This year University of the Pacific set a new record for receiving prestigious scholarships with four members of the University – two faculty members and two students – receiving Fulbright grants;  one of which is our very own Dr. Cathy Peterson, Department Chair and Associate Professor for Physical Therapy.  In January, Dr. Peterson was awarded a Fulbright grant to teach and conduct research in Malawi.

The Fulbright Program is the flagship international educational exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government and is designed to “increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries.” The program has provided almost 300,000 participants —chosen for their academic merit and leadership potential — with the opportunity to study, teach and conduct research, exchange ideas and contribute to finding solutions to shared international concerns.

In January 2012, Dr. Peterson will be teaching Physical Therapy courses at the Malawi College of Medicine.  “I am honored to have been selected for this grant and the ensuing opportunity to contribute to the development of a new physical therapy program in Malawi,” Peterson said. “With only 28 physical therapists in a country of approximately 14 million people, this new Physical Therapy program is essential for improving healthcare.

Dr. Peterson will also be completing a case study on a man with Guillian Barre Syndrome, a progressive autoimmune disorder where the body’s immune system attacks itself.   In a culture that believes in black magic many community members believe that he has been ‘ju-ju’d’ or cursed. Dr. Peterson plans to describe how the clash between the medical system and his social support resulted in him being ostracized from his village.

This will be Dr. Peterson’s fifth visit to Malawi.  Most recently she travelled there with seven Rotarians and her father to deliver medical supplies.  Before that, during three Pacific-funded visits, she established an internship site for Pacific’s Doctor of Physical Therapy students. She met with all 28 physical therapists in the country to learn about their educational experiences and how Pacific could help them become faculty members for the newly developed physical therapy program in Malawi.  She will be preparing a manuscript describing their learning styles and preferences.

The Fulbright grant will help cover the costs for airfare, provide a stipend for teaching supplies and books, and a living stipend to offset housing or provide housing.  Teaching supplies and books purchased in Malawi will remain there for use in the School.

Dr. Peterson’s Fulbright Teaching Award will be mutually beneficial for her hosts in Malawi, her Pacific students and colleagues, and her.  Her Malawian colleagues and their students will have at their disposal a dedicated and successful teacher with expertise fitting their areas of need.  In addition, her experience as an academic administrator will be an asset to this newly developed program with a physical therapist new to academia and administration at the helm.  She and her Pacific colleagues and students will benefit because she will no doubt be shaped significantly by this experience and will share the learning with her students and colleagues and her perspective will continue to grow in depth and breadth.

In addition to her academic endeavors she will undoubtedly enjoy the adventures of Malawi—village shopping, Malawian cuisine, and of course, a safari here and there.

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