Saint Martin's University English Professor Jeff Birkenstein, Ph.D., receives second Fulbright Award

Photo of Jeff Birkenstein, with landscape in background

LACEY, Wash. — Saint Martin’s University announces that Professor of English Jeff Birkenstein, Ph.D., was selected as a 2023-2024 Fulbright Award Recipient. His project, titled “Short Stories, Food, and Exile in and beyond Israel” will focus on how food is an important part of the exilic culture of Israel. He will be teaching and researching at Bar-Ilan University in Tel Aviv in the Spring of 2024 and working closely with Bar-Ilan creative writing professor and novelist Evan Fallenberg. This is the second Fulbright award Birkenstein has received, his first taking him to Petrozavodsk State University in Russia in 2010.

Birkenstein wanted to show in his application how this project relates to the teaching and research he does at Saint Martin's University and how it will impact his ongoing exploration of significant food in culture and literature. “This is where the short story, exile, and food come in. This is the bridge between projects, especially as Israel has many Russian immigrants,” he said. “Also, this project connects to my own history, affected as it is by grandparents who escaped Nazi Germany in 1935.” 

Interim Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences Aaron Coby, Ph.D., said, “I want to congratulate Dr. Birkenstein. It is a great honor to receive a competitive Fulbright Scholarship. Jeff has been a strong ambassador of the Fulbright opportunities at Saint Martin's University for many years. He is a gifted teacher and scholar in Literary Studies with a strong interest in creating partnerships with other institutions. He’ll be using his knowledge and expertise in literature, food and the human experience during his time in Israel to great effect. And he’ll be returning with new skills, ideas and relationships. It’s a win, win.” 

In his Fulbright application, Birkenstein wrote: “The study of food in literature represents an exciting, critical, and still often overlooked aspect of literary inquiry, and I hypothesize that studying food and narrative is critical to better understand the exilic experience.” 

The cultural connection between food and exile is something that has long been present for Birkenstein, he said, and it has been a focus of his work for many years. “Food is a daily struggle even in the best of situations, but to consider how food has been integral to the American immigrant experience, especially as reflected in the ever-developing genre of the American short story, is to better understand this complicated, troubled American experiment.” 

When Birkenstein received his first Fulbright award in 2010, recipients were not eligible to receive the award for a second time. When he saw that had changed, he knew he had more work to do.  

“For me at least, a Fulbright grant does not end when the time is up in the host country, but rather should lead onward to more collaboration, to more people from very different places working together.” 

Paul Faber, Ph.D., interim provost and vice president of academic affairs, expressed his congratulations to Dr. Birkenstein for this accomplishment: “To be a Fulbright Scholar is to be recognized by one’s peers for one’s professional expertise and the ability to contribute to mutual understanding. We’re very proud of Dr. Birkenstein’s selection.” 

Birkenstein has worked at Saint Martin’s University for 19 years and serves as the Faculty Fulbright Liaison for Saint Martin’s. He enjoys working on projects with his colleagues, but his favorite part about teaching is encouraging students to grow as writers and watching their skillset improve throughout his classes. 

The Fulbright Program is the U.S. government’s flagship international educational exchange program and is supported by the people of the United States and partner countries around the world. Since 1946, the Fulbright Program has provided more than 400,000 participants from over 160 countries with the opportunity to study, teach and conduct research, exchange ideas, and contribute to finding solutions to shared international concerns. The primary source of funding for the Fulbright program is an annual appropriation by the U.S. Congress to the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. Participating governments and host institutions, corporations and foundations in foreign countries and in the United States also provide direct and indirect support.  

Saint Martin’s University is an independent, four-year, coeducational university located on a wooded campus of more than 300 acres in Lacey, Washington. Established in 1895 by the Catholic Order of Saint Benedict, the University is one of 13 Benedictine colleges and universities in the United States and Canada, and the only one west of the Rocky Mountains. Saint Martin’s University prepares students for successful lives through its 29 majors and 11 graduate programs spanning the liberal arts, business, education, nursing and engineering. Saint Martin’s welcomes more than 1,300 undergraduate students and 250 graduate students from many ethnic and religious backgrounds to its Lacey campus, and more students to its extended campus located at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. 


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