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International research reveals new perspectives

By Kaitlyn Byrne
MSU Ag Communications

Phyllis Miller studied cultural influences on personal space in markets and religious festivals such as this one during a Fulbright scholarship experience in Mauritius. click to enlarge
Mississippi State University professor Phyllis Miller studied cultural influences on personal space in markets and religious festivals such as this one during a Fulbright scholarship experience in Mauritius. (Submitted Photo)

MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Mississippi State University faculty take their knowledge and expertise around the world as they conduct research and teach through the Fulbright Scholarship program.

Two of the program’s most enthusiastic supporters, Phyllis Miller and Stephen Cottrell, have each received three Fulbright scholarships.

MSU apparel, textiles and merchandising professor Phyllis Miller has traveled to Bulgaria, India, and — most recently — Mauritius, a small island nation in the Indian Ocean, just east of Madagascar.

She investigated proxemics, or people’s personal space, and how culture affects space needed for shopping and other activities. She also developed garments inspired by Mauritian clothing.

“One of the best things about the Fulbright program is it lets you see what day-to-day life is like in other cultures,” Miller said. “In Mauritius, there will be as many as 30 families sharing one kitchen. There’s such a cultural difference in the amount of space people require to be comfortable, so I was able to incorporate this aspect into a brand new lecture on proxemics for my class.”

Miller said the Fulbright program is beneficial to the scholarship recipients as well as the host countries.

“It’s important to consider what type of research is useful to both MSU and the country you’re visiting,” she said. “I always ask myself how the country in question will benefit from my research project instead of how it will benefit me. I find the fellowship I’m interested in and learn all I can about the country -- their goals, what they need, what they want.”

Miller said she is a more well-rounded professor because of her Fulbright experiences.

“They have broadened my horizons about how things are done in different countries. I try to learn as much as I can and then bring that knowledge back to MSU,” she said. “Being immersed in a different culture for an extended length of time helps reveal how everything in the world fits together and the importance of being able to work in this global economy.”

The MSU International Institute’s Stephen Cottrell, who also serves as a geosciences lecturer and an ambassador for the Fulbright program, said the program’s primary objective is to promote mutual understanding between citizens of the United States and the people of other countries of the world.

Cottrell, who will take his family to Vietnam for 10 months in August for his third Fulbright scholarship, said the Fulbright experience has helped change many of his culture-based belief systems.

“When I return home, I always arrive with my backpack full of more questions than when I left,” he said. “That’s how the program works -- it provides a unique opportunity to expose the mind to new ways of seeing through teaching and research while being a cultural minority. That’s a powerful elixir to the development of critical thinking skills, which are essential for an educator.”

As a Fulbright ambassador, Cottrell travels to universities nationwide to promote the Fulbright program.

“This U.S. Congressional flagship program awards an average of 1,200 U.S. faculty and professional scholarships per year to more than 155 countries. It’s very prestigious for the recipient, the home university and the host nation,” Cottrell said.

For more information, contact Cottrell at wec3@msstate.edu.

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Released: April 24, 2013
Contact: Dr. Phyllis Miller, (662) 325-8783; or Dr. Stephen Cottrell, (662) 325-8460

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