Anthropology Student Dennis Keen will use his Fulbright scholarship to study eagle hunters in Kazakhstan. Photo courtesy of Dennis Keen.

Dennis Keen is going eagle hunting. As one of six Fulbright Scholarship winners at UC Santa Cruz this year he and his peers will use their awards to fund research projects abroad. Five of the six students were awarded scholarships in the field of anthropology and one received an environmental studies scholarships.

“I applied for the Fulbright last September, knowing that I would need something to do after graduating,” Keen said. “I was really just crossing my fingers and hoping it worked out, because I was not looking forward to getting my bachelor’s degree and then having to go work at the Boardwalk.”

In the years since its inception, the Fulbright Program has saved lots of students from working at the Boardwalk. The program has provided grants for over 294,000 students and professionals to travel to more than 155 countries worldwide since 1946. The U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs sponsors the international educational exchange program, which awards scholarships to 1,500 U.S. students and 3,000 foreign students every year.

Eight UCSC students received Fulbright Scholarships in 2008, and three in 2009. In last year’s ranking of UC schools by number of Fulbright scholars, UCSC came in before UC Santa Barbara, which had one, and behind UC Berkeley, which had 18.

The only undergraduate in the group, Keen graduated in the spring of 2010 with a B.A. in language studies and education.

He developed a passion for Central Asian culture when he spent a summer in Almaty, Kazakhstan at 17. And he began investing his time in anthropology courses during his senior year at UCSC.

Keen continued building upon his existing foundation in Russian language and culture, by teaching English in Mongolia. He spent two weeks in the Bayan-Olgii province living with eagle hunters, doing formal interviews, and studying the hunters’ training methods.

Keen returned home and applied for the Fulbright to further pursue his interest in eagle hunters.

With the financial aid of the Fulbright Scholarship, Keen will be able to conduct his research on the Kazakh eagle hunters beyond the two-week period he was initially given. The amount of each individual scholarship is different, and takes into account travel expenses and the cost of living in the country in which the research will be conducted.

“Without the Fulbright, any research abroad would have been next to impossible,” Keen said. “It’s expensive to travel, and anthropology is not a lucrative profession. I had very little savings, so Fulbright is the only way that this adventure is possible.”

These scholarships aren’t only beneficial to students like Keen who receive them.

“[The scholarship] does a lot for [UCSC’s] national ranking,” said Lisa Rofel, anthropology professor. “The fact that graduate students get so many grants makes our national status rank very high.”

The National Research Council ranks departments such as UCSC’s anthropology department, and Rofel said Fulbright scholars help improve these rankings.

“The Fulbright Scholarship is the gateway from the classroom to the research field,” Rofel said.

“Otherwise, [field work] would be very difficult,” she said. “Especially since anthropology encourages students to study internationally.”

In this uncertain economic climate, grants like the Fulbright are highly sought after, and the already-stiff competition is increased by the scholarship’s inclusion of both the sciences and the humanities.

The six UCSC students who made the cut include Nellie Chu, who is studying manufacturing in China, Carlo Moreno, who is looking at agroecology in Venezuela, Sarah Eunkychee, who is researching Protestant Christianity in South Korea, Jonathan Crosson, who will focus on Spiritual Baptism in islands such as Trinidad and St. Vincent, and Naomi Glenn-Levin, who will be learning about child services through research in San Diego and Tijuana.