Women in STEM: Fulbright Specialists Bridging the Gap

A group of girls in uniform and one adult pose while holding up photos and certificates.
Fulbright Specialist Alicia Santiago (back row, sixth from left) poses with some of her students after a STEM workshop in the Kyrgyz Republic.

While women have made significant strides in pursuing science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) occupations, they remain underrepresented in these high-paying careers: data from a recent UNESCO report indicates that only 35 percent of STEM students in higher education globally are women, and women make up fewer than 30 percent of the world’s researchers.

Several recent Fulbright Specialists are among the many women in STEM working with universities, government ministries, non-profits, and other institutions around the world to promote science education to the next generation and serving as role models for girls and young women alike.

Alicia Santiago is a scientist and informal science educator in the Washington, DC, metropolitan area whose work focuses on community outreach and mass-media STEM programs for Latinx youth. As a 2020 Fulbright Specialist, she traveled across the Kyrgyz Republic motivating girls to pursue STEM careers and providing training to educators and STEM education advocates.

Tatiana Goris is an assistant professor of technology and workforce learning at Pittsburg State University College of Technology in Pittsburg, Kansas. In 2018, she received a Fulbright Specialist award to Uzbekistan to share model practices and expertise in mechanical engineering research with students and faculty at Navoi State Mining Institute.

Combined, these Fulbrighters are working to encourage the next generation of female scientists, researchers, engineers, and STEM innovators in Central Asia.

Finding “The Other Half”: Kyrgyz SciGirls

Santiago, who came to the United States from Mexico to pursue a neurobiology degree, points out that STEM is a key component of every nation’s economy, and excluding women — 50 percent of the population — from the sector puts countries at a disadvantage.

“It’s really important that we bring women into the STEM workforce. Otherwise, we all lose if only half of the population participates in science,” she says.

That was her mission: helping Kyrgyz STEM educators explore ways to make science education programs more equitable and culturally responsive to young women and encourage them to pursue STEM education and careers in the field.

10 young women stand in a line smiling at the camera. The woman in the middle holds up a piece of textile art.
As part of her Fulbright Specialist grant, Santiago (third from left) traveled across the Kyrgyz Republic engaging students, parents, and STEM educators to think creatively about how to encourage girls to pursue STEM education and careers.

“We need the other half,” adds Santiago, who for 14 years has co-produced an award-winning PBS Kids television show, website, and educational outreach program called SciGirls. This transmedia effort features girls and young women participating in STEM learning activities, and the program has reached over 14 million girls, educators, and families.

As part of her Specialist grant, Santiago discussed the SciGirls model, sparking interest in establishing after-school programs in STEM and training teachers to facilitate STEM learning outside of the classroom. There were also discussions with higher education administrators, including the Vice President of the Kyrgyz Academy of Education, about creating a Kyrgyz version of SciGirls once the COVID-19 pandemic subsides.

“[Increasing the number of girls in STEM] is not just about engaging the girls, it’s about engaging their families as well.”

In addition to facilitating hands-on workshops during her visit, Santiago spoke with teachers and mentors about the importance of including parents in discussions about STEM education.

“It’s not just about engaging the girls, it’s about engaging their families as well, otherwise you can’t accomplish much,” she says.

“Families are concerned about girls getting married and having a family, and they see engaging in science as a potential barrier to that,” says Santiago, explaining that she found similar concern during SciGirls events in the United States, especially among Latinx families.

She says including the larger family in STEM activities and helping parents understand that their daughters can have a career and a family will create more support for young women to enter the field in traditional communities in the United States and Kyrgyzstan.

Advancing Research in Engineering

Goris, who teaches masters-level courses in science and technology at her home university, agrees that women and girls often leave STEM “under pressure of relatives” or cultural expectations. She thinks more needs to be done to encourage women to pursue STEM fields at a young age, and that includes providing role models.

“You have to have certain people around you who will encourage you to go to the next step,” Goris says.

As a Fulbright Specialist, she traveled to Uzbekistan to present innovative engineering lab research methods to students and faculty at Navoi State Mining Institute.

Two women and a man talk while standing next to lab equipment.
Outside of the classroom, Goris (left) spent time assessing existing laboratory facilities at her host institution.

Through workshops and seminars, Goris focused on teaching faculty and students best practices for conducting research and developing institutional frameworks and resources that are needed before a study begins.

“If you don’t have equipment, if you don’t have facilities, if you don’t have funding, you’re not going to do research,” Goris says.

