Alumni Stories

Protecting Indigenous Children: A Tale of Two Legal Systems

By Marcia Zug, 2017 Fulbright Scholar

With my daughter Wila at the Canberra Balloon Festival

As a child I was captivated by stories of life on the American frontier. Through these stories I imagined taking a covered wagon across the Oregon Trail, living in a little house on the prairie or striking gold in a California boom town. What I didn’t spend much time thinking about were the millions of Native Americans affected by this westward expansion. As I grew up, I learned this history, but I still understood it as something that happened in the past and had little relevance to modern day people or politics. It was only upon reaching university that I finally began to understand that many of the Federal Indian policies I had come to associate with an unenlightened past, were still occurring in the present. This realization had a profound effect on me. My desire to help address these injustices is what led me to my current position as a law professor at the University of South Carolina where I write on federal Indian policy with a particular focus on laws protecting Indian families and tribal sovereignty.

A large portion of my academic research focuses on a federal law known as The Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA). The ICWA was passed in 1978 in response to the decades-long government practice of removing Indian children from their families and tribes and placing them in non-Indian homes or institutions. The ICWA was enacted to reduce these unjustified removals. Some of the most important provisions of the Act are the requirements that Indian children are placed with family or tribal members before other carers are considered, that significant efforts are taken to prevent permanent separation, and that the majority of Indian child custody cases are decided by tribal as opposed to state courts.

Indian tribes, advocates and scholars widely agree that the ICWA is one of the most significant pieces of federal Indian law legislation ever passed. The Act has kept thousands of Indian children with their families and helped ensure these children grow up connected to their families and culture. Consequently, given the success of the ICWA, it is not surprising the other Indigenous communities, particularly those with a similar history of family separation have repeatedly expressed interest in importing ICWA. Australian Indigenous advocates in particular have long sought to enact an Australian version of the Act. My Fulbright project was to explore the feasibility and desirability of enacting such a law. In January 2018, I arrived at the University of Canberra to research this question.

Indigenous Australians and American Indians occupy very different legal positions. Accordingly, although the ICWA, has been highly effective in protecting American Indian families this alone did not ensure an Australian version of the Act would produce similar results. The goal of my research was to figure out how the Act might need to change to comply with the Australian legal system and what the effect of these changes would be on the Act’s effectiveness as well as its general acceptance. This research was particularly timely because, as I learned shortly after my arrival, the Australian Parliament is currently considering proposals to relax Australia’s adoption laws and these new standards could apply to Indigenous children.

In the United States, American Indian tribes are treated as limited sovereigns. This means they have significant authority over internal matters, such as child welfare and custody decisions, but only narrow authority over most other matters. Many of the ICWA’s requirements are based on a recognition of this sovereign right to make decisions concerning the care and custody of tribal children. However, Australia’s Aboriginal communities do not enjoy recognized sovereignty. Consequently, to evaluate the feasibility of an Australian ICWA I needed to determine how the ICWA’s assumption of Indigenous sovereignty, particularly the provisions requiring transfer to tribal court, could work in Australia.

Initially, I feared the changes that would have to be made to an Australian ICWA were so drastic that they would inevitably outweigh the Act’s benefits. Nevertheless, as I continued to explore this issue, I began to see how the necessary changes could be implemented without “ruining” the Act and how these changes might actually make it more effective. To reach this conclusion I began to think about Indigenous child protection in ways independent of indigenous sovereignty and to explore legal justifications different from those traditionally used to support the Act in the U.S. Ultimately, I concluded that an Australian version of the ICWA is both legally and practically feasible.

I hope that my research will help Indigenous advocates in Australia as they work to protect Indigenous children and families. However, I also believe my Fulbright research may prove relevant in the United States. The ICWA is currently under attack. In October, a Texas district court judge declared the Act racially discriminatory and unconstitutional. This Texas case ignores more than forty years of judicial precedent yet, there is a good chance the decision will be affirmed. If that occurs, the traditional arguments justifying the Act will no longer be sufficient. New arguments will have to be put forth, arguments like those supporting an Australian ICWA.

Want to share your Fulbright story too? Send it to: alumni@fulbright.org.au

Ripples in Spacetime

By Sylvia Biscoveanu, 2017 Fulbright Postgraduate Scholar

Holding a baby kangaroo at the Australian International Gravitational Observatory in Gingin, WA

At this moment, the space you occupy is shaking from a background of gravitational radiation. You are being stretched and squeezed in all directions by gravitational waves from the most distant reaches of our universe. Gravitational waves are ripples in the fabric of spacetime caused by the violent acceleration of extremely massive astrophysical objects, but you don’t have to worry about getting ripped apart by gravitational radiation anytime soon; by the time these waves reach Earth, the spacetime distortion they cause is less than the diameter of a proton.

