Amazing Students

Leighton Rowell

Leighton Rowell, a senior majoring in history and Romance languages, excels in the classroom, but her academic prowess has allowed her the opportunity to defend essays in Oxford, stargaze in Morocco and pray in the temples of Bali.

Hometown:

Sandy Springs, Georgia

High School:

North Springs Charter High School

Degree objective:

B.A. in history, B.A. in Romance languages

Expected graduation:

Spring 2016

University highlights, achievements, awards and scholarships:

As an intern for the local newspaper during my senior year of high school, I wrote an op-ed about my search for the perfect college. “My number one criterion is potential for happiness,” I wrote. Four years later and a senior once more, I couldn’t be happier with my decision to attend the University of Georgia. It is far and away the best choice I have ever made.

My main extracurricular activity freshman year was selecting a major. Almost as soon as I set foot on campus I jumped from journalism to international affairs, to history and Romance languages by the start of my sophomore year. Although my stint in Grady was short-lived, writing for campus media has nevertheless been a key component of my college career. As a sophomore I joined The Georgia Political Review, UGA’s first undergraduate journal. After writing an article on the importance of diversity in universities, I partnered with SGA and Teach for America’s Campus Campaign Coordinators to facilitate a discussion on educational equality. It was an unforgettable introduction to journalism’s potential as a force for change, and between fall and spring semesters I followed this lead to Israel and Palestine, where as a delegate to the Project Interchange Seminar in Campus Media I met with community members, journalists and policymakers (including Secretary of State John Kerry) to discuss the interplay between media, government and conflict in the region. Returning to campus I interned at WUGA and also joined The Red & Black, where as assistant news editor and senior reporter I have investigated sexual assault response procedure on college campuses. Together these experiences have led me to Athenia, a documentary-style podcast serving the Athens community, and The Georgia News Lab, a yearlong investigative reporting collaborative with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and WSB-TV.

The Foundation Fellowship has defined my college experience, enriching it in every way imaginable but especially through the community it has brought together in Athens and beyond. Defending essays in Oxford, stargazing in Morocco and praying in the temples of Bali have brought my closest friends and me even closer, and for that I am so thankful. In addition to group travel, the Fellowship has also empowered me to travel independently. Fall semester of my junior year I moved to Paris, France, and spent four months as an exchange student at Sciences Po. While studying topics as varied as affirmative action and Middle Eastern civil-military relations under France’s top political scientists, I got to practice my French and meet new friends from around the world. Heartened by such a positive experience in France and an internship at the Brazilian Consulate of Atlanta, I spent this past summer living with a wonderful host family in Florianópolis, Brazil, where I took intensive Portuguese classes and volunteered at a children’s hospital through a Foreign Languages and Area Studies Summer Fellowship. In addition to FLAS, I was honored and humbled this summer to receive the Phyllis Jenkins Barrow Scholarship award for a junior history major. For supporting me in these endeavors I am enormously grateful to Jessica Hunt, Emily Myers, David Williams, Elizabeth Sears and Steve Lownes, who made these adventures possible!

Family Ties to UGA:

Summer, my older sister, studied Romance languages at UGA as well. Since she’s 11 years older than I am, we always have fun comparing the UGA of the early 2000s to the UGA I know today (and reminiscing on our mother’s questionable decision to let 7-year-old me stay in Athens for a whole weekend with Summer her freshman year)!

I chose to attend UGA because…

… of the unrivaled opportunities, support and adventures I knew I would find here. From freshman to senior year of high school, my sights were set on attending a small liberal arts college somewhere in the Northeast, but upon attending the Foundation Fellowship interview weekend I realized UGA had everything I could possibly want in a college: a dynamic student body, brilliant professors, a beautiful campus and more.

My favorite things to do on campus are…

My very favorite thing to do is run into friends! Crossing paths with pals should be rare at a school of 30,000 students, but I don’t think I’ve ever gone a day without running into someone I know. Just seeing the people I love puts a smile on my face.

