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    Two Students Named Semifinalists for Prestigious Fulbright Award

    Two graduating seniors were named semifinalists for the 2024-25 Fulbright U.S. Student Program, one of the most prestigious international academic exchange programs in the world.

    The University of Northern Colorado (UNC) is thrilled to announce that two graduating seniors were named semifinalists for the 2024-25 Fulbright U.S. Student Program. Sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, the Fulbright U.S. Student Program is considered one of the most prestigious international academic exchange programs in the world.  

    In partnership with 140 countries around the globe, the Fulbright Program provides opportunities for graduating seniors, graduate students and young professionals to expand their perspectives through academic, professional and cross-cultural advancement. 

    Pennie Nichol, front facing and smiling

    Pennie Nichol

    Jenna Mischke front facing and smiling.

    Jenna Mischke

    This year’s semifinalists are seniors Pennie Nichol, an Environmental Sustainability major and Jenna Mischke, an Elementary Education major with a bilingual/bicultural endorsement. Both applied to the program as English teaching assistants — Nichol in Cambodia where she hoped to spend her free time doing nonprofit work in the field of climate change, and Mischke in Argentina.  

    While both students recently learned that they weren’t selected as finalists, their achievement in being named as semifinalists is something to be celebrated. 

    “The Fulbright program receives thousands of applications from students all over the world,” said Geography Professor and Fulbright mentor Karen Barton. “The fact that Pennie and Jenna were named as semifinalists means that Fulbright considers them worthy of receiving the award, they just don’t have the spaces available.” 

    Dating back to the 1970s, UNC has had seven students who received Fulbright awards. The most recent being Kristine Marie Bell, ‘19, a History major who earned an English teaching assistantship Fulbright to Germany in the 2019-20 cycle. Destri Johnson, ‘22, a Recreation Tourism and Hospitality major and current processing specialist in UNC’s Office of Admissions, was named a semifinalist in the 2021-22 cycle.  

    Nichol and Mischke were part of an inaugural Fulbright cohort at UNC, an effort Barton launched in fall 2023 after she was named one of the university's’ Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Fellows in 2022. Her goal is to create a pipeline program at UNC for underrepresented students to participate in Fulbright scholarship programs, which aligns with the one of the university’s strategic goals to “create plans, structures and programs that foster an inclusive environment where all individuals feel welcomed and supported.” 

    “I think there are a lot of good reasons for incorporating DEI into higher education,” said Barton. “It fosters a sense of belonging, it improves innovation and creativity for institutions, but most importantly, it builds cultural awareness for everyone.” 

    According to Barton, the top producing institutions for student Fulbright awards have traditionally been well-resourced schools, many of which are private or Ivy League universities. But as someone with 11 Fulbright awards, who was once a first-generation student waiting tables to make it through college, Barton says it’s a tradition that she’s working hard to break. 

    “I believe in equity, and more specifically, inter-institutional equity,” she explained. “Our students deserve the same opportunities as undergraduates as those at other universities.  A Fulbright scholarship can open doors for students seeking careers in international research, policy or education, while giving them confidence to achieve their career goals. ” 

    As part of the Fulbright cohort, Nichol and Mischke went through the extensive application process under the guidance and mentorship of Barton. Each had to write three short essays, answer supplementary questions and contact people for recommendations. 

    “I honestly didn’t know what I wanted to do after graduation. I knew that I wanted to travel and experience as many things and cultures as I could,” Nichol said. “Fulbright seemed like a great opportunity to provide a cultural connection and a place to become emersed and live in another country. It seemed like an amazing opportunity.”  

    While Nichol wasn’t chosen as a finalist, she was selected as an alternate, meaning that if someone declines their scholarship or more funds become available, she will be able to go. 

    Mischke had to go the extra mile in her application by having a language professor evaluate her proficiency in Spanish. 

    “I will say that if you consider doing it, start the process now because it is a very time-consuming process and you don't want to be scrambling at the end,” Mischke said. “Take the time [during the] summer to fine-tune your application. Trust me on this!” 

    Inspired and excited by the fact that both Nichol and Mischke were named semifinalists as first-time applicants, Barton is continuing her Fulbright cohort program with support from the Office of Academic Affairs and the DEI program under the guidance of janine weaver-douglas*, interim executive director of UNC’s Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.  

    "It's pretty standard for applicants who get this far to win on their second attempt, so I encourage them not to give up," said Barton.

    Students interested in learning more or applying to the program are encouraged to contact Barton at karen.barton@unco.edu. The application deadline for students interested in applying for a 2025-26 Fulbright award is Oct. 8. Eligibility requirements are available on the Fulbright U.S. Student Program website. 

    “As a first-generation student, I think that [Fulbright] provided a pathway for me to have experiences that without it, I wouldn’t be able to do,” Nichol said. “I think it’s a great opportunity for students to travel and become immersed in other cultures.” 

     *janine weaver-douglas has requested that her name be recognized through the use of lowercase letters. 

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