Because these signals are so weak, it takes an extremely sensitive instrument to detect them. The Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory (LIGO) consists of a pair of 4-kilometer-long, L-shaped lasers that use the characteristic interference pattern of the laser light to detect when a passing gravitational wave has squeezed one arm and stretched the other. The LIGO Scientific Collaboration announced the first direct detection of gravitational waves from a merging pair of black holes two years ago, exactly one hundred years after they were first predicted by Albert Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity. This was such a monumental discovery that the scientists who first designed the experiment were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2017, while I was serving as a Fulbright Postgraduate Scholar at Monash University in Melbourne, using LIGO data to study the gravitational wave background.

This background arises from the overlap of many gravitational wave signals that are too weak to be detected individually. An individual black hole merger would go undetected if it’s not close or massive enough, but a chorus of them scattered throughout the universe would produce a persistent hum that might be loud enough for the detector to hear. Together with colleagues at Monash, I worked on implementing the optimal method for detecting such a binary black hole background, developing the tools to run the search and experimenting on mock data. Merging black holes won’t be the only source contributing to the gravitational wave background, though. This background could also be cosmological, a relic of the turbulence in the early universe immediately following the Big Bang. The cosmological contribution would be much weaker than the astrophysical contribution from binary black holes, making it even more difficult to detect. While at Monash, I worked on developing a method to search for and measure both of these contributions simultaneously, a project that is still ongoing.

My time at Monash served as an introduction to many of the techniques I will need throughout the rest of my PhD, which I have just started at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. During my ten months in Melbourne, I learned so much not only about Bayesian statistics, gamma-ray bursts, stochastic backgrounds, and signal processing, but also about how to guide my own research and pose compelling research questions on my own. I have made invaluable connections with other researchers at Monash and in OzGrav: The ARC Centre of Excellence for Gravitational Wave Discovery, and these are collaborations I plan to continue now that I’ve returned to the US.

I also had the opportunity to share my passion for gravitational waves with the broader community. I organized a series of outreach activities for local year 10 students, teaching them the basics of gravitational wave data analysis and interferometers. I gave song to that chorus of merging black holes with my supervisors, Dr. Eric Thrane and Dr. Rory Smith, on ABC’s The 7.30 Report. I presented a TEDx talk on gravitational wave backgrounds in Canberra. Together with another postgraduate student at Monash, I started a mentoring program for women in physics and astronomy at all stages of their careers, from undergraduates to faculty, bringing over one aspect of my undergraduate education that led me to ultimately pursue a career as an astrophysicist.

In addition to my research on gravitational waves, I was also able to pursue my passion for music. I played violin in the Monash Academy Orchestra, gaining exposure to the works of Australian composers under the baton of top Australian conductors. It was quite a shock having to ask my stand partner about crotchets, quavers, and breves during my first orchestra rehearsal, since we use different musical terms in the US! These opportunities allowed me to give back to the community that became my new home, and I have taken many aspects of my Australian home back to the US with me—13 boxes of Tim Tams, lifelong friendships, new professional connections, and a deep appreciation of the intradepartmental collaboration at Monash that made me feel so welcome.

Share your Fulbright story too! Find out how by writing to: alumni@fulbright.org.au

Making Memories in Australia

By Michelle Meade, 2013 Fulbright Senior Scholar

Our memories, and the memories we share with others are a critical aspect of daily life. My research focuses on understanding how memory works and what factors influence what we remember. More specifically, I’m interested in understanding how our individual memories are influenced when we remember with other people. We frequently collaborate with others on memory tasks: friends and families reminisce together about past past events, students work together in the classroom, and older adults rely on each other to remember critical details. Of course, not all groups are equally successful when they collaborate. My research examines why collaboration disrupts individual memory in some settings and enhances individual memory in other settings (i.e. when individuals remember a greater amount of accurate information when working with a partner than when working alone).

In 2013-2014, I received a Fulbright Fellowship to conduct research on social memory processes at the Department of Cognitive Science, Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia. Macquarie is an international leader in social memory research and hosts a unique community of scholars working on this topic. The opportunity to work directly with scholars at Macquarie University was invaluable and has been both professionally and personally transformative.

