MACON – For the second time in four years, Mercer University had a total of three current students or recent alumni selected to receive prestigious Fulbright U.S. Student Awards in a single year. This record-tying number brings Mercer’s overall tally of Fulbrighters to 13 since 2010.
Senior Aaron Scherf will perform research in Germany for 10 months during the upcoming academic year, while senior Alayna Williams and alumnus David Wildes will serve as Fulbright English Teaching Assistants (ETAs) in South Africa and Spain, respectively.
These three Mercerians are among more than 1,200 U.S. citizens who will teach, conduct research and provide expertise abroad for the 2016-2017 school year through the program, sponsored by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs. Students are selected based on academic and professional achievement as well as record of service and demonstrated leadership in their respective fields.
“Over the years, Mercer has had a number of exceptional students apply for the Fulbright. In addition to 13 award recipients, six other students have qualified as semifinalists,” said Dr. Edward Weintraut, associate dean in the College of Liberal Arts, professor of German and faculty adviser to the University’s Fulbright applicants. “Our faculty excels at mentoring students on their proposed projects, and our local screening committee works diligently with students as they refine the components of their applications every September. We are very proud of the accomplishments of our Fulbright applicants.”
Scherf, from Acworth, is a triple-major in international business, finance and economics with minors in global development studies and management. While in Germany, he will pursue a research project investigating the effect of housing conditions on cultural integration and well-being of refugees in the city of Heidelberg.
He will work with the Centre for Social Investment at the University of Heidelberg and the Centre for European Economic Research to determine whether refugees display different rates of language acquisition or job placement depending on whether they are living in centralized, camp-style housing or decentralized, urban housing. He will also take sociological research and policy courses at the University of Heidelberg, as well as intensive German language courses. Ultimately, he aims to create a comprehensive report to deliver to German policymakers to better inform decision-making regarding refugee housing.
“The Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program is more than just a research grant or study abroad trip – it is a network of scholars across the world united by a belief in intercultural exchange and driven by the pursuit of knowledge. Being accepted as a part of this community is both an honor and a responsibility. It means that an elite group of intellectuals believes that you are worthy of upholding the Fulbright name and also charges you with advancing those values and serving constantly as a representative of the program,” said Scherf. “Since the program is an initiative of the federal government, this award also means you serve as a cultural ambassador of the United States of America. It’s an incredibly exciting opportunity, but I can’t help but be a little nervous when I think of the weight of my upcoming responsibilities. Thanks to all of the incredible support and guidance I’ve received at Mercer, however, I feel well prepared to take on the year ahead.”
Upon completion of his Fulbright Award, Scherf hopes to pursue a master’s degree in international development or international trade and investment policy, or continue to seek startup funding for LandLink, a social enterprise company he founded to provide secure registries for land deeds.
As a student, he is the current vice president of the Student Government Association, and is an active member of Lambda Chi Alpha social fraternity, Delta Sigma Pi professional business fraternity and the Enactus Social Entrepreneurship Team, which he founded. He is a Stamps Foundation Leadership Scholar, James T. McAfee Endowed Vision and Leadership Scholar, Visionary Student with the Research that Reaches Out Office, peer adviser and former director of the Bear Bikes program.
Williams, from Macon, is a triple-major in international affairs, Spanish and women’s and gender studies.
While in South Africa, she will serve as an ETA, and she also hopes to implement a debate program – similar to one she helped start as part of a Mercer On Mission trip to the country last summer – as well as teach dance as a method of community building.
“I am thrilled to return to South Africa, a nation that welcomed me with open arms for three months last summer,” said Williams. “I hope to develop a deeper understanding of how schools in South Africa are addressing racial and economic inequality, and ultimately bring those lessons back to the United States, which still struggles with these same issues. I am so thankful to all of my dedicated professors who guided me through the application process and encouraged me to explore my role in the global community throughout my four years at Mercer.”
Upon completion of her Fulbright Award, Williams hopes to pursue a graduate degree in international affairs.
As a student, she is co-captain of the dance team, co-president of the Mercer International Mock Conference Association and a Mercer Service Scholar. She has participated in Mercer On Mission experiences in India and South Africa and served as an Athletic Department tutor in Spanish and a teaching assistant in international affairs. She is a member of Mercer’s Zeta of Georgia Chapter of The Phi Beta Kappa Society and a recipient of the Walter F. Dowling Award for Excellence in International Studies.
Wildes, from Valdosta, graduated in 2016 with a Bachelor of Arts in international affairs, Spanish and political science with University Honors. While in Spain, he will serve as an ETA in the region of Galicia.
“Receiving the Fulbright Award has been the single most satisfying validation of my studies at Mercer and my work as a teaching assistant,” said Wildes. “I hope to learn more about the Spanish culture and gain valuable experience as an English teacher abroad.”
Upon completion of his Fulbright Award, Wildes hopes to pursue a graduate degree in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) or linguistics.
As a student, he was a Stamps Foundation Leadership Scholar and a member of Mercer’s Zeta of Georgia Chapter of The Phi Beta Kappa Society, Lambda Chi Alpha Fraternity, the Student Government Association, peer adviser program and Model Arab League. He studied abroad for a semester at Oxford University’s Regent’s Park College and for a summer at the Center for Cross-Cultural Studies in Seville, Spain.
Upon graduation from Mercer, he completed a Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) certification program at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., and served as a volunteer English as a Second Language (ESL) teaching assistant at Wake Technical Community College in Raleigh, North Carolina. He currently serves as student activities coordinator at Georgia Military College in Warner Robins.
Scherf, Williams and Wildes have all participated in Mercer’s University Honors Program.
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. Senator J. William Fulbright of Arkansas. Since then, it has given more than 370,000 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 57 who have been awarded the Nobel Prize, 82 who have received Pulitzer Prizes, and 37 who have served as a head of state or government.
For more information on the Fulbright Program or the U.S. Department of State, visit eca.state.gov/fulbright.