MACON – Mercer University Class of 2020 graduates Jessica Lewis and Johna Wright recently received prestigious Fulbright U.S. Student Awards to Spain and Finland, respectively, bringing the institution’s total number of Fulbright recipients to five – the most ever in a single academic year – for 2019-2020.
Lewis, from Hilliard, Ohio, is double-majoring in holistic child education and Spanish. She will serve as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant (ETA) in the Canary Islands, teaching students ages 3-5 or 6-12.
“While teaching English in Spain last summer, I learned about the country’s rich culture through the experiences of my students. I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to return to Spain with the Fulbright and to continue teaching English and creating a cultural exchange with students. I am excited to incorporate what I learn in the Fulbright program into my classrooms in the United States,” said Lewis.
“I am so appreciative of the faculty members in the Tift College of Education, Spanish Department and Mercer Service Scholars program, as well as the faculty at Springdale Elementary School for their support, mentorship and inspiration that has encouraged my growth as a global citizen and educator.”
Upon returning from Spain, Lewis plans to obtain her English to Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) certificate and teach English learners in American public schools.
As a Mercer Service Scholar, Lewis created an after-school reading program for English learners at a local elementary school.
She served as a participant in the University Honors Program, a Study Abroad Ambassador, co-president of Mercer Educators in Action, a peer advisor and treasurer of Kappa Delta Epsilon professional fraternity for students in education. She also earned the Kappa Delta Epsilon Outstanding Student Award.
Lewis studied abroad at the University of Chichester in the United Kingdom, traveled to Cape Town, South Africa, with Mercer On Mission and studied Spanish and taught English in Seville, Spain.
“I am extremely proud of Jessie and thrilled that she has been offered this experience,” said Dr. Sybil Keesbury, associate professor of education and director of the holistic child program. “As a holistic child major, I have had the pleasure to watch her teach in multiple settings here in the Bibb County Schools. On top of these experiences, she has had many opportunities to teach abroad and grow as a global educator. She is an engaged and passionate teacher who deserves this great honor and opportunity.”
Wright, from Thomson, is majoring in psychology with a minor in English. She will apply a Fulbright Graduate Study Award toward pursuing a master’s degree in comparative social policy and welfare at Tampere University in Tampere, Finland. The two-year program is jointly organized with Johannes Kepler University in Linz, Austria, and provides students with one-to-one mentoring.
“As a blind student who has faced discrimination and ableism throughout my life, this prestigious award represents passion, determination and hope. Throughout my time at Mercer, I’ve come to realize that I’ve been charged with the task of preventing that discrimination and ableism from being an unfortunate reality for disabled people. I have also uncovered a true passion for taking on this challenge and standing up for my disabled brothers and sisters,” said Wright.
“Mercer has also paved the way for me to persist through obstacles that make things seem impossible. The professors and mentors I’ve come to know and love have forced me to see the potential I have to spark positive change in the world, even when it seemed as though many people only saw me as a disability and not as a person. As Dr. David Davis has said, ‘We’re not going to let this go.’ Lastly, Mercer has given me hope – hope that there will one day be a society where inclusion is the norm and disabled people aren’t praised for simply existing or infantilized when attempting to live independently. This passion, determination and hope that Mercer has instilled in me is symbolized through the Fulbright award that I am beyond humbled and beyond grateful to receive.”
Upon the completion of her master’s degree program, Wright aspires to begin a career with a multinational entity, such as the European Union, to utilize her skills and knowledge of social policy to advocate for the inclusion of disabled people globally.
At Mercer, Wright founded and directed ABLE Mercer, a peer-mentoring program and campus organization for students with disabilities.
She served as a lab manager and research assistant for Dr. Sara Appleby’s Psychology and Law course, a Mercer Service Scholar, a Study Abroad Ambassador, MerServe social media chair, a student justice, a writing preceptor, a student worker in the Office of ACCESS and Accommodation, and a member of Phi Eta Sigma, the psychology club, Psi Chi psychology honor society member, as well as a roundtable chair at the 2019 American Society of Criminology Annual Conference.
Wright is an active member and scholarship recipient of the National Federation of the Blind, board member and social media coordinator for the National Association of Blind Students, as well as a lobbyist, Disability:IN Next Generation Leader, American Red Cross disaster volunteer and shelter manager.
She has received the Benjamin A. Gilman Scholarship, was invited to serve Peace Corps in Macedonia, was a 2019 Newman Civic Fellow, received the Outstanding Junior in Psychology, Outstanding Senior in Psychology and Preceptor Scholar awards and earned funding from the University’s Visionary Student Panel. She also studied abroad in South Africa, Sweden and the United Kingdom.
“I think I speak for the whole Psychology Department when I say that Johna Wright is an extraordinary young woman and the true embodiment of the Mercer spirit,” said Dr. Appleby, assistant professor of psychology. “I personally cannot think of anyone more deserving of this award. Johna is a tireless advocate for people with disabilities, and I know I am a better person for having worked alongside her for the past four years. I am excited to see what her future holds.”
The Fulbright Program is the flagship international educational exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government and is designed to build relations between the people of the United States and the people of other countries that are needed to solve global challenges. The program is funded through an annual appropriation made by the U.S. Congress to the U.S. Department of State. Participating governments and host institutions, corporations and foundations around the world also provide direct and indirect support to the program, which operates in more than 160 countries worldwide.
The program was established in 1946 under legislation introduced by U.S. Sen. J. William Fulbright of Arkansas. Since then, it has given more than 390,000 students, scholars, teachers, artists and scientists the opportunity to study, teach and conduct research, exchange ideas and contribute to finding solutions to shared international concerns.
Fulbright alumni have achieved distinction in many fields, including 60 Nobel Prize winners, 86 Pulitzer Prize winners, 37 current or former heads of state or government and thousands of leaders across the private, public and nonprofit sectors.