While at Macquarie, I participated in a range of research related activities that included developing and implementing research experiments, planning and writing grant proposals, and learning strategies for career advancement and mentoring. Together with my Australian colleagues, we conducted experiments to identify underlying processes that predict collaborative disruption and success across laboratory and real world situations. One exciting application of our work was to examine the effects of collaboration on older adults’ memory in a variety of situations. Understanding the factors that differentiate successful from disruptive patterns of collaboration in older adults has important scientific implications and can lead to tangible benefits for older adults and their families.

Additionally, my time at Macquarie established a long term international collaboration between myself at Montana State University and researchers at Macquarie University. Since the completion of my Fulbright, I have continued to collaborate with my Australian colleagues on numerous grant proposals and research publications, including an edited book on collaborative remembering (“Collaborative Remembering: Theories, Research, and Applications” published by Oxford University Press in 2018). Since my visit, we have sustained a steady exchange of students and faculty across universities, as two Montana State University students have enrolled in the Macquarie University PhD program, and multiple graduate students and faculty from Macquarie have visited Montana State for research visits. The sustained international collaboration has greatly impacted my professional development as I continue to learn new ideas, methodologies, and mentoring skills that I have been able to teach to my students and channel into new research projects.

My Fulbright experience was also personally transformative. I was fortunate to spend an entire year in Sydney (I combined the senior scholar award with a sabbatical from Montana State) and my time in Australia impacted my life in meaningful and lasting ways. The opportunity to live in another country for a year fostered my sense of curiosity and also pushed me to be more self-reflective. My husband and daughter accompanied me to Australia, and our family experiences deepened our connection to the culture. For example, my daughter spent a year in the Australian public school system which allowed us insight into the culture and society that extended beyond my experiences at the university. Sydney is a beautiful and cosmopolitan city and we all really enjoyed the change from our small hometown of Bozeman, Montana. We had an amazing time in the city, and also enjoyed travelling, exploring and learning together, and our time in Australia continues to influence our perspective. I am extremely grateful for my experiences as a Fulbright fellow, and my time in Australia was both professionally and personally transformative.

Share your Fulbright story too! Find out how by writing to: alumni@fulbright.org.au

Finding the Balance

By Michael Raitor, 2017 Fulbright Postgraduate Scholar

Nearly one in three adults over 65 will experience a fall in the next year. Falls often result in long-lasting health effects that significantly reduce an individual’s quality of life. Fall-related injury is not only devastating on a personal level, it has widespread financial effects in both the U.S. and Australia. Fall-related injuries are estimated to cost the U.S. healthcare system over $30 billion (USD) annually. As our global population continues to age, reducing the frequency and severity of fall-related injuries is essential to enabling older individuals to live fulfilling lives while minimizing the cost to healthcare systems.

During my U.S. Fulbright Postgraduate Scholarship, I spent nearly one year at the University of New South Wales (UNSW), in Sydney, Australia. My work at UNSW focused on developing technology to prevent fall-related injuries in the elderly. I was fortunate enough to work with a team of researchers with a broad set of academic and professional backgrounds. The principle investigator of my research project, Professor Nigel Lovell, is a leader in the fields of neuroprosthetics, telemedicine, and fall detection. Professor Lovell’s previous work made large contributions to increasing the duration and quality of life for elderly people by enabling them to “age in place” in their communities rather than needing to move to a nursing home so they could be monitored for falls. Detection of a fall after it has occurred is incredibly important to ensure the user receives the medical attention they need as soon as possible. Accurate and fast fall detection is important, but is ultimately limited in its effectiveness because the user still falls and is potentially injured before the system is activated. That is where my Fulbright project comes in.

My Fulbright project was part of a new wave of medicine that is just beginning to take shape: preventative medicine. It may seem strange, but until recently, medicine was primarily damage-control, trying to repair or replace a part of the body already diseased or damaged. Rather than trying to detect when someone may have fallen and been injured by a fall, my Fulbright project began to lay the groundwork for preventing the fall altogether.

As with any highly ambitious scientific endeavor, developing the tools for preventing fall-related injuries has been filled with intermittent success and failure. It was in these periods of recovering from research setbacks and pivoting our strategy that the uniqueness of the Fulbright program truly struck me. Every time I would speak with members of the Fulbright commission to update them on my work and how we were making progress while refining our strategies, they were behind me 100%. There is an unfortunately accurate saying in academia, “publish or perish.” Not once did I feel that applied to me while on my Fulbright. Instead, I felt I had the support to dig into the research, ask the hard questions, and, frankly, take the time to do the research well. Having the support to slow down, reflect on my research and carefully lay plans for future work has been invaluable to me. This time to reflect and plan in Australia played a major role in the breakthroughs we had while I was in country and has been hugely influential in my research interests since completing my Fulbright Scholarship.

