COLUMBIA — When Robert O'Connell received a letter from the Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board in April, instead of opening it himself, he gave it to his daughter, Nancy O'Connell, a freshman at MU. Inside the envelope was a letter telling him that his application to be a Fulbright Scholar was successful.
A professor in MU's electrical and computer engineering department, O'Connell, 60, leaves today to begin working with the engineering faculty at the Dublin Institute of Technology in Ireland.
O'Connell and the Dublin faculty will focus on three areas: figuring out problems humans face in the 21st century, trying to isolate the skills needed to solve those problems and looking at the best way to teach those skills to other engineers.
When he returns from his sabbatical, O’Connell plans to incorporate what he has learned into existing MU classes for engineers and possibly add new courses.
The Fulbright program includes a roster of other activities, including museum tours and receptions. Some may even require a rented tuxedo, O’Connell said. “That isn’t me, but you know, you gotta do it," he said. "It’s just part of the deal.”
The trip will not be all work and formalities, however. O’Connell has a great interest in the culture and history of Ireland, partly because his father and maternal grandparents are from Ireland. While he is there, he hopes to "track down some family."
The Fulbright Scholarship, funded by the U.S. Department of State, is given to about 800 scholars from the United States and about 2,000 scholars worldwide, according to the Fulbright Web site. Winners are chosen for academic merit and leadership potential. The Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board reviews applications for the program, then selects winners through a series of eliminations.
O’Connell is one of 36 MU professors to win the Fulbright award since 1998, according to MU's International Center Web site.