Feature Stories

Community of scholars

Each February, the University of Georgia opens its doors to some of the brightest high school seniors from across the U.S. and the world. For two days, they gain a taste of what the institution has to offer through the Foundation Fellowship.

The university's premier scholarship gives its undergraduate participants the chance to explore their education and the global community to the fullest extent possible through academic enrichment, research, internships, faculty mentorship, community involvement and travel-study.

This year, 64 Foundation Fellowship finalists will visit the UGA campus from Feb. 24-25. Now considered Ramsey Honors Scholars, the finalists represent 58 high schools in 16 states.

While Fellows have the opportunity to carve their own paths, the core of the program is community — from the movement of students in and out of the Fellows Library on the second floor of Moore College to group trips exploring the far reaches of the world to connections with Fellows alumni who are pursuing a mind-boggling variety of careers.

"Thanks in large part to the Foundation Fellowship, I interacted with UGA students while I was deciding where to go to college. Time and again, I was impressed with the breadth and depth of their undergrad experiences. I knew I could follow my passions with the support of outstanding faculty and staff," said Cali Callaway, a senior Fellow from Johns Creek who is earning combined bachelor's and master's degrees in biology/neuroscience and artificial intelligence. She was a Goldwater Scholarship recipient in 2016.

"The last three years have exceeded all expectations. Choosing UGA was the best decision of my life."

Founded in 1972 by the UGA Foundation's trustees, the Foundation Fellowship places students in a community of scholars and emphasizes lifelong friendships and the sharing of resources and ideas.

"I think that the greatest resource the Foundation Fellowship offers is personalized attention within a supportive community," said David S. Williams, associate provost and director of the Honors Program. "Our finalists this year are an incredible group. I look forward to getting to know them on an individual basis and supporting those who choose to call UGA home in the future, whether as a Ramsey Honors Scholar or a Foundation Fellow."

In the 2016-2017 academic year, 17 first-year Foundation Fellows, eight Ramsey Scholars, and four mid-term Foundation Fellows joined the program, bringing the current number to 87 Fellows and 26 Ramsey Scholars.

New Fellows for 2016-2017 had an average SAT score of 1564 (math and verbal only) and an average ACT score of 35. Their high school grade point average was 4.22 on a 4.0 scale, which indicates extra points for Advanced Placement courses. First-year Ramsey Scholars had an average 4.28 GPA and 1547 SAT score (math and verbal only) and an average ACT score of 35.

Fellows receive a stipend that includes funding that is approximately the cost of UGA attendance, a post-first-year Maymester study abroad program at the University of Oxford, individual travel-study grants, group travel-study in the spring, research and academic conference grants, discussions and workshops with some of the university's best minds, and a mentoring plan that matches Fellows with peers, faculty, and alumni who share their interests.

Trang Nguyen found her faculty mentor in Pamela Whitten, UGA's senior vice president for academic affairs and provost. Trang, a senior Fellow from Madison, Wisconsin, is earning combined bachelor's and master's degrees in communication studies and public health.

"I first reached out to Provost Whitten because of her interdisciplinary expertise in communications health policy," she said. "She agreed to be my faculty mentor in health communications research. She is sincerely committed to my learning and success, and despite her busy schedule, she always pushed me to ask more questions and dig deeper with my ideas and research."

Through the Center for Undergraduate Research Opportunities, or CURO, all UGA students have the opportunity to pursue research with faculty in all academic disciplines. Many Fellows also pursue projects off campus at institutions in the U.S. and abroad.

"Research was the reason I chose to come to the University of Georgia rather than go to another school," said Laura Courchesne, a senior Fellow from Fair Haven, New Jersey, majoring in economics and religion. "My priority was being able to do research and do research right away."

In November, Laura became the 24th UGA student to be awarded a Rhodes Scholarship. Her extensive research focuses on the emerging field of behavioral approaches to conflict. In particular, she explores the link between non-state armed groups and civilian populations.

"UGA has offered me the opportunity to really customize my education and have the opportunities I thought were best to help prepare me for the future," she said. "The Honors Program and Foundation Fellowship enabled me to create something that was unique to me."

In their first year at UGA, Fellows start traveling, spending spring break in New York City and Washington, D.C., before moving on to Oxford during Maymester. They also start connecting with former Fellows.

Kavi Pandian, a sophomore Fellow from Tucker majoring in economics and German, enjoyed exploring New York City and Washington, D.C. "Getting to speak with alumni in each city was one of my favorite parts of the trip, as it exposed us to all the incredible things alumni have gone on to do, and it also showed us how, even after graduating, they cared so much about UGA and the Fellowship that they took the time to meet us and share their experiences."

As they move throughout their college careers, Fellows explore such places as Morocco, South Korea, Bali, Japan, Tanzania and Ecuador. Jacob Kennedy of Albany, who graduated in 2016 with a bachelor's degree in anthropology and a minor in Arabic, particularly enjoyed the Fellows travel-study trip to Tanzania.

"Imagine waking up, stepping out of your tent and seeing a line of migrating zebras a few hundred feet to your right, then to your left is a herd of gazelle," said Jacob, who is now a Princeton in Asia Fellow in Thailand. "This was the start of my morning run in the Serengeti. As I circled the perimeter of our camp, the sun rose over the endless plains of grass, dyeing the landscape red. Spring break in Tanzania was one of the best weeks of my life."

Internships-at places like the Greater New York Hospital Association, Citigroup, J.P. Morgan, Google, U.S. State Department, McKinsey & Company, INTERPOL, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, White House Council on Environmental Quality, USTA, and Voice of America-assist Fellows in developing their career paths.

"During 10 weeks as a summer analyst in Citigroup's sales and trading division in New York, I spent time on different desks across product areas and functions," said Kevin Sun of Johns Creek, who earned combined bachelor's and master's degrees in economics and a bachelor's in mathematics in 2016. "Financial markets are exciting and dynamic, and I learned and absorbed a tremendous amount by being in the middle of it all at one of the largest, most global financial institutions in the world. At the end of the summer, I accepted an offer to return full-time (definitely not a bad way to start my senior year)."

Complementing the Foundation Fellow/Ramsey Scholar experience is the UGA's Honors Program, one of the oldest and most respected programs of its kind in the country. The Honors Program provides some 2,500 students with the resources to make the most of their higher education experience-including 300 Honors classes a year with an average class size of 17 students, expert advice from Honors and faculty advisors, the opportunity to earn a combined bachelor's/master's degree in only four years, independent research opportunities, mentoring, internships, lunchbox lectures and book discussions with faculty, and the Myers Hall residential community.

"The Foundation Fellowship provides the groundwork and resources for motivated students to pursue and excel in careers of any field," said Krystal Lo, a senior Fellow from Marietta majoring in economics. "From book discussions and dinner-seminars to resume assistance and alumni mentorship, together the UGA Honors Program and Foundation Fellowship have helped me pursue my various interests and set myself up for success in whatever path I choose."

Published Sunday,