In addition to a hugely impactful professional experience, Fulbright was a profoundly life-changing personal experience. The Australians I met while living in Sydney and my cohort of Postgraduate Scholars helped me grow in ways I never would have imagined and are undoubtedly life-long friends. While in Sydney, I frequently met some colleagues from UNSW and their normal workout crew of about 20 people at 6 am for training on the beach and then an ocean swim as the sun rose. We would wrap up the morning chatting over coffee about everything from their adventures backpacking across the U.S., to how investment banking differs in Australia. These coffee sessions taught me all about various aspects of Aussie life, values, and slang, which many of the group took a special interest in teaching me. As a stranger in a foreign land, I was forced to reflect on the social customs I took for granted in the U.S. and to grapple with the reputation of being an American abroad during a controversial time in our history. These early morning chats were some of the most challenging, humorous, and enlightening conversations I had in Australia, and were an essential component of my Fulbright experience.

One of the most precious relationships I formed in Australia was with another Fulbrighter who was also based at UNSW. On the weekends we would often meet up to go into the city together, take hikes, and occasionally fly to a different city in Australia to explore there as well. During one memorable long weekend, we flew to Tasmania, summited several mountains, and returned to the mainland via Melbourne so we could spend some time with other Fulbrighters as they showed us around their city.

As a testament to the strength of my personal and professional relationships formed during my Fulbright, neither have ended since I’ve returned to The States. After completing my Fulbright, I took a trip to Japan with another Fulbrighter and a friend we had made in Sydney. Additionally, I am still coordinating research efforts with my host lab at UNSW. I am unbelievably fortunate to have been awarded a Fulbright to Australia. My Fulbright has had profound impact on my life both personally and professionally, and I wait anxiously to see how the experience continues to influence me in the years to come.

Share your Fulbright story too! Find out how by writing to: alumni@fulbright.org.au

From Music Tutor to University Leader

Professor Bebbington conducting the Conservatorium Choir at the University of Adelaide while still as Vice Chancellor

By Warren Bebbington, 1976 Fulbright Postgraduate Scholar

Becoming a Tutor in music at the University of Melbourne in 1974, when I had just graduated with my bachelor’s degree, soon filled me with more questions than I had answers for. In those days, music training in Australian conservatories mostly followed dated British models, and opportunities to do specialist postgraduate study were limited. I soon hungered for advanced study abroad. Exploring the course options in Europe and the USA, I noticed that many of the texts I had used in my undergraduate course were written by musicologists teaching in New York; so having successfully obtained a Fulbright award, and with a travelling scholarship from Australia, I set out for “The Big Apple,” where I enrolled for a PhD in Musicology.

The USA was then—and will remain for many years to come—the world’s leading centre for first-class university research and graduate study, attracting front-rank researchers and graduate students from across the globe. During the three years I lived there, I took graduate classes at Columbia University, Queens College and the City University of New York Graduate School, attending lectures by many distinguished figures, ranging from composer John Cage to anthropologist Margaret Mead and playwright Eugene Ionesco. I studied specialisations scarcely taught in Australia then—Schenkerian Analysis, Twelve-tone Theory, Musical Paleography and Iconography, Aesthetics and Music Criticism—as well as taking a practical course in Orchestral and Choral Conducting of a kind unknown in Australia. I became Research Assistant to the revered authority on early music Professor Gustave Reese, working on revising his books. Academically, it was everything I had hoped for; and as well, New York City was for a musician an education in itself: aside from its museums and galleries, I soaked up world-class live music at the Metropolitan Opera and the New York Philharmonic, I heard the greatest performers of the day in concert, and saw many famous artists who had never toured Down Under but appeared regularly in New York. All in all, it was a transformational experience.

After three years I felt bristling with the benefits of an American graduate education, and ready for academic employment again. As my scholarships expired and my money started to run out, I was offered a very junior position in New York’s leading music school. But because of the Fulbright visa requirement that, on completion of my study program, I returned to my own country for two years, I had to decline the New York post. At first I chafed at this; but later I came to understand the importance of William Fulbright’s vision of spreading first-rate American learning and research skills to other countries. For returning to Australia did enable me to make a prominent contribution to the academic life of my country: in 1979 I became a lecturer at the ANU School of Music, a few years later I was proud to be invited back to the University of Melbourne as Dean of the Conservatorium—where my studies had begun years before—and later still I was privileged to become Vice Chancellor at the University of Adelaide. My experience in the US continued to inform my judgement and perspective of educational matters throughout my tenure in those positions.