Beyond seeing friends, I genuinely love attending class — particularly history class. Whether it’s a seminar on Arab nationalism or a lecture on the Civil War, there is no better place on campus for me to satisfy my seemingly endless curiosities about our world’s history. And if I’ve got a lingering question, I know I can stop by any of my professors’ offices for further discussion.

When I have free time, I like…

… to listen to NPR and various podcasts, have coffee with friends, run on the greenway, scroll through the news on my Twitter feed, find new ways to feed my kale obsession and see movies at Ciné.

The craziest thing I've done is…

… take off by myself to Americana, Brazil, for a minimally planned, 24-hour reporting trip three days before returning home to the United States. Americana and Santa Bárbara d’Oeste, a neighboring town, were founded by Confederate families who immigrated to Brazil during and after the Civil War. This year their descendants commemorated the 150th anniversary of their ancestors’ immigration to Brazil. In light of this summer’s debate regarding the Confederate flag I wanted to find out how this city in the deep, deep South viewed the flag and the debate.

My favorite place to study is…

… entirely dependent on my mood and my sense of urgency. If an assignment isn’t due for a few days, I’ll grab a friend and head to Hendershot’s or Walker’s. I have a hard time focusing unless we’ve spent at least half an hour catching up with each other, but then I’ll put in my headphones and get down to work. If I’ve left something to the last minute, which is more typical, I prefer the quiet of my apartment.

My favorite professor is…

It would be hard to name a favorite because I have been taught by so many unique and talented professors in the history department. I owe my decision to major in history almost entirely to Steve Soper, my first history professor at UGA. Even after three years of taking classes in the department, Dr. Soper’s class on 19th-century European history is still my go-to when friends ask for recommendations. My second history professor was Stephen Mihm. His challenging course on American capitalism had probably the greatest influence on my intellectual development and writing process, and his dry humor was something I looked forward to in class each day. At Dr. Mihm’s suggestion, I took History of the South with Dan Rood, who encouraged further exploration of my interest in the parallels between race relations in Brazil and the U.S. South. Dr. Rood has been a fantastic mentor to me over the last two years, kindly acting as a sounding board whenever I’ve found myself in a quandary over my future plans. Last, but certainly not least, is Reinaldo Román, whose course on post-colonial Latin America really sparked my interest in the region’s cultural history. Like Dr. Rood, Dr. Román has been a wonderful adviser, and I am very grateful for his guidance as I research and write my thesis this year.

If I could share an afternoon with anyone, I would love to share it with…

… civil rights leader and Congressman John Lewis. When he spoke at my high school baccalaureate ceremony, he encouraged us to get into trouble — “good” trouble. Few people have gotten into more good trouble than Congressman Lewis, who has spent his life advocating for social justice and equal rights in America. It would be a dream come true to interview him about his life’s work and his vision for our country’s future.

If I knew I could not fail, I would…

… end sexual assault on college campuses. Every university has room to improve on this, whether by restructuring adjudication processes or by influencing a culture change through a policy of positive consent (yes means yes), for example. In fact, as I’ve researched policy and reported on this issue over the past year, I have become so passionate about fixing this problem that I would welcome the opportunity to collaborate with policymakers in developing effective solutions.

If money was not a consideration, I would love to…

… buy the apartment where my brother, our friend Izzy and I lived last year in the second arrondissement of Paris — and then subsidize my best friends’ rent so we could all move back there together!

After graduation, I plan to…

… gain experience working as a journalist, legislative aide or in a policy development capacity prior to attending graduate school or law school. 

The one UGA experience I will always remember will be…

In May I had the privilege of working at the Peabody Awards in New York City. Recognizing excellence in radio, cable news, original television series and other digital media, this year the awards show was hosted by Fred Armisen and honored John Oliver, Amy Schumer, Ira Glass and Sarah Koenig, among others. My job was to escort all the winners back to their seats, and I woke up the next morning asking myself, “Did that really happen?”

Published Sunday,