MACON – A record five Mercerians were selected to receive Fulbright U.S. Student Awards for the 2021-2022 academic year, with one additional student selected as an alternate.
Presli Evans, Jenna Oldja, Adri Rosario, Erika Thomas and Mellie Trager were chosen as finalists and awarded Fulbright English Teaching Assistantships (ETAs) to Taiwan, Germany, Mexico, Colombia and Spain, respectively.
Anna Grace O’Neal was selected as an alternate for an ETA to Colombia and may receive an award if additional funding becomes available.
Mercer has a total of 30 student and alumni Fulbright Award recipients over the past 13 selection cycles dating back to 2010.
“I am very pleased with the quality of applications submitted by our students for the highly competitive Fulbright scholarship, and I am elated that Mercer can boast five finalists,” said Dr. Edward Weintraut, Fulbright Program advisor and professor of foreign languages and literatures at Mercer. “I would like to thank the 26 faculty and staff members on the Campus Evaluation Committee who mentored and guided our applicants through the often arduous task of completing the Fulbright application. Special kudos go to Dr. David Davis and Dr. Cameron Kunzelman for designing and overseeing a program that has made the application process more transparent and the assignments more manageable.”
Evans, from Kathleen, will graduate in May with a major in The Holistic Child from Mercer’s College of Education. Following her ETA in Taiwan, she aspires to be an elementary school teacher and pursue higher education in the fields of elementary, special and English language learner education.
“To receive this honor is very rewarding because it is directly aligned with my present work and with my career goals. It also makes great use of my passions as an educator,” said Evans. “I am very excited to share my knowledge and ideas of how students learn best, and I am eager to learn more about Taiwan’s highly successful educational efforts.”
At Mercer, Evans has been a member of the cheerleading team, Mercer Experience Team, Mercer Educators in Action and Phi Mu sorority, as well as a peer advisor. She has been named to the President’s List each semester of her undergraduate career and received the Hubert Earl Hamilton Jr. Award for Academic Excellence.
Oldja, from Charlotte, North Carolina, will graduate in May with a double-major in global health studies and religion and a minor in German from Mercer’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. She will serve as an ETA in the German state of Nordrhein-Westfalen before pursuing a career in international service.
“I decided to study global health and religion with the dream of doing service-oriented work abroad,” said Oldja. “While going to college through COVID, traveling abroad is something that was hard to see become a reality, but I am absolutely ecstatic to be offered this opportunity. Being able to apply my studies in German and global health is a dream come true, and I can’t wait to see how pursuing a Fulbright will stretch me and help shape me as a person, as well as my future career path.”
At Mercer, Oldja has worked in the Office of Undergraduate Admissions and as a resident assistant. She has been heavily involved with religious life, including serving as an intern with Wesley of Macon and a member of Baptist Collegiate Ministry. She also worked at Crisis Line & Safe House of Central Georgia as an advocate for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault.
Rosario, from Dacula, will graduate in May with a triple-major in history, southern studies and Spanish from Mercer’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Following her ETA in Mexico, she plans to pursue a master’s degree in history.
“I am honored to be selected as a finalist for the Fulbright Award,” said Rosario. “I am grateful for what Mercer’s Fulbright Committee, as well as my recommenders, have done for me. I had never envisioned being competitive for such an opportunity. As much as I am proud of my accomplishments, the recognition is also a testament to the investment that my professors have made in me over the past four years. For that, I am most grateful.”
Rosario has served as co-president of Mercer URGE, social media chair for Phi Alpha Theta history honor society and an intern with the University’s History Department. She participated in Leadership Mercer as a sophomore and served as final project director for the club as a junior. She was recently inducted into Mercer’s chapter of Phi Beta Kappa honor society and received the Carlos Flick Award for Historical Writing, Judge John Sammons Bell and Mrs. Evelyn Dame Bell Scholarship, Phi Alpha Theta Outstanding Major Award, J. Marion Roberts Award, as well as the Best Undergraduate Paper Prize at the 2021 Georgia Regional Conference of Phi Alpha Theta.
Thomas, from Blackshear, graduated in December with a bachelor’s degree in neuroscience and a minor in chemistry from Mercer’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Following her ETA in Colombia, she plans to attend medical school and become a culturally competent physician focused on health care disparities.
“I am so grateful for the opportunity to continue my cultural exploration through this Fulbright international experience,” said Thomas. “As a future health care provider, I recognize that one of the most important skills you can have is your ability to communicate and teach individuals from backgrounds and cultures different from your own. While in Colombia, I hope to also learn how Hispanic culture plays a role in the understanding and acceptance of medical care so that one day I can use this knowledge to help eradicate health disparities in this country.”
At Mercer, Thomas served as a videographer for Mercer’s ESPN3 broadcasting team, a vaccine ambassador for the Interfaith Youth Core and a study abroad ambassador. She co-founded and served as treasurer of the University’s first Hispanic health club, the Hispanic Health Organization, and was certified through Mercer’s Peace Corps Prep program.
Trager, from Lawrenceville, will graduate in May with a major in The Holistic Child from Mercer’s College of Education and a minor in Spanish from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Following her ETA in Spain, she plans to begin her teaching career or pursue a master’s degree.
“I am not positive I have even fully wrapped my mind around my upcoming Fulbright adventure abroad in Spain. Saying I am excited and honored is an understatement,” said Trager. “The opportunity to travel while becoming immersed in another country’s culture and community is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. This teaching experience will prepare me to return and start teaching in my own classroom. I am honored to have been encouraged and supported by so many leaders in the Mercer community and am thankful for the opportunity to join the Fulbright community, grow as an educator and have new experiences.”
At Mercer, Trager was a peer advisor, served on the Office of Undergraduate Admissions Special Events Team and volunteered with the Macon Miracle League. She is past president of Mercer Educators in Action and a member of Alpha Delta Pi sorority and Phi Eta Sigma, Omicron Delta Kappa, Phi Sigma Iota and Kappa Delta Epsilon honor societies. This past school year, she served as a full-time student teacher at Springdale Elementary School in kindergarten. She recently received the Kappa Delta Epsilon Outstanding Student Award at Honors Convocation and a BEAR Award at the Mercer Leadership Awards.
O’Neal, from Hahira, will graduate in May with a double-major in global health studies and Spanish and a minor in English from Mercer’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. She plans to attend William & Mary Law School in Virginia.
“The process of applying to the Fulbright Program was such a growth experience for me and opened so many doors for me to be successful after undergrad,” said O’Neal. “It’s such an honor to see all of the hard work that went into that process rewarded by making it all the way to the end and being admitted to law school. I’m so thankful for all the support that I received to get me to this point and really excited for the future.”
At Mercer, O’Neal was a peer advisor, study abroad ambassador and member of Alpha Delta Pi sorority. She participated in both the University’s Model Arab League and Model United Nations, for which she received a best delegate award at SRMUN Atlanta this past fall. She was certified through Mercer’s Peace Corp Prep program and named a Global Health Outstanding Senior at Honors Convocation.
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 400,000 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 61 Nobel Prize winners, 89 Pulitzer Prize winners, 40 current or former heads of state or government and thousands of leaders across the private, public and nonprofit sectors.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was updated on April 29 to reflect Adri Rosario being promoted from an alternate to a finalist.