The Fulbright played a pivotal role in my education. My father had been a dairy farmer, and later a storeman and packer; he raised his family with limited means, and I was the first in the family to go to university. My parents’ ambitions for me had been modest, and unquestionably, I could not have studied in the US without the Fulbright award, nor had such a rapid path to positions of academic leadership later on. Through the Fulbright Host Family scheme I also made lifelong friends with an American family. I am immensely proud of being a Fulbright alumnus, and continue to recommend the scheme to anyone with an interest graduate study in the US.

Share your Fulbright story too! Find out how by writing to: alumni@fulbright.org.au

Next Door to Sputnik; Alongside Armstrong in Spirit!

Elisa Evett as Yelena and Paul Grimwood as Astrov in Chekhov’s “Uncle Vanya” – May, 1966

By Paul Grimwood, 1965 Fulbright Postgraduate Scholar

Sputnik was launched in the early sixties. I went to Cornell University in 1965, under the banner of Fulbright, to do research into spacecraft re-entry problems. Part of our context was the moon race. For instance, I came from home to my lab to watch Armstrong’s moon landing.

Mine was just one of the contributions of many to the grand space efforts.

I was a Fulbright Scholar from 1965 until 1970. A long time ago!

It is true that the money from the scholarship, along with teaching and research assistantships from Cornell University, made it possible for me to complete my doctorate at Cornell, and be a post-doctoral fellow for a year. I value that.

At the same time I value the principles that William Fulbright espoused in establishing the scholarships. In particular, I value the notion that the scholarships foster learning  and educational experiences that lead on to pursuits in the broader career of the Fulbright Scholar. There was no restriction on the Scholar’s journey. There was simply encouragement that the Scholar contribute to his or her community, and perhaps that could be in the Scholar’s homeland.

I emphasise that the Fulbright Foundation was remarkably unrestrictive in the administration of the scholarships, and that  was appreciated. It is also true that one requirement placed on me in travelling to Cornell from Australia was that I travelled by train from the point of entry to the US to Cornell, close to the eastern seaboard. At the time I railed against the requirement. I wanted to reach Cornell and to get on with things there. It took me years to recognise how valuable it was to be introduced to the US community this way. I later chose with my wife to travel across the US by car. Each experience built on the other. In quiet times of reflection much later in my career, I wondered how much that trip influenced my appointment as chief executive of the Australian Railway Research and Development Organisation, and as Director General of Transport in N.S.W. I doffed my hat to William Fulbright.

The period I spent in the US as a Fulbrighter, 1965 – 1970, was a memorable time for many reasons. Some related to my personal life. Some related to my academic life. Some related to the happenings in the US and, more broadly, the world.

1968 was a tumultuous year!  Bobby Kennedy was assassinated. Martin Luther King was assassinated—on my birthday and two days before the light of my life and I were married. About that year Afro-American students, only weeks after the disturbances at Kent State, rebelled on campus at Cornell.  Cornell, wisely in my view, chose to seek a new way forward.  They instituted a Constituent  Assembly.  In my view it was designed to release the pressure and to find a way forward for all its students. As a delegate to this Assembly—elected by my peers—I became a contributor to Cornell’s future governance. Even at the time I had no doubt that Fulbright values influenced me.

The Vietnam war was a constant in our lives. There are many dimensions, even for me. One personal one lives on. I would come down from my dorm to get breakfast at a nearby restaurant. “Two eggs over easy, toast and coffee” was my standard order. I was a regular. So, too, was Daniel Berrigan, a Jesuit priest. As a protest, with his brother, also a Jesuit, and their colleagues, he poured blood over the files of conscripts to the Vietnam War. They were nailed for it. Our conversations: “Please pass the salt, Dan”.

It was not simply a time of momentous events. Personal actualisation and fulfilment had their places. For instance, I continued developing as an actor. I felt good about being able to work with the people brought in to the summer-stock activities. It was fun to be a meat baron in one of Brecht’s plays! Sure.

And I came to have more insight into Fulbright. I give to him insight that acting, being able to bring a character to life, is immensely valuable in establishing rapport  in negotiation in any field.

I confess to a peccadello! I had neglected to alert my Professor that I was continuing with my acting. Perhaps you can appreciate my feelings when, as Dr Astrov in Chekov’s Uncle Vanya, the curtain opened and I saw from the stage my Professor and his wife. He later suggested that I had a choice to make: research or the theatre. I chose both.

My time at Cornell was, in my view, remarkably developmental for me. I do recognise that, to an impartial observer, it may appear to be remarkably mundane. Even now I smile. I think Fulbright would have been satisfied to have many whose experiences were/are as remarkably mundane as mine, thanks to him!

