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May 26, 2004

Fulbright Scholar

Joel Adams spent his first stint as a Fulbright Scholar, back in 1998-99, in Mauritius, a tropical island located roughly 500 miles east of Madagascar.

Now Adams, a professor of computer science at Calvin College, has earned another Fulbright Scholars award and again he plans to spend it on an island. In this case, however, the island isn't in the tropics. Instead he'll spend January through June 2005 on the island of Iceland.

There he will teach at the Technological University of Iceland, bringing a variety of Calvin computer science courses with him to the curriculum in Iceland. He also plans to work on a book he is writing on computer programming.

And he hopes to continue with a project he began in Mauritius: studying how and why women choose to major in computer science.

Adams was surprised to find when he was teaching in Mauritius that about half of his students were women (compared with 10-15 percent at Calvin). He did a study in Mauritius and found that at the same time women in computer science were on the decline in the United States, Britain and other countries, the numbers were climbing in Mauritius.

"There were a number of cultural differences in Mauritius that seemed to be encouraging women to study computer science," he says, "at the same time aspects of our culture here in the U.S. were discouraging women from studying it."

Using data gathered during his Fulbright stay in Mauritius, Adams (who majored in computer science and psychology as an undergraduate) and two colleagues wrote and presented a well-received paper on women in computer science at a 2003 conference on computer science education.

In Iceland he hopes to continue his study of the topic, visiting the few universities that offer computer science programs to collect data on their gender representation. Eventually he will compare Iceland, Mauritius, the U.S. and Britain.

Adams says that, despite, its name, Iceland isn't quite as frigid as people might think. Because of the proximity of the Gulf Stream, the average winter temperature in the capital city of Reykjavik is similar to New York, while summer temps are generally in the 70s.

Still, Adams admits, Iceland will be quite a contrast from Mauritius and, for that matter, from Grand Rapids.

"Mauritius," he says, "is one of the most densely populated places on the planet. Iceland, meanwhile, is sparsely populated."

Indeed almost 80 percent of Iceland is uninhabited and mostly uninhabitable. The population is concentrated in a narrow coastal belt, valleys and the southwest corner of the country. Iceland has fewer people than greater Grand Rapids with a population of about 290,000 spread out over an area about the size of Michigan's lower peninsula. Of that population over half - about 180,000 - live in or around Reykjavik, the city that will be home to the Adams family next year.

Adams also hopes to take advantage, with his family, of the ever-lengthening days during their stay in Iceland. When they arrive in January they will have about two hours of daylight per day. By the time they depart in June it will more or less be day all day long!

"We wanted to go while the days were getting longer," he says with a chuckle. "It will be interesting to see how our bodies respond to the photo shift."

Adams is the ninth Calvin professor to earn a Fulbright Scholars award since 1982-83, joining David VanBaak (1998-99), John VanZytfeld (1990-91), Gerard Venema (1989-90), James Lamse and Stanley Wiersma (both 1985-86), Dale VanKley (1983-84) and Roger DeKock and Henrietta TenHarmsel (both 1982-83).

He is one of approximately 800 U.S. faculty and professionals who will travel abroad to some 140 countries for the 2004-2005 academic year through the Fulbright Scholar Program. Established in 1946 under legislation introduced by the late Senator J. William Fulbright of Arkansas, the program’s purpose is to build mutual understanding between the people of the United States and other countries. The Fulbright Program is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.

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Contact Phil de Haan
616-526-6475 (v)
616-526-7069 (f)