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UNG students earn full ride to graduate school

John Dees grad school
John Dees (pictured) and Melinda Johnson accepted graduate school offers with a combined worth of more than half a million dollars, and will begin the next chapters in their education this fall.

John Dees and Melinda Johnson, both of whom graduated this spring from the University of North Georgia (UNG), have accepted graduate school offers from major universities that include five years of tuition coverage and annual stipends totaling $580,000.

Dees' offer from the University of California – Berkeley includes a $30,000 annual stipend and medical and dental insurance, an overall value of nearly $250,000. Johnson's offer from Emory University includes the same with a $22,000 annual stipend, an overall value of more than $350,000.

Dees and Johnson both participated in undergraduate research while at UNG.

"One of the great gifts given by UNG's embrace of its access mission is providing opportunities for students like Mr. Dees and Ms. Johnson to compete successfully on the national stage," said Dr. Andy Novobilski, UNG's associate provost for research and engagement and chief research officer. "We're proud of their accomplishments and I look forward to seeing them take their place as fellow faculty colleagues sometime in the future."

Melinda Johnson
Johnson and her husband Neil after UNG's spring 2015 graduation.

Dees, who earned a Bachelor of Science degree in environmental and spatial analysis in May, plans to pursue a doctoral degree through UC Berkeley's Energy and Resources Group graduate program. Dees wants to apply his geospatial background to natural resource and land-use challenges and work in the field following graduation. Eventually, he wants to return to academia as a professor.

"John's success is a product of his hard work, ingenuity, and interest in a wide variety of subjects," said Dr. Anastasia Lin, assistant dean of student research and scholarship. "He consistently pulls from a wide array of fields in his research, creating dynamic, interdisciplinary projects. It's this interest in going above and beyond that has secured him a place at Berkeley."

The Berkeley award is not the first accolade for Dees, who was a supplemental instruction facilitator and teaching assistant in the Lewis F. Rogers Institute for Environmental and Spatial Analysis at UNG. In his junior year at UNG, he earned an Udall Scholarship, one of only 50 in the nation.

Dees said during his visit to UC Berkeley, he already could see that UNG has prepared him well to succeed in a top-tier graduate school.

"One of the first things that surfaced in my mind was how incredibly proud I am to have gone to the University of North Georgia," Dees said. "I had just toured one of the top 5 internationally ranked schools with great programs and funding, and I realized that when it comes to education, quality faculty, unique programs and curriculum, UNG is really good at what it does, with many benefits that bigger research universities struggle with. I met some amazing faculty out there, but they are no more amazing than my mentors back home."

Johnson earned a Bachelor of Science degree in sociology from UNG, and plans to continue research she began during a trip to India with fellow students, Instructor Anjana Freeman, and Dr. Carly Redding, assistant professor of human services delivery and administration.

"While working in India as a research assistant for Dr. Redding, I also did my own research on religious beliefs and teachings and how they may impact perceptions of the poor," Johnson said. "I wrote a paper from that research that I presented at several conferences, and that I also included in my applications to graduate school."

In January, Johnson participated in a selective recruitment event at Emory, where she was one of only 16 students invited out of 200 applicants.

"Most of the other students invited to the event already had graduate degrees, and some of them were from Ivy League schools," Johnson said.

Less than a week later, she received a letter of acceptance from Emory.

"Melinda is bright, energetic and skillful, and has far exceeded any of my expectations. She has enormous potential and remarkable qualities as a student and researcher," Redding said. "But what makes her stand out most is her curiosity to learn. She has the ability to draw upon her life experiences, critically and creatively, and to develop thoughtful, insightful ideas. She is most deserving of this scholarship and I have no doubt she will excel in the program."

Johnson begins her doctoral program in sociology in August, and plans for her area of concentration to be in economic inequality and poverty with a minor area in religion. She wants to examine how these factors interact in perceptions of the poor and in human trafficking, and plans to take several more trips to India.

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