Share your Fulbright story too! Find out how by writing to: alumni@fulbright.org.au

A professional, personal, and family experience like no other

By Tim Carey, 2017 Fulbright Northern Territory Scholar

Being awarded a Fulbright Senior Scholarship enabled me to spend four months at the Center for Behavioral Health Innovation (BHI), Department of Clinical Psychology, Antioch University New England. The University is a very small postgraduate university of approximately 1000 students. The Department of Clinical Psychology is one of five departments at the University and offers a Doctorate of Clinical Psychology. The University has a very strong and explicit social justice focus with many messages on noticeboards about the importance of equality, acceptance, and understanding.

It was a privilege to spend time at BHI learning about the work that they do. They are a small center led by two of the faculty members of the Department of Clinical Psychology and six other staff. They partner with organisations in rural and underserved communities helping these organisations to establish systems of ongoing monitoring and feedback in order to promote the effectiveness of the services they deliver. During my time there BHI staff were working with schools, health centres, and philanthropic organisations on various projects. The evaluation context in the US is quite different from Australia with the Federal Government in the US mandating that a proportion of funding (commonly 20%) for services and programs be allocated to the evaluation of those interventions. Funding for BHI largely comes from this requirement.

While working at BHI we developed a project to investigate the factors that might be important in establishing and sustaining ongoing monitoring and feedback within an organisation. I interviewed 15 people from organisations with whom BHI had partnered at some time over approximately an eight year period. The people I interviewed had different roles within the organisations from leaders to service providers but they all spoke emphatically about the value of evaluation. They explained that, through ongoing monitoring and evaluation, they could make sure that the help that was being delivered really was experienced as help by the service recipients. They also emphasised the importance of having buy-in from the leadership of the organisation and of embedding systems within daily routines so that “the right thing to do is the easy thing to do”. Unanimously, interview participants spoke of the importance of the data they collected in terms of being able to engage with communities, communicate with funders, and “tell stories that touch people’s hearts as well as their heads”.

As a complementary aspect to my project I was fortunate to be able to speak with Dr Richard McKeon, who is Chief of the Suicide Prevention Branch of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Like the people I interviewed, Dr McKeon emphasised the importance of collecting data and basing program decisions upon the data that are collected. Dr McKeon argued strongly that having data to highlight an issue can become an important way of persuading people that something needs to be done and to answer basic questions.

The work at BHI and the learnings from the project I conducted have important policy and practice implications for service delivery in remote health settings of Australia.

In addition to the work at BHI I had the opportunity to participate in the Oz to Oz program at Kansas State University. I was hosted by their Master of Public Health program and got to meet senior university personnel and learn about some aspects of their approach to public health. Their public health program is interesting because it is not delivered within a medical program or department. While I was at Kansas State University I delivered a colloquium titled “Defining Health: Issues and solutions”. I provided a related colloquium back at Antioch University titled “Health as Control: An organising principle for the biopsychosocial model”. These speaking engagements enabled me to discuss ideas from my recently published book “Patient-Perspective Care: A new paradigm for health systems and services”. A further invitation to speak to residents and students of the Family Medicine Residency at the Eastern Maine Medical Center and to staff of Acadia Hospital in Bangor, ME allowed me to explore these ideas in greater detail with a talk titled “Improving Health in Rural and Remote Contexts with Patient-Perspective Care”. Further teaching opportunities arose with three classes provided in the Brief Psychotherapies course of the Doctor Clinical Psychology program at Antioch.

I was fortunate to have my family accompany me to Keene, NH for the duration of the Fulbright Scholarship. I think we benefitted just as much personally as I did professionally from the time we spent involved in the community life of Keene. It was wonderful to experience occasions such as Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas in the US with new-found friends and their families. Among other things, we picked blueberries and apples, carved pumpkins, turkey trotted at our son’s elementary school, trick-or-treated around the neighbourhood, and did some snow tubing. We also discovered that the saying “I’ll be there with bells on” originated in New England and we had many interesting discussions about New Hampshire’s state motto: Live free or die.

It’s an enormous privilege to become a Fulbright Scholar and tremendously humbling to be a part of the legacy Senator Fulbright started more than half a century ago. There was a real sense as I was undertaking the Fulbright Program that I was “living the dream”. There wasn’t ever a point when I wanted the dream to end. I still don’t. Thankfully, as a Fulbright Alumni, the dream can live on.

Share your Fulbright story too! Find out how by writing to: alumni@fulbright.org.au

Teaching machines to play fair

By Daniel McNamara, 2016 Fulbright Postgraduate Scholar in Computer Science

I had the good fortune to visit the Machine Learning Department at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh as a Fulbright Postgraduate Scholar in 2016-17. During my eight months there I had the opportunity to learn from a technically brilliant group of academics and students who are designing algorithms that will shape the future.

