Cronkite Humphrey Fellows Not Deterred by COVID-19 Delay

Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020


By Kasey Brammell

The arrival of this year’s cohort of the Hubert H. Humphrey Fellowship program has been delayed until December, but that hasn’t stopped them from getting a head start on their goals.

All of the fellows have met each other over Zoom, but due to time zone differences, they’re not all able to join each meeting. They primarily talk over Whatsapp and Viber as they get to know each other. The cohort hopes to have dinner parties once they can all meet face-to-face.

Every year, the Cronkite School hosts an intensive, 10-month academic study and professional experience for accomplished mid-career professionals from emerging democracies around the world through the Hubert H. Humphrey Fellowship, a Fulbright exchange program.

“I have been working in the field of journalism for more than 20 years. However, I’m still a beginner when it comes to documentarism,” said Sladjana Lucic, a fellow from Bosnia and Herzegovina. “I’m looking forward to the exchange of information and gaining new knowledge, and, I have to admit, I’m coming with a lot of questions.”

This year, Cronkite’s 10 Humphrey Fellows are coming from eight countries: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Botswana, Bulgaria, Hungary, Pakistan, Romania, Russia and Suriname. As of this cohort, the Cronkite School will have been host to 111 fellows from 60 countries.

Samantha Refilwe Pilane is the first Motswana, singular for a person from Botswana, to be part of the Humphrey Fellowship at the Cronkite School. Unlike other fellows, she does not have members from past cohorts in her country to give her advice or guidance for the program.

“Nonetheless, this has not deterred me and makes me very eager to make the move to Phoenix and hopefully one day have another Motswana make part of the cohort,” Pilane said.

The Humphrey Fellows typically arrive in August to begin their 10-month program in Arizona to study and further their professional experiences as leaders in their own democracies. But like most things, that has been delayed due to COVID-19 until Dec. 1. Meanwhile, they have been attending asynchronous meetings with special guest speakers and preparing themselves for travel to the United States.

“I’m used to this way of communicating and working, although it’s not easy because of time difference, as well as my obligations at work,” Lucic said. “I’m looking forward to lectures and I’m impatiently waiting for the moment when we’re going to move from online classes to real classrooms.”

After their arrival in December, the Humphrey Fellows will take classes at ASU, attend the Humphrey seminar and learn more about Arizona and the United States through trips to various communities.

“The past couple of cohorts have been very interested in immigration because they learn about our own struggles here in Arizona as a border state,” said Program Manager Jan Holland-Malcom. “These are individuals who come from various countries that have their own immigration issues. They are trying to compare and contrast what they know and what is happening here.”

Once classes end in April, fellows will enter a professional affiliation where they work at an organization of their specialty.

Despite a shortened time in the United States, Holland-Malcom and Assistant Dean and Cronkite Humphrey Fellowship Curator Bill Silcock said the fellows are dedicated to pursuing the program this year.

Pilane said that she was taken aback at first, but understood that the shortened program was necessary. “The best we can do is remain resolute and accomplish as much as we can despite the circumstances,” she said.

“It’s a testament to them and their commitment and their team interest in growing as leaders globally, that they are willing to come during COVID in what really will be a shortened program,” Silcock said. “They still want to come, very badly.”

The Humphrey seminar invites speakers from a variety of backgrounds to share their leadership and job experiences. Previous speakers have included Interim Dean Kristin Gilger, Sheriff Paul Penzone and Senator Kyrsten Sinema.

As much as the Humphrey Fellowship program is designed to improve leadership skills within cohorts, the results are far reaching and cyclical.

“The legacy continues when they go back home. We stay in touch with them, they do seminars with current fellows, we often go back and do projects in their countries involving our students and faculty,” Silcock said. “It’s just a great continuing global exchange.”

Furthermore, because Humphrey Fellows attend classes, ASU students and faculty learn about cultures they may not have known about otherwise.

“The value of the program, really, is for our students and our faculty because we rub shoulders with people from all over the world,” said Silcock. “They’re also teaching us something about their countries and that’s what we think is most exciting about the program.”

2020-2021 Humphrey Fellows in Journalism:

Xaviera L. Arnhem, Suriname

Fakhar Durrani, Pakistan

Balint Fabok, Hungary

Farhat Javed, Pakistan

Sladjana Lucic, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Delia Marinescu, Romania

Yana Pashaeva, Russia

Samantha Refilwe Pilane, Botswana

Teodora Trifonova, Bulgaria

Elma Velic, Bosnia and Herzegovina