By Amanda Hatfield Anderson
MELBOURNE -- The hard work and dedication of one college freshman has paid off in monumental ways.
Shelby Thomas, an Eau Gallie High School graduate and University of South Florida freshman, received a place on a Fulbright Summer Institute to study at Cardiff, Bangor and Abersytwyth Universities in Wales. The Fulbright Program is one of the most prestigious and selective scholarship programs in the world.
Upon her graduation in 2012 from EGHS, Ms. Thomas also received an associate degree from Brevard Community College.
"The award was a full-expenses paid experience to study in Wales for six weeks, airline from the U.S.A to the U.K. and back, all excursions and tours, living arrangements and a general stipend for food," Ms. Taylor said. "Unlike other study abroad programs through a university, per se, this program outlines the schedule for the participants of the institute, with a combination of individual lectures from on-hand professors or guest speakers on some days, with outside excursions around the cities, like castle and museum visits."
In order to be considered for this prestigious award, Ms. Thomas had many hurdles to jump through.
"Under the over-arching Fulbright Program is the U.K. Summer Fulbright Institute, which hosts nine summer institutes in the United Kingdom intended for freshman and sophomore university students. Six are in England, with one in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales," Ms. Thomas explained. "There is a general application that the student fills out, where they 'check' their intended institute."
From there, Ms. Thomas's application was reviewed by the Fulbright Commission. She also had to complete a phone interview.
"Upon going through the phone interview, the commission then narrows down the applicants to the institutes' final participants, and the students selected are notified for acceptance," Ms. Thomas added.
Each Fulbright institute has its own theme. The Welsh theme Ms. Thomas will be immersed in is "Contemporary Wales: Industry, Politics, Culture and Change."
"Each [scholar has] his or her own particular area of study, but we all receive the same juxtaposition of experience in Wales catering to this theme," Ms. Thomas added. "However, certain cities will focus more on some of the parts of this theme than others."
For example, Ms. Thomas said that her time in Cardiff is more centered on industry and change, as the area is the most urbanized. Bangor and Aberystwyth, she said, will have a primary focus on the culture of northern- and mid-Wales.
"Each university will touch on the factors of this theme, though, to an extent, so we'll be receiving a broad prospective of the different regions of Wales," Ms. Thomas added.
Ms. Thomas, who is pursuing dual degrees in International Business and International Studies, has long loved learning about different cultures and people.
"I often drew world maps and learned to say 'Hello' in different languages for fun when I was young," Ms. Thomas said. "I think what really inspired me to pursue these degrees, though, was participation in the People to People Student Ambassador Program, which allows school-aged children to actively participate in cultural experiences while in different countries through travel."
When Ms. Thomas was in elementary school, her parents allowed her the opportunity to go to Australia with a student group. After that experience, Ms. Thomas also traveled to Europe and Japan with the same group.
"So with these experiences and my innate desire to just learn about it, it became natural to choose majors which reflected this part of me," Ms. Thomas added.
Ms. Thomas is also a member of the Bulls Business Community, which is a living-learning community for business majors at USF. From her participation in the group, Ms. Thomas was selected to be part of the Business Honors Program, which selects the top 20 students from each class to receive more intensive business practicum and experiences.
"I hope to pursue my Masters at either American University, where I can dual-degree with Kansai Gaidai University by staying in Japan for a year, or the University of North Florida for their MBA program, which includes travel to Poland, Germany and China," Ms. Thomas said.
Although she is always thinking about ways to expand her educational and travel experiences, Ms. Thomas is very focused on the incredible journey ahead of her through the Fulbright Program.
"I think the most rewarding part of my Fulbright Experience so far is the ability for me to compare what I know about our country with that of the comprehensive things we learn, hear and see while in Wales," Ms. Thomas added. "Specifically for me, I came from a study abroad program in Italy, so I'm able to compare and contrast European Union issues, as well as Trans-Atlantic with the concern of the U.S.A."
The most incredible part of the journey, Ms. Thomas said, is the group in which she is a part of.
"I've never been in a group that encourages academic thought as much as the one I'm in right now," Ms. Thomas added. "It's an understatement to say that we all learn from one another.
Ms. Thomas will be returning from her whirlwind European adventure on Aug. 4.