As part of my Fulbright program, I participated in an Enrichment Seminar on Civil Rights in the United States. The seminar was held in Atlanta – birthplace of the Civil Rights movement and to this day an important centre of African-American political activity. More than 100 Fulbrighters from around the world heard from African-American leaders and activists, visited the Civil Rights Museum and Martin Luther King’s tomb, and ran a story-telling workshop at a local school.

Fulbrighters ran a story-telling workshop for Atlanta school students as part of an enrichment seminar on Civil Rights in the United States held in March 2017. Photo credit: Christopher Nagel.

Algorithmic decision-making and fairness

Joining the dots between seemingly disparate subjects – the latest technical developments in machine learning and the political struggle for racial equality in the US – I became interested in the challenge of ensuring that decisions made by machines are fair. This has become an important and rapidly emerging field of research which is attracting attention from scholars in machine learning, law, philosophy and other disciplines. And everyone else – whose lives are increasingly influenced by decisions made by algorithms – are keenly awaiting solutions.

Machine learning systems are now widely used to make all kinds of decisions about people’s lives – such as whether to grant someone a loan, interview someone for a job or provide someone with insurance. There is a risk that these algorithms may be unfair in some way, for example by discriminating against particular groups. Even if not intended by the algorithm designer, discrimination is possible because the reasoning behind the algorithm’s decisions is often difficult for humans to interpret. Furthermore, artefacts of previous discrimination present in the data used to train the algorithm may increase this tendency in the algorithm’s decisions.

An interesting example is the use of recidivism risk scores, which are commonly used in criminal sentencing in the United States. The news organisation ProPublica investigated one widely used system, COMPAS. The investigation showed that black defendants received higher risk scores than white defendants. Furthermore, the risk scores made different kinds of errors for defendants of different races. Black defendants were overrepresented among the false positives: people who were given a high risk score but did not re-offend for the next two years. Conversely, white defendants were overrepresented among the false negatives: people who were given a low risk score but did in fact re-offend.

Baking in fairness

To remove or minimise discrimination effects caused by the use of machine learning systems, fairness may be ‘baked in’ to algorithm design. This approach benefits users of such algorithms, particularly those in social groups that are potentially the subject of discrimination. Moreover, as rapid technological progress drives disruptive social change and in turn resistance to such change, such design decisions will be required to maintain the ‘social license to operate’ of companies using the algorithms.

Incorporating fairness into algorithm design also has a role to play in the effective regulation of algorithms. For example, fairness is considered in the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation, which comes into force this year. Paragraph 71 of the preamble states:

In order to ensure fair and transparent processing … the controller should…  secure personal data in a manner … that prevents, inter alia, discriminatory effects on natural persons on the basis of racial or ethnic origin, political opinion, religion or beliefs, trade union membership, genetic or health status or sexual orientation.

The thorny question remains: how do we define fairness? Machine learning researchers are now joining a discussion previously led by philosophers and legal scholars. A seminal study led by the Harvard computer scientist Cynthia Dwork proposed two notions of fairness. Group fairness means making similar decisions for one group compared to another, while individual fairness means making similar decisions for individuals who are similar. The two notions of fairness are potentially in tension: group fairness promotes equal outcomes for each group regardless of the characteristics of the individuals that make up the groups, while individual fairness provides individuals who are similar with equal treatment regardless of their group membership.

Transforming data to achieve fairness

Machine learning algorithms learn from previous examples. One approach to ensuring fairness is to transform the data accessed by the algorithm. The idea is to remove information about group membership (e.g. gender, race) from the data to protect particular groups from discrimination. However, it is typically not as simple as removing a single column in the data, since it may be possible to infer group membership from the other columns. A classic example is the historic practice of ‘redlining’, where decision-making based on loan applicants’ neighbourhood was used as a proxy for racial discrimination.

Machine learning methods such as neural networks may be used to transform data so that membership of a particular protected group can no longer be inferred. For a given data transformation, it is possible to quantify the extent to which it improves group fairness, as well its impact on individual fairness and the usefulness of the transformed data. This kind of guarantee can allow a regulator to approve the transformed data prior to its use in decision-making. Even if the decision-maker attempts to discriminate against a particular protected group, their ability to do so will be limited because the required information has been removed by the data transformation.

