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UNG student wins national award to study abroad

A University of North Georgia student has won a prestigious Sigma Delta Pi Undergraduate Study Abroad Award that will allow her to spend the summer studying in Spain. Rachel Alexander Johnson was the top applicant of only 10 college students in the nation selected by Sigma Delta Pi to receive a stipend this year.

Johnson, who is from Gainesville, Ga., is a Spanish major and is minoring in French. She is a member of Sigma Delta Pi, an honor society open to only the top students studying Spanish. Sigma Delta Pi presents a total of 20 study-abroad awards each year, including 10 stipends of $2,500. As the highest-ranked applicant for the stipend, Johnson also was awarded the Richard E. Chandler Scholarship, named in memory of the organization's president emeritus and honorary president.

Johnson, who was nominated by her Spanish professor, Dr. Maria Calatayud, said she was elated when she learned of winning the stipend, plus the $500 scholarship.

"I had never won a prestigious scholarship like this before, and I was relieved that it would take some of the financial burden off of the trip so that I could truly enjoy my time in Spain without regret," she said.

Dr. Elizabeth Combier, head of UNG's Department of Spanish, said she believes the award marks the first time a UNG Spanish student has earned national recognition.

"This is a remarkable honor and we are all very proud of Rachel. She is to be congratulated for her work ethic and her stellar academic performance as a Spanish major," Combier said. "Kudos also go to the Sigma Delta Pi advisor, Dr. Maria Calatayud, for encouraging Rachel to apply for this award."

Calatayud called Johnson a top-notch student.

"During the time I have known her, she has proven to be timely, responsible, a critical thinker and an enthusiastic scholar. In my classroom, Rachel tackles polemical issues in an insightful and reflective way. I have been impressed by her ability to effectively communicate the complex issues we cover in class," Calatayud said.

The award will fund Johnson's study abroad trip to Nerja, Spain, and the credits she earns there will count toward the last two classes for her major. Johnson plans to graduate in August with a bachelor's degree in modern languages, but her studies won't end there.

"After graduation this summer, I hope to work in translation or interpretation with Spanish. I am currently considering graduate school or seminary for the future, but I want to take some time off to explore my passions and see where to take the next step," she said.

Sigma Delta Pi, the national collegiate Hispanic honor society, is a non-profit organization founded at the University of California, Berkeley in 1919. The society is a member of the Association of College Honor Societies and partners with the American Association of Teachers of Spanish and Portuguese and the North American Academy of the Spanish Language.

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