Perhaps it’s little wonder why Monica Pizano and Melissa Silva are such good friends.
The young women simply have so much in common.
Both were born to Mexican immigrants, for example, and the two students from the University of North Georgia are carving similar career paths as educators.
And both have also earned the same recognitions for their hard work in school and bright futures ahead.
Pizano and Silva are two of 13 UNG students who have been selected as Fulbright semifinalists for the 2018-19 academic year, a record amount for the school.
The competitive fellowship 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.”
UNG and Emory University were the only two universities in Georgia last year to be designated as top producers of U.S. Fulbright students. And, this year, the University of Georgia joined UNG and Emory as the only three universities in the state to receive this designation.
Several of this year’s semifinalists at UNG grew up in Gainesville or attend the Hall County campus for classes.
Being named a Fulbright semifinalist is a “prestigious opportunity,” Pizano said.
“I was freaking out, but trying not to scream,” she said of learning about the honor while in the university library.
According to the program, semifinalists have been reviewed by a national screening committee and recommended to the foreign or host country of choice for additional review.
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.
Pizano has already won a Gilman Scholarship to study abroad, a feat that left her feeling like she “was on top of the world,” she said.
And she figured she had “nothing to lose” from applying for a Fulbright, and a whole lot to gain.
If she is awarded a Fulbright (recipients will be announced this spring), Pizano said she plans to work in Lithuania.
Another good friend comes from that Eastern European country and Pizano said expanding her horizons and worldview will benefit her as an educator.
Majoring in Spanish and minoring in English, combined with a “huge love and passion for Latin American history,” Pizano said she plans to use her unique background and understanding of the differences in the two languages to teach the next generation of students.
Silva, meanwhile, applied for the Fulbright last year.
“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 said. “Study abroad, do research … do something to make you stand out. That’s when it hit me.”
Silva plans to be a teacher, and she’s already working that path while finishing her degree.
The graduate of East Hall High is currently employed as a paraprofessional teaching assistant at South Hall Middle School.
Silva said she has her “hopes up” that she’ll receive a Fulbright, in part because she has already earned a Gilman Scholarship to study abroad in Spain this summer (before graduating). That gives her a leg up, she believes.
“Being a Latino student in school is tough enough,” Silva said.
Lindsey Collier, a 2017 graduate pursuing a master’s degree in international affairs, is also a semifinalist, and hopes to take advantage of the opportunity, according to a release from the university.
"Fulbright opens doors for anyone in any field, and I'm confident that if I'm granted the opportunity to be a Fulbright student, my career prospects will widen significantly," she said.
The other Fulbright semifinalists are:
- Bernice Bonifacio, a senior pursuing a degree in marketing with a minor in Korean, hopes to study in South Korea.
- Marcel Cantu, a senior pursuing a degree in in English education, hopes to study in Thailand.
- Jillian Jay, a senior pursuing a degree in biology and minor in psychology, hopes to study in Turkey.
- Jenna Labbie, a senior pursuing a degree in history and secondary education, hopes to study in Taiwan.
- Bernhard Purk, a 2018 graduate with a degree in international affairs with a European concentration, hopes to study in Germany.
- Kelly Reid, a senior pursuing a degree in athletic training with a minor in German and business administration, hopes to study in Germany.
- Petrus Schoeman, a 2018 graduate with a degree in computer science with a minor in Chinese and Russian, hopes to study in Russia.
- Emily Symmes, a senior pursuing a degree in Russian with a minor in Spanish, hopes to study in Republic of Kazakhstan.
- Caitlyn Webb, a senior pursuing a degree in history education with a minor in Spanish, hopes to study in Indonesia.
- Emily Werner, a 2018 graduate with a degree in Spanish and minor in Korean, hopes to study in South Korea.