Code-ready fairness

Traditionally, fairness has been ‘codified’ in rather general terms in our legal system, and enforcement has relied upon a common understanding of fairness across society. But computers lag behind us on qualitative reasoning abilities. Our new challenge is to provide definitions of fairness that are precise enough to be embedded in computer code.

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From Upwey to the USA: A wonderful professional and personal journey

By Matthew Clarke, 2017 Fulbright Professional Scholar in Non-Profit Leadership

Over the last decade, 400 natural disasters have killed more than 100,000 people and affected a further 120 million annually. The international community provides tens of billions of dollars to assist local communities impacted by these humanitarian emergencies. Increasing the professionalization of leaders and managers of humanitarian disasters is critical to ensure the most effective recovery of communities and countries as well as the most efficient use of resources.

I was extremely fortunate to be awarded the 2017/8 Fulbright Professional Scholarship in Non-Profit Leadership in order to better understand how the humanitarian sector works in the US and share the work occurring in Australia at the Centre for Humanitarian Leadership (CHL) – a joint initiative of Deakin university and Save the Children Australia.

My Fulbright program was split over two sites. The first location was Boston, whilst the second location was in Washington DC. Both these locations allowed me the opportunity to work alongside an array of institutions and individuals that have expertise that directly touches upon the work being undertaken at Deakin’s CHL.

Whilst in Boston, I spent time at Tuft University’s Feinstein Centre for International Affairs and the Harvard Humanitarian Academy. Both academic institutions provided opportunities to better understand how the CHL at Deakin might evolve over time. The Feinstein Centre has been in operation for 25 years whilst the Harvard Humanitarian Academy is less then 10 years old. Both institutes undertake research and teaching. Whilst at both institutions, I was able to discuss the need for the CHL to develop its own research agenda and seek advice as to how this might occur. Members from both institutions were very keen to assist and provide expert advice and support. It was also evident from visiting these two centres and observing their teaching that the teaching programs at the CHL are world class. This means that when seeking international collaborations and partnerships in this sphere that we can do so with confidence and knowledge that we are actually adding value. During the second phase, I was in Washington DC, I was hosted by the Humanitarian Business Group within Save the Children US. Given Deakin’s very strong relationship with Save the Children Australia, it made sense to extend this existing institutional relationship by spending time with US colleagues. In addition to meeting a rage of humanitarian workers and leaders at Save US, I was also able to make contacts with colleagues in an array of other aid agencies, including Mercy Corp, World Vision, Relief International as well as USAID and the Centre for Strategic and International Studies. Across these meetings, I better understood the humanitarian sector in the US and possible opportunities for cross-country work.

Over the course of my 25-year work career, I have not had such an experience that equates to this Scholarship. In addition to the length of time away from ‘normal’ duties, which has allowed a certain level of refection and planning, the Fulbright scholarship has brought me into contact with people I would normally not be able to access. This access has increased the information I have been able to receive and heightened the level of conversation I have been able to participate in. I now have a list of contacts in the Humanitarian sector that I can now confidently draw upon in the ongoing development and building of the CHL. During the three months away, I have been able to assess my professional career and the impact I have made and the impact I would like to make in the future. I return to Australia even more sure that the work being undertaken at the CHL is valuable and of world class. I return wanting to extend its influence and its impact within the humanitarian sector.

Separate to these professional experiences, I have been very fortunate to have had my family with me over the course of the Scholarship. This was perhaps the main reason I was able to consider applying for the Scholarship. Had they not been able to accompany me, it would have been impossible to spend this much time away. We had the most wonderful experiences as a family – from Christmas in New York, to a weekend at a snow resort, to visiting historical Civil War battle sites to attending NBA and NFL games to watching our 9-year old daughter step onto an iconic yellow School bus each day on the way to school! Of course, not all experiences where positive: all our children required additional immunization shots to be eligible to attend School. We found our way to the local health clinic and the two younger children received their needles without incident. However, soon after our 17-year old daughter received her needle, she stood up and promptly fainted – She fell face first onto the floor! There was blood everywhere as she had split her nose open. As I cradled her (trying to avoid the blood), our 9 year old daughter then fainted. So, I was holding one child, whilst my wife held another. Very soon we were surrounded by 6 paramedics and some very concerned health clinic nurses!. Seeing inside an ambulance and emergency ward was not high on our ‘to do’ list, but all ended well with the 17 year old fronting up to School the next day – with two black eyes!!

All of these experiences have been remarkable and only possible through the generous support of this Scholarship. It has changed the way I understand my own professional sector, but just as importantly it has enhanced my entire family’s understanding of the US and the relationship between our two nations. It has been career and life changing.

Share your Fulbright story too! Find out how by writing to: alumni@fulbright.org.au