One of the important takeaways from her faculty seminars, she says, is it “allowed them to compare their work with ours and our approaches.”

Goris’s time in the region also allowed her to make connections with other local universities, including Turin Polytechnic University.

Since returning home, she has been working with Navoi State Mining Institute and Turin Polytechnic University to develop exchange programs that would bring Uzbek students to study at Pitt State, a public university with approximately 7,000 students from 36 states and 43 countries.

A woman speaks in front of a white board in front of a classroom full of students.
While in Uzbekistan, Goris (center) gave workshops and seminars on research best practices.

Goris explains the program would bring Uzbek students to study automotive technology at her home university, and students would receive diplomas from both institutions through a Two Plus Two program.

Cultivating international connections and building exchange opportunities would advance her career, give prominence to her home institution, and benefit the local community, which boasts a diverse, entrepreneurial population almost as a natural extension of the university in the former coal mining area.

“It’s a lot of talented students who might have a good future,” Goris says.

International Exchange Boosts Career Opportunities for Women in STEM

Both Santiago and Goris have created strong ties with their host institutions, but beyond the positive impact they have had on those institutions, both shared that the Fulbright experience has supported their own professional growth.

Goris says that having Fulbright Specialist on your resume helps distinguish your portfolio. It also gave her the chance to visit a new part of the world and collaborate with colleagues she never would have otherwise.

“I think it’s a great opportunity to see a different country, to work with other people,” she says.

Four adults stand inside a large traditional dwelling in Kyrgyzstan.
In addition to expanding their professional networks and gaining insights from their colleagues abroad, Fulbright Specialists have the opportunity to explore the history and culture of their host country.

Santiago agrees. Since her Fulbright, she has accepted a new role with the Division of Research on Learning in Formal and Informal Settings at the National Science Foundation, an independent agency in the United States that supports research and education in science and engineering.

“It was a fantastic learning opportunity that broadened my perspective of STEM education and helped me step outside my cultural assumptions, reflect on sociocultural factors influencing STEM learning, and reconsider alternative ways of science teaching and learning.”

Alumni Thematic International Exchange Seminars

Participant Profile

Participants are alumni of U.S. government-sponsored exchange programs and vary in age and level of expertise, but all will be engaged in the seminar topic and highly motivated to create change in their communities.

Please consult the list of U.S. government-sponsored exchange programs below.

Participant Selection

Alumni TIES participants who are not U.S. citizens are nominated by the U.S. Embassies or Consulates in their countries. Please contact the U.S. Embassy or Consulate in your country to learn how you can participate in Alumni TIES. Potential Alumni TIES participants who are living in the United States can apply for specific seminars managed by World Learning. The web link to the online application will be distributed widely by the Office of Alumni Affairs of the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.

All participants for Alumni TIES seminars are selected by the U.S. Department of State.

Program Design

Alumni TIES seminars take place in six world regions and the U.S.; each seminar is three to four days for small groups of alumni. The seminars include speakers, capacity development trainings, and alumni networking activities. Through the small grants initiative, alumni have the opportunity to take action and make a positive difference in their communities.

Learn More

Watch more videos about the Alumni TIES program.

Read stories from past participants about their experiences at the seminars or with their small grant projects on the Alumni TIES blog.

For information on programs for U.S. government-sponsored exchange program alumni visit the International Exchange Alumni website.

Alumni TIES is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State with funding provided by the U.S. Government and supported in its implementation by World Learning, in partnership with the Office of Alumni Affairs of the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA).  

Communities Connecting Heritage

Communities Connecting HeritageSM  Program Impact


CCH Alumni Small Grants

At the conclusion of the program’s third year, the CCH team opened the Communities Connecting Heritage Small Grants to organizational and community member alumni from all three CCH cycles. The following projects were selected for CCH Small Grant implementation.

Kristina Llane (Albania)
Title of Project: Beekeeping Tradition as and Educative Tool

This project aims to preserve and share the importance of local beekeeping traditions in the Gjirokastra community of Albania. Kristina will work with elementary school students to cultivate youth interest in beekeeping’s cultural role in their community. Throughout the project, students and teachers will contribute to an educational book on beekeeping to that will equip teachers to continue sharing with future classrooms. The project will conclude with a panel discussion focused on protecting and preserving culture, tradition, and the environment in Albania.

