MACON – For the first time in its history, Mercer University had three graduates selected to receive prestigious Fulbright U.S. Student Awards to teach abroad for the upcoming academic year. According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, this distinction places Mercer in the top 25 master's colleges and universities in the country in the production of Fulbright award-winners. Two recent graduates were also selected as finalists for the award.
Josh Coleman, CLA '12, will serve in France, while Kyle Shook, CLA '12, will serve in Poland, and Drew Wildes, CLA '13, will serve in Brazil. All three earned Fulbright English Teaching Assistantships and will teach English to students in primary and secondary schools and universities.
"We are proud of these fine graduates and know they will carry the Mercer name proudly into the world," said Dr. Peter C. Brown, longtime professor of philosophy and director of the Office of Scholarships and Fellowships.
Coleman, who majored in French and English at Mercer, studied at Oxford University as a sophomore and received a Rotary International Ambassadorial Scholarship for a year of study in France as a junior. He was also a participant in the University Honors Program. Since earning his bachelor's degree, he has spent the past two years teaching in Charlotte, North Carolina, with Teach For America.
"This award is truly an honor, an honor which affords me the opportunity to further delve into the travesty of educational inequality," said Coleman. "For the past two years as a Teach For America corps member, I have worked tirelessly to combat the ever-present achievement gap in the American education system. Eerily, a nearly identical academic gap exists between French and immigrant populations in the Parisian suburbs. Accordingly, I will be using my time as an English Teaching Assistant to research a viable solution to this international epidemic. I truly believe that every child, regardless of background, deserves an excellent education, and as a Fulbright Scholar, I hope to play my part in realizing that dream."
Shook, who majored in women's and gender studies and English at Mercer, was active in the Mercer Players and traveled to South Africa as part of Mercer On Mission as a junior. Since earning his bachelor's degree, he has spent the past two years teaching in The Bronx, New York, with Teach For America.
"The word humbled seems inadequate to describe my feelings towards this tremendous honor. I am still somewhat in disbelief that this is truly happening," said Shook. "Poland offers rich history, a vivid culture and the chance to engage with the international community in both a personal and academic manner. I look forward to advancing Sen. Fulbright's vision of international cooperation and stewardship, and serve as an ambassador of my Mercer community, which has nurtured and encouraged my curiosity and desire to make meaningful changes in the world through meaningful dialogue and international cooperation. To advance this vision, I hope to continue my career as an educator upon my return to the United States and use my experience in international classrooms to connect schools across the globe through technology and create a 'global classroom' of sorts where students can discuss literature, history, art and current events with other students across the planet, fostering a growth in communication and international partnership."
Wildes, who majored in international affairs and Spanish, was active in Baptist Collegiate Ministries and spent the spring semester of his junior year as an exchange student at Hong Kong Baptist University. He was also a participant in the University Honors Program. He will begin a master's program in linguistics at Georgetown University this fall and take a leave of absence from the program to serve in Brazil from March to November of next year.
"I am supremely honored and excited to accept this grant to teach English in Brazil," said Wildes. "After spending a month in Curitiba visiting a friend, I have been dreaming of going back. While serving in Brazil, I will have the privilege of teaching language, which is one of my greatest passions. In addition to teaching, I intend to take advantage of my time in Brazil to do research and perhaps some informal fieldwork for my graduate thesis. It's the perfect opportunity, and it fits my dreams and aspirations. I am so thankful and blessed to receive this grant. I am indebted to several of my professors at Mercer, including Drs. Eric Spears, Mary Ann Drake, Fernando Palacios and Edward Weintraut, who supported me and encouraged me through this whole process."
Additionally, biomedical engineering major Andrew Weems, EGR '13, and music major Adriel Taslim, MUS '14, were selected as finalists for awards.
Dr. Brown said this recognition caps a "breakthrough" academic year for the University in terms of such awards.
"With multiple Fulbright Awards, a Goldwater Scholarship, a Woodrow Wilson Teaching Fellowship, and a number of National Science Foundation Undergraduate Research Experiences this year, Mercer students have demonstrated that they can compete with the very best students in the country," he added.
The Fulbright U.S. Student Program, the government's flagship international educational exchange program, is sponsored by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the United States Department of State. Since its inception in 1946, the Fulbright Program has provided more than 300,000 participants – chosen for their academic merit and leadership potential – with the opportunity to study, teach and conduct research, exchange ideas and contribute to finding solutions to shared international concerns.