Fulbright recipients 2021

MACON – Mercer University seniors Iran Hernandez, Kallysta “Kally” Jones and McPherson Newell recently earned prestigious Fulbright U.S. Student Awards.

Hernandez and Newell both received Fulbright Graduate Study Awards to England, while Jones received a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship (ETA) to Cyprus. Additionally, Class of 2020 alumna Madeline Raine Cole was named an alternate for an ETA in Italy, and seniors Vidya Ganapathy and Yasmeen Hill were selected as semifinalists.

Mercer’s three latest Fulbrighters bring the institution’s total number of Fulbright recipients to 25 since 2010.

“This year, 15 Mercer seniors applied for a Fulbright Scholarship. What is unique about this cohort is that for the first time more students applied for Study/Research Scholarships than English Teaching Assistantships. In fact, twice as many students applied for study/research opportunities. In 2019, 75% of Mercer applicants opted for the ETA. In 2020, 67% pursued the study/research option. This suggests that Mercer’s ongoing encouragement of undergraduate research is paying handsome dividends, as several of our most accomplished graduates are being recognized by this prestigious international distinction,” said Dr. Edward Weintraut, Fulbright Program adviser and professor of foreign languages and literatures at Mercer.

Hernandez, from Kennesaw, is majoring in mechanical engineering with a minor in economics. She will pursue a one-year master’s degree in automotive engineering at Coventry University and receive an offer of a placement at iconic British luxury sports car maker Aston Martin.

Iran Hernandez

“I am so grateful for the chance to continue learning through this international experience that will further develop my sense of global collaboration, be a crucial step towards achieving my aspirations of helping decarbonize global emissions and continue to give me the opportunity to build bridges with the possibility of helping others,” said Hernandez. “I am also so grateful for all the continuous support and advice that I received at Mercer, especially from Dr. Stephen Hill, Dr. Joanna Thomas, August Armbrister, Dr. Kleio Avrithi, Dr. David Davis and Dr. Andres Marroquin.”

At Mercer, Hernandez has participated in research with Dr. Stephen Hill, associate dean and associate professor of mechanical engineering, on an evaporation box for desalinizing water. She also participated in a National Sciences Foundation Research Experience for Undergraduates at Indiana University – Purdue University Indianapolis.

She is a student leader at Mercer ESPN Broadcasting, study abroad ambassador, club soccer player and former treasurer of the Aces Up Card Club.

Upon returning from England, Hernandez plans to pursue a Ph.D. at Duke University and work in research and development in the automotive industry.

Jones, from Dallas, is majoring in international affairs with minors in Spanish, English, religion and diplomacy. She will serve as an ETA in Cyprus from September 2021-June 2022.

Kallysta Jones

“Receiving the notification that I had won the Fulbright was relieving as well as somewhat unexpected. I knew of the high level of competition going into the application process and that made me momentarily backtrack and doubt myself if I’m being completely honest. But with a little nudge from the right mentors, I persevered,” said Jones. “This entire experience has taught me to have faith in myself and to finish what I start because you’ll never know what the result of something will be until you try. So, it’s safe to say that receiving this Fulbright opportunity has given me more than the chance of a lifetime and potential career advancements. It has also restored my confidence in myself again.”

At Mercer, Jones has participated in a Mercer On Mission trip to Mongolia, ​served as a United Way Read United elementary school tutor, peer adviser, co-president of Model Arab League, Student Government Association senator, intern at the Bibb County District Attorney’s Office and member of Phi Beta Kappa and the Spanish Club.

She received a Peace Corps Prep Certificate, was selected to the Teach Thailand Corps and was named to the Dean’s List in seven of eight semesters.

Upon returning from Cyprus, Jones plans to pursue a master’s degree in international affairs and a career in the U.S. Foreign Service.

Newell, from Augusta, is majoring in biomedical engineering. They will pursue a one-year master’s degree in disability studies from the University of Leeds, one of the top 10 institutions in the United Kingdom for social policy and an international leader in the field of disability studies.

McPherson Newell
McPherson Newell

“I am honored to be named a Fulbright recipient and am thrilled to pursue this degree, which will strengthen my knowledge of sociological and structural issues affecting disabled people and will allow me to learn more about comparative policy evaluation,” said Newell. “Combining this program with my background and future studies and research in engineering is an exciting opportunity to pursue interdisciplinary collaboration and make engineering curricula and research more affirming of disabled students. I am incredibly grateful to the Mercer community, especially my mentors Dr. Michael MacCarthy, Dr. Doe Buchli and Mrs. Monica Resto-Fernandez, as well as Dr. Ann Reinthal from Cleveland State University, for their immense support, guidance and encouragement.”

Newell is a Goldwater Scholar, Stamps Scholar, Newman Civic Fellow and a finalist for the Truman Scholarship.

They served three terms as president of Common Ground, the University’s LGBTQ+ and ally organization; as co-chair of the Rainbow Connection Committee, a student-led initiative to provide Mercer faculty and staff with information and resources to create an affirming environment for LGBTQ+ students; and a Disability:IN NextGen Leader, a national program for college students and recent graduates with disabilities who have demonstrated talent and leadership in the STEM, finance and business fields. They will receive the Louie D. Newton General Excellence Medal at this year’s commencement and previously received the Outstanding Graduate in Biomedical Engineering and Department of Mathematics Outstanding Student awards and Mercer Seed Research and Visionary Student Panel grants.

Upon returning from England, Newell plans to pursue a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering and a professorship in rehabilitation engineering at a research university, where they will advocate for accessibility in academia, conduct research on low-cost assistive technology and create research opportunities for LGBTQ+ and disabled students.

Cole, from Macon, earned her bachelor’s degree from Mercer in May 2020 with a major in English literature and minor in global development studies. She wrote her University Honors Program thesis on slave narratives in Toni Morrison’s and Jesmyn Ward’s novels and stressed the importance of retelling stories of trauma to future generations.

Madeline Raine Cole

Upon graduation, she moved to Thailand where she has taught English as a second language to first- through fourth-year students at a public Buddhist elementary school over the past year. She was awarded “Most Engaged in Community” by the Yonok Foundation and Teach Thailand Corps.

Cole speaks Italian and is studying Thai written and spoken language. She aspires to a career researching and teaching intersectional identities in Southern fiction and creative nonfiction.

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 60 Nobel Prize winners, 88 Pulitzer Prize winners, 37 current or former heads of state or government and thousands of leaders across the private, public and nonprofit sectors.