Kalpana Gagdekar (India)
Title of Project: Connecting Community with Their Traditional/Heritage Cuisine

This project will explore and document the Chhara community’s traditional cuisines, which are experiencing a disappearing effect under modern global influences. Kalpana aims to document the rituals and heritage of Chhara cuisine through seven video interviews with Chhara women elders. The project combines modern technology with traditional food heritage and welcomes Chhara members of all ages to reclaim and rediscover their own heritage.

Mandala Theatre (Nepal) and Creative Connections (Connecticut, U.S.)
Title of Project: Hamro Sanskriti: Preserving Cultural Heritage through Participatory Theatre

The goal of this project is to provide youth in Connecticut and Nepal with a deeper connection to their own culture through student-led virtual workshops. The workshops – spearheaded by theater trainers in Nepal and Connecticut – will teach participatory theater techniques to 250 high school students and conclude with a model forum theater piece produced by students for the public.

Athar Lina (Egypt)
Title of Project: Rawya: The Water Women

Rawya: The Water Women is a Cairo-based project aimed at restoring the historically significant Sabil Um Abbas, a 19th century religious building and gathering place, into a usable community space once more. In addition to restoring aspects of the building, the project will connect U.S. and Egyptian women storytellers Donna Bryson and Chirine El Ansary to curate a storytelling experience of powerful 19th century women from their respective countries. Their work will culminate in a video exhibition that will be on display in the newly renovated Sabil Um Abbas for the local community to experience.

Bhasha Research and Publication Centre (India) and University of Northern Colorado (Colorado, U.S.)
Title of Project: Reclaiming Heritage II: Building Social Bonds and Bridges with Cultural Heritage

This project will utilize digital library resources at UNC to create and share cultural heritage “snapshots” with the broader community. These short videos will help immigrants and refugees in Colorado and indigenous peoples in India share their cultural heritage while building bonds with their local communities. The project will provide its participants with the ownership and platform to share their own heritage while paving a pathway for integration with others in their community.

Outside the Lens (California, U.S.)
Title of Project: Youth Tellers

Youth Tellers is a cross-cultural collaboration between Latinx youth in California and Bosnia-Herzegovina, relying on the concepts of past, present, and future to explore students’ complex cultural identities. Using digital media tools including photography, videography, and youth-facing communication forums like Discord, the project will culminate in a virtual exhibition showcasing the participants’ cultural heritage exchange with one another.

Explore the Story section on the right to learn more about the unique cultural heritage projects implemented since 2018.

Digital Communication Network

Examples of Past Digital Communication Network Projects

  • Internet vs. Democracy Forum
  • Roaring 20s #Digital Forum
  • Combatting Disinformation Training Program
  • Digital and Media Literacy for NGOs Training Program
  • Tolerance and Coexistence 2.0 Forum
  • Montenegro Digital Influencers Hub
  • Humor and Games for Social Good Forum

Fulbright Specialist Program


Link U.S. Experts and International Institutions

A program of the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, the Fulbright Specialist Program is a unique opportunity for U.S. academics and established professionals to engage in two- to six-week consultancies at host institutions across the globe. Host institutions, including universities, non-profits, and other organizations, develop and submit projects for approval by the U.S. Embassy or Fulbright Commission in their country in wide-ranging academic and professional fields that build capacity and promote long-lasting linkages between individuals and institutions in the U.S. and abroad.


Address Priorities and Build Institutional Capacity at Institutions Around the World

An important companion to the traditional Fulbright Scholar Program, the Fulbright Specialist Program differs by providing short-term exchange experiences that tackle discrete, sometimes rapid response, projects. The Fulbright Specialist Program encourages participation of both university faculty and highly experienced non-academics, including legal experts, business professionals, public health practitioners, scientists, IT professionals, artists, and journalists. The program is a mutually beneficial opportunity for the Specialist who may not be available to leave their position for an extended period of time and the host institution which needs an experienced partner to jointly tackle a problem or examine an issue on a short-term basis.


Become a Fulbright Specialist: Apply to Join the Roster

Fulbright Specialists are a diverse group of highly experienced, well-established faculty members and professionals who represent a wide variety of academic disciplines and professions.  In order to be eligible to serve as a Fulbright Specialist, candidates must have significant experience in their respective professional field and be a U.S. citizen at time of application. Eligible disciplines and professional fields supported by the Fulbright Specialist Program are listed below.

