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Thirteen students selected as Fulbright semifinalists

2019-02-04-Fulbright logo-border
Thirteen University of North Georgia students were named Fulbright semifinalists in late January 2019. It is a record number of semifinalists who represent multiple departments, demonstrating the depth of our academic programs.

When Melissa Silva enrolled at the University of North Georgia (UNG), she concentrated on her academic work.

"I was so focused on going to class, doing my homework assignments and working," said Silva, who works as a paraprofessional at a South Hall County school. "I didn't think I had time for essays and scholarship applications."

Then Dr. Alexander Wisnoski, assistant professor of history, inspired the 21-year-old from Gainesville, Georgia, to apply for a national scholarship, the Fulbright U.S. Student Program. The highly competitive fellowship enables graduates to pursue academic endeavors overseas.

"My professor said we needed to do undergraduate research or study abroad. He said we need to do something that makes us standout from the rest," she said. "That is when it hit me that I needed to try."

Silva has tried and succeeded. Along with receiving an Early Summer Gilman scholarship, she is one of 13 UNG students who were named Fulbright semifinalists in late January 2019.

"I was so happy and elated when I got the email," said Silva, a senior pursuing a degree in Spanish with a minor in communications who hopes to study in Kyrgyz Republic. "I started jumping up and down."

The other 12 students named Fulbright semifinalists are:

  • Bernice Bonifacio, a senior pursuing a degree in marketing with a minor in Korean, hopes to study in South Korea.
  • Marcel Cantu, a senior pursuing a degree in in English education, hopes to study in Thailand.
  • Lindsey Collier, a 2017 graduate student pursuing a Master of Arts in International Affairs, hopes to study in Ukraine.
  • Jillian Jay, a senior pursuing a degree in biology and minor in psychology, hopes to study in Turkey.
  • Jenna Labbie, a senior pursuing a degree in history and secondary education, hopes to study in Taiwan.
  • Monica Pizano, a senior pursuing a degree in Spanish with a minor in English, hopes to study in Lithuania.
  • Bernhard Purk, a 2018 graduate with a degree in international affairs with a European concentration, hopes to study in Germany.
  • Kelly Reid, a senior pursuing a degree in athletic training with a minor in German and business administration, hopes to study in Germany.
  • Petrus Schoeman, a 2018 graduate with a degree in computer science with a minor in Chinese and Russian, hopes to study in Russia.
  • Emily Symmes, a senior pursuing a degree in Russian with a minor in Spanish, hopes to study in Republic of Kazakhstan.
  • Caitlyn Webb, a senior pursuing a degree in history education with a minor in Spanish, hopes to study in Indonesia.
  • Emily Werner, a 2018 graduate with a degree in Spanish and minor in Korean, hopes to study in South Korea.

"We are thrilled to have 13 UNG students selected as semifinalists for the Fulbright. This record number of semifinalists represent multiple departments, demonstrating the depth of our academic programs," said Dr. Anastasia Lin, assistant vice president of research and engagement. "We hope that seeing so many students recognized as semifinalists on a national level will inspire future applicants to try for scholarships like the Fulbright.”

UNG has been recognized on the national level as one of the top-producing universities of Fulbright students and scholars. For the 2017-18 academic year, eight UNG students were awarded Fulbright grants. UNG and Emory University were the only two universities in Georgia, public or private, to be designated as top producers of U.S. Fulbright students in 2018.  

All 13 semifinalists for the 2018-19 academic year are applying to be English Teaching Assistants. The next step for the students involves them being interviewed by their selected countries. Finalists are expected to be notified in April.

Jay, a 22-year-old from Stone Mountain, Georgia, hopes to be one of the lucky few.

"I'm ready to explore a different part of my life," she said. "It's a good time to go, because I'm only responsible for myself."

If selected as a finalist, Jay plans to use the yearlong experience as a "gap year" between her undergraduate degree and medical school.

"I can figure out what kind of medicine I want to do in the future," she said, explaining connecting with people of a different culture and country can help with her future profession. "I don't want to go into medicine to become just another doctor. I want to be creative in treating patients and change the methods in how we help them."

Labbie, a 21-year-old from Locust Grove, Georgia, said if she becomes a finalist it will help her become a better teacher.

"If you can teach English in a foreign country, you learn how to break down concepts in different ways," she said. "The experience will also help me understand how children from a different culture learn in a different way. And the better I understand them, the better I can help them learn."

If she doesn't become a finalist, Labbie admitted the application process has helped her another way. She explained writing the essays will help her when she applies to graduate school in the future.

"I know I want to get my Ph.D in history and one day teach college," she said.

Collier, from Dawsonville, Georgia, has already been teaching English in Russia for a couple of years, and hopes to continue with the Fulbright in Ukraine. She explained she selected Ukraine because it will keep her in the same region and provide her the chance to learn a third language.

"Ukraine is at a fundamental crossroads between its Soviet history and its Western neighbors, which is fascinating and very appealing to me as a student as well as an individual," she said, adding none of it is possible without the national scholarship. "Fulbright opens doors for anyone in any field, and I’m confident that if I’m granted the opportunity to be a Fulbright scholar, my career aspects will widen significantly."

Students interested in learning more about nationally competitive scholarships should contact ncs@ung.edu for more information.

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