LOWELL – Lowell native and former US Ambassador James Costos joined the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board last month, where he will oversee the prestigious academic program alongside 11 other representatives.
President Biden appointed Costos to the federal position to manage the Fulbright Program, an “educational and cultural exchange” network that connects students and professionals to international graduate and study programs, according to the US Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs website. There, Costos will manage the selection process and its potential program participants.
Costos served as an ambassador to Spain and Andorra from 2013 to 2017, where he said he worked closely with visiting students and professionals coming to Spain and taking these trips. Early on, he said he saw the importance of supporting young students and feels “honored” to now be part of the commission that provides those resources and cultural opportunities.
“It’s a great privilege to continue the work I did when I was at the embassy,” Costos said. “I always wanted to spend a lot of my time with the next generation of folks who are coming up behind us, because they will be our future leaders, and we have to invest our time and our resources in them.”
Spain and the United States have a number of shared values, Costos said, a major one being education. As the Fulbright participants moved onto high-level jobs in business and government in Spain, Costos said he witnessed firsthand the impact the program has and “the excitement in the eyes of those who had been accepted.”
It was only a year into his tenure that Costos met Harriet Fulbright, the wife of the late James Fulbright who created the Fulbright Program back in the 1940s. It was at an event recognizing the Fulbright Program’s purpose and success in Spain where Costos said Fulbright shared the intention behind her husband’s work.
“The underlying idea for Senator Fulbright was to create the sense of connection,” Costos said.
On the scholarship board, Costos is the primary point person for applicants from 14 different countries in Europe and the Americas, including France, Lithuania, Colombia, Brazil and Canada.
Costos’ first official board meeting will be next week, when he will fly out to Washington, DC, and meet his new colleagues.
Though he travels across the states – between Los Angeles, New York and abroad to Spain – Costos fondly embraces his Lowell roots. The son of Greek immigrants, Costos said he learned, from a young age, the importance of being civically engaged. He studied political science at UMass Lowell and was the first generation in his family to graduate college.
Costos also remains a prominent supporter of Lowell’s Whistler House Museum of Art, which, in 2017, honored Costos with the James McNeill Whistler Distinguished Art Award for his work in promoting Art in Embassies Program, as well as the museum itself.
Sara Bogosian, president and executive director of Whistler House, visited the embassy in Madrid in 2016 with Costos and saw the nearly 100 different artworks displayed there, she said. Costos’ devotion to the arts makes him “deserving” of this new position, she said.
“He’s very smart, very innovative, very outgoing and friendly,” Bogosian said. “We were thrilled to have had the opportunity to work with him.”
After his term as ambassador, Costos remained involved in the connection between Spain and the states, becoming president of Secuoya Studios, an international film and tv organization based in Madrid, as well as a board member at the US advisory investment bank PJT Partners.
He is also on the board of the Human Rights Campaign, an LGBTQ advocacy group, and the Hispanic Society of America.
Deme Gys, senior director of development at UMass Lowell’s Zuckerberg College of Health Sciences, met Costos through her husband, Ken, who grew up with the ambassador in Lowell’s Belvidere neighborhood. Costos received the University Alumni Award for the College of Fine Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences in 2017, and being a “prominent alumnus,” he has spoken to students about his achievements and even hosted UMass students on study abroad in Spain, Gys said.
Together with Costos, Gys, also of Greek descent, is working on a Hellenic archives project, digitizing photographs and creating a global repository of Greek history. Gys said Costos is “amazingly kind” and dedicated to the wellbeing and success of students in Lowell and beyond.
“To see a Lowell kid become so well-established and represent Lowell but represent the United States as US ambassador to Spain, that’s something we’re very proud of as a university, and we want to showcase alumni like James to our students to say, ‘This is possible,’ ”Gys said. “That’s why we love for him when he comes down to speak to students, because it makes him real.”