Jacob H & Rachel Brumbaugh Professor of Chemistry
Take a rather shy young woman from Clemson, S.C. and send her to Germany for a year of study at a German university and what do you get? Well, you get Ruth Reed, whose experience as a Fulbright scholar so energized her career that she has become a tireless advocate for study abroad almost from her first days on camps.
Reed’s international experience came about after one of her history professors at Winthrop College (in Rock Hill, S.C.) suggested she apply for a Fulbright Scholarship. She proposed to study the German academic system for chemistry instruction and she felt she had little or no chance of being accepted. Then a huge battered package arrived in her parent’s mailbox. "I thought they wouldn’t send such a big package if they rejected me," she laughs.
Ruth was to study at the university in Goettingen and literally set sail for Germany in the summer of 1968. "We were the last Fulbright scholars to travel by ship," she explains. "The organization used the time to train you for your experience as you sailed over. She sailed on the German ocean liner Hanseatic and would return on the famous ocean liner Bremen. "I remember I took my first train ride—on the Peach Queen Express—into Washington, D.C. and took the train into New York City," she recalls. "I was a straight-A student but I was out of my element until a lady asked me if I needed help getting to the docks."
If Ruth still felt a little at sea after arriving in Germany, she soon acclimated herself. At the height of the Cold War, her university was just 30 miles from the Berlin Wall. She also traveled through East Germany to attend a meeting in West Berlin and visited Prague, Czechoslovakia just months before the Soviet Army entered the city to put down the "Prague Spring" uprising.
"I learned I could take care of myself and be perfectly happy traveling, reading or taking pictures by myself," Ruth says of her German sojourn. "Things like that are incredibly empowering."
When Ruth returned to the United States, she entered the doctoral program at Virginia Tech University, where she met a young postdoctoral researcher named Tom Fisher. The couple married during her stint as a graduate student. Ruth was doing postdoctoral research at Johns Hopkins University, when Paul Schettler, a mutual acquaintance from professional meetings asked the couple to apply for two openings at Juniata.
The former Fulbright scholar found a wealth of colleagues (Wilfred Norris, William Russey, Paul Schettler) who shared overseas experience, either as Fulbright scholars or as researchers. Within a few years, during the early 1980s, this core of science faculty had started study abroad exchanges for science students at universities in Lille, France and Munster, Germany. Although the number of science students electing to study abroad has decreased from two decades ago, Ruth still tries to convince her students to take the plunge. "I give them the hard sell but not in an intimidating way," she explains. "I just want to plant the seed to get them to consider it."
The idea of studying abroad so deeply rooted in Ruth’s experience has allowed her to branch out in other ways. She went to India in 2001 to direct the Brethren Colleges Abroad program at the University of Cochin and has been to most of the International alumni reunions. "I think India will be a bright star and the next frontier is to found programs in Asia, Africa and South America," she says. "if I won the lottery I would donate money for more faculty travel abroad because if faculty goes, then students will go or follow."
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