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11 UNG alumni and seniors named Fulbright semifinalists

Eleven UNG students and alumni were selected as semifinalists for the Fulbright U.S. Student Program. They are Madelyn Beacham, Bethany Duquette, Karley Mathews, Mark Millwood, Ashlynn Nash, Emile Phommavongsy, Benny Purk, Kelly Reid, Candace Seabolt, Alina Thurman, and Alaina Whitmore.

University of North Georgia (UNG) alumnus Bernhard "Benny" Purk has visited Germany several times for family visits, a study abroad and an internship for credit toward his international affairs degree. But it wasn't enough for the 22-year-old from Cleveland, Georgia.

"I've never spent more than three months in Germany," said Purk, who speaks German at home with his parents. His mother moved to the United States from Germany when she was 19. His father and grandparents also speak German. "I really want to experience and immerse myself in the culture."

He is one step closer to achieving his goal. This month, Purk and 10 other UNG students and alumni were selected as semifinalists for the Fulbright U.S. Student Program. The highly competitive fellowship enables graduates to pursue research or teach abroad overseas.

The other 10 Fulbright semifinalists are:

Whitmore said her heart was pounding when she checked the portal to find out her status.

"It was exciting and humbling," she said. "All of us worked for months. It feels good to know that we put in the work and actually had the courage to press the submit button. I am excited that some of us will have the chance to meet the people who are making the selection during the next phase of interviews."

Dr. Anastasia Lin, assistant vice president of research and engagement at UNG, said this year's applicants all worked extremely hard to prepare solid applications to submit to Fulbright.

"We are incredibly proud of the thoughtfulness each put into the process, and we are thrilled to see many students moving forward in the competition or others redoubling their efforts and trying again," she said.

Among the semifinalists, a couple of "firsts" and "seconds" deserve recognition. Thurman is the first limited term faculty member to apply and be selected as a semifinalist. Seabolt is the first student who started her collegiate career from UNG's Blue Ridge Campus to be named a semifinalist.

Beacham was selected as a Critical Language Scholarship semifinalist in January, and is the first UNG graduate applying for a master's degree to be named a semifinalist. The other 10 aim to be English Teaching Assistants (ETA), which involves educating students ranging from elementary school to college.

Alumni Purk, Reid and Thurman are applying for the Fulbright for the second time. Purk and Reid were deemed semifinalists last year, but fell short of earning the finalist classification. Thurman applied two years ago.

Since then, all have improved their chances through different experiences. Reid was a finalist in the Fulbright Austria program and worked with the Austria Federal Ministry of Education, Science and Research for the 2019-20 academic year. Purk volunteered at UNG's Center for Language Education and earned a Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) certificate. Thurman began lecturing at UNG after she applied the first time.

"I hope that will give me a boost and show that I am not going to give up," he said. "After not getting it last year, I realized this is what I would really like to do. So I am motivated to pursue this path."

Students interested in learning more about nationally competitive scholarships should contact for more information.

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