Georgia College has produced four semi-finalists for U.S. Fulbright Scholarships – an impressive feat for a university its size.
The renowned, worldwide exchange program gives students and graduates the opportunity to study, teach or conduct advanced research in over 140 countries. More than 360,000 Fulbright recipients have participated in the program since its inception in 1946.
Since record keeping began in the 1970s — only one Georgia College graduate has ever received the Fulbright. That was to Mongolia in 2012. Thirteen students and recent graduates applied this year.
“Awards such as the Fulbright are one measure of excellence and preeminence,” said Dr. Kelli R. Brown, provost and vice president for academic affairs.
“Our students are some of the best in the state,” Brown said. “Having four Fulbright semi-finalists is a testament not only to our students, but also the faculty and staff that work with them.”
The semi-finalists are: graduate biology student Audrey Waits of Charlotte, North Carolina, who hopes to research pathogenic bacteria in reindeer with researchers from the Thule Institute at the University of Oulu in Finland; senior honors student and mathematics major Samantha Clapp of Rockmart, who hopes to spend two semesters in the Budapest Semesters in Mathematics program in Hungary and doing research at the Alfréd Rényi Institute of Mathematics in Budapest; senior honors student and economics/history major Kevin Morris of Savannah, who hopes to spend nine months as an English Teaching Assistant in Macedonia; and 2013 theatre graduate and honors alumna Anna Fontaine of Stockbridge, who hopes to complete a master’s of fine arts in international acting at the University of Essex in Loughton, England.
About half of all semi-finalists become final recipients, said Anna Whiteside, assistant director of the Honors Program and coordinator of the National Scholarships Office at Georgia College. Final status will be announced by May from embassies in countries the applicants chose.
Selection for the Fulbright U.S. Student Program is rigorous. More than 3,600 candidates are recommended by 157 subsections of a national screening committee composed of 457 senior faculty and professionals. In the U.S., about 1,900 grants are awarded annually in all fields of study.
“The Fulbright Scholarship is one of the nation’s most prestigious postgraduate fellowships,” Whiteside said. “The fact that we have semi-finalists in a broad range of disciplines – STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics), social science, humanities and the arts – really shows the degree to which Georgia College prepares our students and graduates to compete on the national stage.”
Audrey Waits said she wouldn’t have felt confident enough to apply for the Fulbright without Biology Professor Dr. Kenneth Saladin’s encouragement and her experience in the lab with Dr. Indiren Pillay, chair of biology and environmental sciences. Working toward a career in medicine, Waits is one of several Georgia College students to discover a new bacteriophage through microbiology research.
In Finland, she hopes to explore how temperature affects pathogenic bacterial populations found in reindeer herds. Waits would take classes in Arctic Health and study Finnish, while learning about challenges Sami reindeer herds face in a changing climate.
“I also want to see the Northern Lights, meet a reindeer and experience living abroad,” she said.
Samantha Clapp spent a summer in Bothell, Washington, doing undergraduate research in math. That experience prompted her to apply for the Fulbright. She’s always wanted to study abroad and live in a different culture. The opportunity would also prepare her to get a Ph.D. in math.
“Hungarians are strong in many areas of mathematics, and I’m interested to learn math from a new perspective,” said Clapp, who’s minoring in French and computer science. She wants to expand and strengthen her mathematical abilities and someday work for a company like Boeing or government agency like the National Institute of Health (NIH).
“The Fulbright Scholarship definitely felt like one of those big, scary, awesome, I-am-never-going-to-get-it things,” Clapp said. “But becoming a semi-finalist makes it seem more possible. I am really happy to make it this far.”
Anna Fontaine works as an actor and theatre-education artist in Atlanta. She applied for the Fulbright to deepen skills and pursue a master’s degree. She hopes to study 20 months at the East 15 Drama School in Loughton, England, about 20 miles from London.
This opportunity would allow Fontaine to work with an international ensemble, perform on the global stage, see shows and participate in theatre outreach. For her final project, she plans to devise a show inspired by Shakespeare, incorporating stories from local migrants.
“I hope to lay the foundation for something I can continue to develop through my career,” she said, “and bring back to the states a means of community outreach to any group that feels disconnected from society.”
Kevin Morris applied for a Fulbright to serve communities in Macedonia that lack resources taken for granted in America. Minoring in international studies, Morris spent last summer as a regional security intern at the U.S. Embassy in Skopje. There, he learned people in Macedonia struggle with poverty, tense interethnic relations and a corrupt government. He hopes to go back and teach American Civics, as well as English. He also plans to use community theatre to facilitate public forums on racism, religious bigotry and politics.
“The people inspired me with their humor, insight and hospitality,” he said. “I have great faith in the people of Macedonia to overcome their differences and effectively address the obstacles that impede their progress toward prosperity.”
Morris wants to someday work for the U.S. State Department as a foreign service officer. The Fulbright would be a strong step in meeting that goal, he said.
“I feel pretty excited! Even if I don’t make it any further, just to be recommended as a semi-finalist is a huge validation of my work on and off campus,” he said. “From here on out, I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed!”