Record number of Baylor students wins competitive scholarships

Baylor students broke records this year, receiving an overwhelming amount of national awards. Photo illustration by Brittany Tankersley

By Matt Kyle | Staff Writer

This year, a large number of Baylor students has been named recipients of competitive international scholarships, including a record-breaking 13 recipients of the Fulbright scholarship.

Other prestigious awards students won include the Goldwater scholarship, awarded to Fremont, Calif., senior Arvind Murugantham; the Churchill scholarship, awarded to Milton, Ga., senior Kate Rojales; the Critical Language scholarship, awarded to Mesquite senior Mina Dwumfour-Poku and The Woodlands senior Uchechukwu Oguchi; and the Truman scholarship, awarded to Shreveport, La., junior Veronica Penales.

Baylor spokesperson Lori Fogleman said in a press release the number of recipients could also grow larger, as Baylor is waiting to hear about additional finalists for the Fulbright scholarship and other prestigious scholarships.

Dr. Andrew Hogue, assistant dean of engaged learning in the College of Arts & Sciences, said this record number of scholarship recipients presents incredible opportunities to the students who won and shows Baylor students can compete with anyone.

“To me, it is a sign that [Baylor is] living into our mission to prepare men and women for worldwide leadership and service,” Hogue said. “These are highly competitive awards. Some of our students have beaten out students from elite universities all over to win these awards. That speaks to what Baylor students are capable of, that our best students are on par with the best students anywhere.”

Hogue said the Fulbright Program is funded by the U.S. Department of State and is given to students who will be “cultural ambassadors” and be sent by the government to increase understanding between countries. Hogue said one way this is done is by having Fulbright scholars assist in the teaching of English in foreign countries, increasing understanding of American life and culture. This year’s record of 13 winners broke the previous record of seven, which was established in 2019.

Woodway senior Ashlyn Freemyer, one of the Fulbright winners, said she felt she should apply for the scholarship to have an opportunity to interact with people who grew up differently from her.

“What drew me to this was that I would have the opportunity to learn from people who teach differently from me, learn differently from me and grew up in an area of the world that was just foreign to me,” Freemyer said.

Penales is the first Baylor winner of the Truman scholarship since 2007 and the ninth since the Truman Program began in 1977. The award is given to students who intend to pursue a career in public service. Penales said she is hoping to attend law school at either Columbia University or Georgetown University to work to further LGBTQ, reproductive and women’s rights.

“I know how many doors it opened up for my mentor, who was also a Truman scholar,” Penales said. “It’s been crazy — the amount of support I’ve been getting from current Truman fellows. Knowing that you’re part of a network of people who have proven their worth as change agents, have been doing the work and have been successful is really refreshing — and just good to know that your hard work is going to be able to continue as one of these scholars.”

Hogue said the Critical Language scholarship is awarded to students who intend to study languages that are essential to America’s engagement with the world. The languages are chosen either because they are critical to America’s national security or economic prosperity or because they are spoken in countries where America often engages in humanitarian work.

Dwumfour-Poku said she was drawn to apply for the scholarship in order to help underprivileged communities. She said she plans to study Swahili and become a physician to help communities in Africa.

“One way that I can make an impact in someone else’s life is by improving their quality of life through health care and medicine,” Dwumfour-Poku said. “I really thought the Swahili CLS really was a calling for me. I think to receive that award was God’s way of saying, ‘This is where I want to direct you in line, and this is the path that you should follow.’”