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Senior psychology major wins national ACE Student of the Year

February 27, 2019

For 3 1/2 years, Brendyn Melugin served in the U.S. Army as a paratrooper until an injury changed his trajectory. Melugin was medically discharged in May 2016 and decided to serve his country in another way.

The Cincinnati, Ohio, native set his sights on working for the Army Research Institute in a civilian capacity. But first, he needed a degree.

Melugin enrolled at the University of North Georgia (UNG) to pursue a degree in psychology. He also knew he needed to complete his degree in 36 months, which was the financial limit of the GI Bill. To finish in that time frame, Melugin leveraged the American Council on Education (ACE) Military Evaluations program to gain college credit for his military training which had been evaluated by ACE.

"Their program helped me receive between 12 and 16 college credits based on my military experience and training," Melugin said, explaining the credits counted toward his elective courses. "This saved me at least a semester of time."

Melugin put the time to good use. He participated in undergraduate research projects, served in a leadership role with the Student Veterans of America, conducted independent research for UNG's Psychological Science department, and worked for the BB&T Center for Ethical Leadership within the Mike Cottrell College of Business.

"I gained experience and income while I've been a student," he said.

All of Melugin's extracurricular activities paid off. He was named the national ACE Student of the Year, which is presented annually to an adult learner who has benefited from the use of ACE credit recommendations to earn a college degree or advance a career.

"It was really surprising to me," the 26-year-old from Norcross, Georgia, said. "I went in applying for it as shot in dark. I didn't think I would be a finalist, let alone win it."

Melugin said he was in shock and disbelief when he learned the news. That quickly subsided when he called his wife, who is a UNG alumna.

"There was a lot of positive yelling and cheering on the phone," he said. "I got the hint that she was jumping up and down."

ACE Student of the Year award winners must demonstrate:

  • Continued success in academic, professional, personal, and community endeavors.
  • Extraordinary achievement in his or her community or workplace while successfully balancing the demands of family, career, and education.
  • Inspiration to others in setting high educational goals.

In addition to the winning the competitive award — which is a first for UNG — he received $1,000 for his future education. Melugin, who will graduate in December 2019, plans to use it toward graduate school.

"Anything that helps for my education will be great," he said, adding the assistance ACE provided by securing him his elective credits helped in immeasurable ways. "ACE credits allowed me to further my career, and grad school wouldn't be as attainable without it."

In fact, since Melugin had time to participate in undergraduate research projects such as Faculty Undergraduate Summer Engagement (FUSE), he was able to solidify his plans for the future.

"Because I received a FUSE grant and one-on-one mentorship with a faculty member, I decided to pursue grad school," Melugin said. "It helped me find a new passion."

Now that new passion is leading him to graduate school and, propitiously, the Army Research Institute. He also hopes his story will inspire others to utilize ACE's program.

"I think my award will show the rest of veterans that we can win scholarships," he said.

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