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Four UNG seniors, graduates named Fulbright scholars
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University of North Georgia senior Melissa Silva was one of 13 students at the university selected as semifinalists for Fulbright scholarships with hopes of studying abroad. Silva has now been named a Fulbright scholar. - photo by Scott Rogers

It took some prodding to get Melissa Silva to even apply for the prestigious Fulbright Program, but a nudge in the right direction has paid off big time.

Silva, 21, was awarded the fellowship this week along with another senior at UNG and two alums.

“I was sitting in a Latin American history class, and my professor said … your degree is worth nothing, so you should do something to make you more sellable to an employer,” Silva told The Times in March. “Study abroad, do research … do something to make you stand out. That’s when it hit me.”

Silva, a Gainesville native, plans to spend this summer abroad in Spain utilizing another scholarship she received to gain invaluable worldly experience. She will then graduate from UNG in August with a degree in Spanish language and literature before leaving for the Kyrgyz Republic for a 10-month Fulbright stint.

The graduate of East Hall High is currently employed as a paraprofessional teaching assistant at South Hall Middle School.

Silva was one of 13 UNG students selected as Fulbright semifinalists for the 2018-19 academic year, a record amount for the school.

The competitive program provides grants for study and research projects, or for English teaching assistant programs, hosted abroad.

According to the program description, “Students submit a ‘Statement of Grant Purpose’ defining activities to take place during one academic year in a participating country outside the U.S.”

The U.S. Fulbright program has seen about 5,000 applicants annually in recent years, with about 800, on average, ultimately selected to receive the award.

Silva is fluent in both English and Spanish. And said she hopes to learn a third language during her time in the Kyrgyz Republic, a Central Asian country once traversed by the ancient Silk Road, where the official languages are Kyrgyz and Russian.

Silva is joined by classmate Marcel Cantu, and UNG alumni Petrus Schoeman and Caitlyn Webb as Fulbright winners.

Cantu will graduate in May with a degree in English for secondary education, and plans to teach abroad in Thailand.

Schoeman, who graduated with a degree in computer science, will teach in Russia.

And Webb, who graduated with a degree in history education, will teach in Indonesia.

According to a UNG press release, with four students selected as finalists, the university is eligible for consideration as a top-producing university for the Fulbright next year.

"This is a tremendous achievement for UNG to receive for the second year in a row," UNG President Bonita Jacobs said. "This recognition indicates the excellent academic and leadership development opportunities that we provide for our students."