Fulbright Spotlight: James O'Donnell, CLAS '17

The Fulbright U.S. Student Program is about a year long, and offers research, study, and teaching opportunities in over 140 countries to recent graduates and graduate students. Applicants apply for either a research grant or for an ETA (English Teaching Assistantship), in a specific country. Below, hear from James O'Donnell’17 CLAS about his award and upcoming international experiences. 

Carl Nathan Ober

Congratulations on your Fulbright award!

Tell me a little about yourself (year, major, where you’re from, etc.)

My name is Jimmy O’Donnell, and I am a senior Political Science and Economics double major, with a minor in Peace and Justice Studies. Originally from Lowell, MA, I am a diehard Boston (and Villanova) sports fan who enjoys hanging out with friends, talking politics, and reading if I can find the time.


What was the Fulbright application process like?

The process was grueling, but I had the good fortunate of working with the amazing staff we have in CURF. I spent the summer in New York City with an internship at a think tank, and much of my free time was spent in a Starbucks either Skyping with Kurt Davies or reading through/editing my drafts. I lost track of how many drafts were sent back and forth over the summer, but it definitely surpassed 10. After staring at the same words and phrases for about a dozen drafts, you start to go a little crazy. However, the consistent support from Kurt and everyone at CURF helped transform a research interest into a refined, competitive Fulbright proposal. Then, after hitting ‘Submit’ on October 1st, I waited and waited and waited until mid-January when I found out I was a semi-finalist. Then, there was more waiting until I had my interview with the Finland Fulbright Commission, and finally about three weeks after my interview, I found out I was awarded the grant.

 Tell us about your program (where you are going, what you’ll be doing).

I was awarded a Fulbright Research grant to study in Finland for 9 months. My research will explore the effects of basic income on Finnish politics, economics, and society. Basic income is a new, experimental welfare policy where citizens receive a certain monthly payment from the government with no strings attached. In the US, you need to have a job or be actively looking for work in order to be eligible for certain welfare benefits. Furthermore, many programs restrict what the money can be spent on (food stamps on groceries, or Medicare on health care). Basic income gives the individual the money for free and allows them to spend it on whatever they want or need. To help familiarize myself with Finnish politics and history of welfare, I am taking some courses at a local university. During my nine months, I will be conducting interviews and analyzing preliminary data from the experiment, culminating in a final report I will publish sometime in the spring of 2018.

What made you choose to apply to this program?

At Villanova, I have always been interested in using my academic training in Political Science and Economics to study issues of social justice. A lot of my undergraduate research has focused on organized labor and the role it has played in addressing economic inequalities or injustices. When thinking about what I wanted to do after graduation, I had always heard of the Fulbright as an amazing opportunity, so I started doing research into possible countries I would study in. I soon came across this new program in Finland and immediately knew that I wanted to be in Finland to conduct first-hand research on basic income. So I did more research and crafted the first of many drafts for the proposal.

What part of the program are you most excited about?

I am incredibly excited about my actual research project (kind of a nerdy answer, but true). I really think basic income has the potential to revolutionize the way modern liberal democracies approach welfare policy. Although this kind of concept has been discussed for decades, Finland is the first country to launch a formal, nationwide experiment with it, so to have the opportunity to be on the ground while this groundbreaking project is being conducted will be truly special. I am also really interested in immersing myself in Finnish culture and specifically the community of Tampere. After doing some research on the city, it has some very interesting dynamics going on with unemployment, immigration, and political division. However, it is also a beautiful place located between two huge lakes and has a lot of nice outdoors parks/forests in the surrounding area for camping and hiking.

Are you nervous? (If so, why?)

I am definitely nervous about a few things. First off, it’s pretty cold in Finland and even though I’m from Boston, I think Tampere will be a whole new kind of winter. I’m also worried about being so far from friends and family for nine months. However, I am confident that I am ready to take on this new challenge. I feel that Villanova has equipped me with the skills necessary to enter into this foreign environment and truly immerse myself into it and take advantage of the different opportunities. Overall, I do have some concerns, but I am definitely more excited than I am nervous.

Do you have plans for post-Fulbright? (If so, what are they, and how do you think this program will prepare you for it?)

Since I submitted my Fulbright application in October, I had to go through senior year with the assumption I wouldn’t get it, so I applied to a lot of different jobs and post-grad programs. I ultimately accepted a technology consulting position with Deloitte, which I will start in 2018. Eventually I want to go to grad school and move into some sort of policy career. My particular interests surround the intersection of technology and economic policy.

Introduction written, and interviews conducted, by Newsletter Co-Editor, Richelle Hurley '17 CLAS. Richelle is receiving a degree in Communication, with minors in Classical Studies and Peace and Justice. 

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