincent hopes to expand his educational endeavors to his native land and to design a female academy to benefit students in West Africa.

“He was successful largely because of the Fulbright experience and richness of his experience in his dissertation working with us here,” says Sivula. “It’s a credit to our institution here as well.”

He is quick to mention, “This is a highly competitive process and requires significant preparation and quality of work. It’s a rigorous procedure,” an observation Wilkinson seconds. “It took a village to do this. I didn’t do this by myself,” she says of her award. “I couldn’t do it without university support — all the people that helped; all the faculty that have to cover my classes and all the people that wrote the letters and reviewed the materials and documents. This was a collaborative effort. This is not one person.”

Wilkinson’s proposal, similar to a competitive grant, was supported by University Provost Veera Gaul, PhD, ’91 MS and reviewed by Jeff Senese, PhD, vice president of academic affairs, and Sivula, as well as other faculty and past Fulbright recipients.

“We have been working with Erin and see the Fulbright program as helping to support our internationalization goals,” says Senese. With three Fulbright Scholars among JWU ranks, University Chancellor John Bowen ’77, Sivula, Wilkinson and Senese will be holding faculty information sessions in December to inform and encourage other faculty members to consider application.

Plans are in the works to possibly host a visiting Fulbright Scholar from Russia and build an exchange of students and faculty between the nations to explore and shape the rapidly expanding Russian tourist industry.

Wilkinson sees the possible long-term effects of her efforts moving in similar directions, fostering the kind of international relationships for which the Fulbright was created.

“Is there potential to establish a relationship with the University of Dar es Salaam in Africa? Are there potential collaborative relationships with faculty? Is there small-business development work we can do?” Wilkinson wonders.

The potential, she notes, is enormous.

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