Rhonda Collier

Connecting to the People Behind the Processes Through Two Fulbright Experiences

Rhonda Collier
Director, Tuskegee University Global Office, Fulbright Adviser and Scholar Liaison
Chair and Professor of Modern Languages, Communication and Philosophy
Fulbright U.S. Student to Brazil, Fulbright U.S. Scholar to Taiwan

Rhonda Collier standing with two other people holding Trade Excellence Award.
Dr. S. Keith Hargrove, provost and senior vice president for Academic Affairs and Dr. Rhonda Collier, director of the Tuskegee University Global Office, accepted the Governor’s Trade Excellence Award from Alabama Governor Kay Ivey in May 2023.

As an English professor and the director of the Tuskegee University Global Office, Dr. Rhonda Collier is passionate about making students “better writers, better thinkers and better citizens of our global society.” She is responsible for advancing new international initiatives, increasing and formalizing collaborations abroad, and working with the provost on institutional policies.

Two Fulbright experiences–one as a graduate student and one as head of the Global Office– have helped her become the expert on international education that she is today. Her expertise, in turn, has helped Tuskegee to achieve recognition from the U.S.  Department of State as a Fulbright HBCU Leader.

Collier serves as both Fulbright Program Adviser, helping students to explore Fulbright opportunities after graduation, and Fulbright Scholar Liaison, facilitating faculty members’ participation. She champions academic excellence on a global stage, in a way that, she says, mirrors the international travels and research of the Black scholars critical to shaping Tuskegee’s mission: Booker T. Washington and George Washington Carver.

“Fulbright is a vehicle to hone world-class scholars through cultural immersion and the opportunity to represent the best of U.S. culture abroad,” says Collier. Her roles as both an FPA and a Liaison are some “of the many opportunities I enjoy as a faculty member who mentors not only her students, but her peers.”

Collier’s love for international travel came at an early age, living in England, Africa, Brazil and Uruguay as the daughter of a U.S. Air Force officer. Since then, she has traveled extensively throughout South America, the Caribbean, Europe, and Africa, visiting more than 25 countries and learning to speak Spanish, Portuguese, French and Italian.

Trained as an engineer, she earned master’s degrees in both industrial and health systems engineering and began her career at General Electric and Cigna Healthcare. After several years, her interest in “the people and the places behind the products and processes” led her to pursue a move to international education.

While pursuing a doctoral degree in comparative literature at Vanderbilt University, she received a Fulbright to Brazil to do research at the Universidade de São Paulo. She credits her Fulbright experience living, studying, and working with students in Brazil for shaping her love for learning about different cultures and inspiring students to learn about the world.

Her Fulbright opened doors both personally and professionally. She has since published scholarly articles and spoken internationally in the areas of Cuban literature, Brazilian literature, global hip-hop, public theology, and the black experience abroad; she has also co-edited a book on Culturally Responsive Teaching and Learning in Higher Education.

“Fulbright not only gave me the opportunity to perfect my Portuguese language skills, but it gave me a community of scholars with whom I have collaborated with for the last 20 years,” says Collier, noting that her mission as an alum is to “pass it on” to her students.

She said that seeing the changes students undergo through interacting with other cultures has become the most rewarding part of her job. She encourages students to be globally engaged and strives to teach them the importance of becoming global citizens and solving global problems.

“A lot of students come to my office because they are interested in studying abroad. We help Tuskegee students find placements and scholarships, and we also work with international students attending the university,” says Collier. “Having been an international student myself, it’s important to make our international students feel welcomed and like they are home.” 

Her teaching focuses on American literature, Black American literature, and composition courses, with an emphasis on service-learning. “Themes of my classroom typically involve students getting to know some place outside of the United States –– so even if they are taking an American literature course, they are also involved in knowing about places that impacted the United States,” she continues, saying that wherever students go, they become aware that there’s a “bigger world” out there.

In 2017, Collier took part in the inaugural Fulbright International Education Administrators Seminar in Tawain. Together with fellow international education professionals from U.S. universities, she visited 16 universities in Taiwan for a close-up view of the higher education system.

Collier had a chance to meet with Fulbright U.S. Scholars in Taiwan and returned Fulbrighters from Taiwan, and traveled to Southern Taiwan to see Fulbright English Teaching Assistants in action in elementary schools. At Sye Jin Elementary School, Collier received hand-carved chopsticks, which represented to her a “new handle on the culture.” Collier also visited multiple universities, connections that she noted could help Tuskegee expand their STEM education and Chinese language learning.

Upon returning home, she was delighted to learn that two of her students had been awarded Fulbrights, and she has had continued success in connecting students with Fulbright opportunities.

Collier is using her expertise, cultivated through her two Fulbright experiences, to develop further study programming for students at Tuskegee. In December 2021, Collier went to the American Academy in Rome as the inaugural Tuskegee University Affiliated Fellow. During her eight weeks in Italy, she conducted research and developed the syllabus for a course at Tuskegee called “The Black Experience in Italy,” which will culminate in a two-week trip to Rome.

Accepting the Alabama Governor’s Trade Excellence Award in May 2023 in recognition of the university’s partnerships with more than 40 institutions abroad, Collier said, “I am excited to represent the university on international matters and look forward to continuing to build Tuskegee's global brand."

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