Physics Professor Steve Mellema ’72 to Serve as Fulbright Scholar in Malaysia

Posted on June 17th, 2016 by

Steve Mellema '72

Steve Mellema ’72

Gustavus Adolphus College physics professor Steve Mellema ’72 has been selected through the Fulbright Scholar Program to travel to Malaysia in 2017 to teach and do research at Universiti Sains Malaysia (The Science University of Malaysia) in Penang.

The upcoming voyage marks a return to the country that Mellema first visited in 1972 as a recent Gustavus graduate and Peace Corps volunteer. He met his wife, Shirley, during his time in the Peace Corps, a relationship that blossomed after they reconnected following her move to the United States. Over the years, he’s traveled extensively throughout the nation on the South China Sea. “Malaysia has become my second home,” Mellema said. “The country sits at the confluence of so many good things in my life.”

Mellema spearheaded the creation of the Gustavus’ Semester in Malaysia study-away program and led students on its inaugural trip in 2014. The semester-long program, titled “Living Diversity,” exposes students to the rich cultural, ethnic, and ecological diversity of the country. Classes take place both in the classroom and through field trips and supplemental learning. Students also participate in community service, experience traditional art and craft forms, and travel in small groups throughout Malaysia and the Asian continent.

He recommends that students consider the program when exploring their study-away options. “Malaysia is a place where people from different ethnic backgrounds, cultures, languages and religions live together and form a peaceful, stable society,” Mellema explained. “The resulting intercultural and interreligious factors make it a great place for our students to learn.”

In addition to his development of the study-away program, Mellema was also instrumental in creating a student exchange agreement between Gustavus and Universiti Sains Malaysia, a partnership that has existed since 1994.

The inaugural "Living Diversity" class traveled to Malaysia in 2014.

The inaugural “Living Diversity” class traveled to Malaysia in 2014.

During the 2017 Fulbright program, Mellema will run a research project using pre-tests and post-tests to measure knowledge acquisition and compare different pedagogical methods of teaching physics. He’ll also work with faculty members at Universiti Sains Malaysia’s School of Physics to introduce active learning practices that are used to teach physics at Gustavus and in the United States. “I’m confident that the cultural differences are not that extensive,” Mellema said. “In Malaysia and in the United States there are very smart students who are incredibly hardworking.”

He looks forward to returning to Penang, where he’s built a network of friends, hosts, and colleagues in the School of Physics and across the university. “Everyone at Universiti Sains Malaysia is dedicated and hardworking. We’re all genuinely interested in doing the best job we can to teach physics,” he said. “This Fulbright award will allow me to give back to the people who have given me so much over the years.”

Mellema, who also won a Fulbright award in 2002, will serve as one of approximately 1,200 Fulbright scholars who contribute to education across the globe through innovation, creativity, and knowledge that transcends borders.

fulbrightThe Fulbright Scholar Program is named after Senator J. William Fulbright and is sponsored by the United States Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. The Council for International Exchange of Scholars supports the administration of the Fulbright Scholar Program for faculty members and professionals.


Media Contact: Director of Media Relations and Internal Communication JJ Akin


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