  • Agriculture
  • American Studies
  • Anthropology
  • Archeology
  • Biology Education
  • Business Administration
  • Chemistry Education
  • Communications and Journalism
  • Computer Science and Information Technology
  • Economics
  • Education
  • Engineering Education
  • Environmental Science
  • Law
  • Library Science
  • Math Education
  • Peace and Conflict Resolution Studies
  • Physics Education
  • Political Science
  • Public Administration
  • Public/Global Health
  • Social Work
  • Sociology
  • Urban Planning

Interested candidates can find more information about the Fulbright Specialist Program and apply to serve as a Specialist at fulbrightspecialist.worldlearning.org. Candidates who meet all eligibility requirements will have their full applications reviewed by a panel of their professional peers. Candidates who are approved by the peer review panels will then join the Fulbright Specialist Roster. Individuals remain on the Specialist Roster for a three-year term and are eligible to be matched with a host institution’s project abroad during that tenure.

The following costs are covered for those Fulbright Specialists who are matched to a project: international and domestic airfare, ground transportation, visa fees, lodging, meals, and incidentals. A daily honorarium is also provided.

Become a Host: Bring a Fulbright Specialist to Your Institution

The Fulbright Specialist Program allows universities, cultural centers, non-governmental organizations, and other institutions abroad to host a leading U.S. academic or professional to work on diverse, short-term collaborative projects where the Specialist conducts activities which may include, but are not limited to:

  • Delivering a seminar or workshop
  • Consulting on faculty or workforce development
  • Developing academic or training curricula and materials
  • Lecturing at the graduate or undergraduate level
  • Conducting needs assessments or evaluations for a program or institution

Institutions interested in hosting a Fulbright Specialist should contact their local Fulbright Commission or U.S. Embassy for country-specific requirements and deadlines.

Contact information for all participating countries is available on the fulbrightspecialist.worldlearning.org website.

For more information or questions about the Fulbright Specialist Program, please email [email protected].

The Fulbright Specialist Program is a program of the U.S. Department of State with funding provided by the U.S. government and administered by World Learning.

International Visitor Leadership Program

End of Year Report

Chosen by U.S. embassies worldwide to participate, distinguished professionals include:

  • parliamentarians
  • government officials
  • entrepreneurs
  • NGO leaders
  • journalists
  • academics
  • arts administrators
  • mid-career professionals

Programs focus on policy issues in areas such as:

  • government
  • international security
  • foreign policy
  • entrepreneurship
  • economics and trade
  • media
  • women’s leadership
  • education
  • public health
  • arts
  • agriculture
  • disability rights and inclusion

World Learning staff members design national itineraries, arrange logistics, set up meetings in Washington, DC, and coordinate the collaboration of U.S. Department of State program officers, interpreters and International Visitor Liaisons, and more than 85 community-based member organizations from the Global Ties U.S. Network who arrange local programs nationwide.


Most participants are mid-career professionals and emerging leaders, and for many, this is their first visit to the U.S. Groups are of varying sizes, from single visitors to groups of 25 or more. World Learning program staff work closely with their State Department counterparts to design a program customized to the project objectives and the visitors’ interests.


Participant Selection

IVLP candidates are selected solely by U.S. embassy personnel in each country. There is no application form. World Learning is a private sector partner of the U.S. Department of State; our role is limited to designing programs for participants once they arrive in the U.S. For further information regarding the program, please consult the U.S. Department of State’s website.

Program Design

A typical project includes up to a week of meetings in Washington, DC, to provide an orientation and overview of the theme and to introduce visitors to federal officials and agencies, national organizations, academics and think tanks, nonprofits and NGOs, and professionals in their specific field of interest. All projects include a briefing on the US federal system of government. Meetings may include panel discussions, site visits, workshops, individual interlocutors, job shadowing, or service opportunities. Visitors typically travel to an additional three or four cities in geographically diverse regions of the country; the itinerary may include a state capital and a small town to provide first-hand exposure to the great diversity that exists in the U.S. Also included in the program design are hospitality dinners, school visits, community service activities, and cultural events such as rodeos, state fairs, festivals, visits to national parks, or events that highlight some unique aspect of the region visited.

Participant Experience

“My recent experience in the IVLP program is so far the deepest ever for me to see and understand the full picture of what America as a country is like. I strongly believe this program will have a very long-term impact on my views about America and the world and to some extent it has already helped me to understand many long-time questions.” – Journalist from China

The International Visitor Leadership Program is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State with funding provided by the U.S. Government and administered by World Learning.