Four MTSU students named Fulbright semifinalists

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The U.S. Fulbright Committee has named four MTSU students or recent graduates as Fulbright semifinalists and has advanced their names for consideration by their host countries, Honors College Dean John Vile said.

The four student semifinalists include Sydney Eakes of Murfreesboro, Dalton Lauderback of Christiana, Tennessee, Opal "Rayne" Leonard of Hohenwald, Tennessee, and Erin Paul of Smyrna, Tennessee. Host countries will select the finalists from across the country later this spring.

The U.S. State Department sponsors the Fulbright program to increase mutual understanding between people in the United States and other countries by placing U.S. students in other nations to teach or conduct research for eight to 10 months.

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In the past six years, 13 MTSU students have been awarded Fulbright fellowships. In 2012, MTSU was named a top-producing Fulbright institution.

Previous students have been to Brazil, Germany, Israel, Laos, Portugal, Russia, South Africa, Slovak Republic, Spain and Tanzania.

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Background on the four MTSU Fulbright candidates includes:

• Sydney Eakes -- A semifinalist for a teaching Fulbright in Andorra, which is between Spain and France, Eakes graduated in August 2015 with a double major in global studies and Spanish. She was the area coordinator of Global Learning Community for Residential Life from 2014-15.

Eakes has acted as an interpreter in a school system and taught GED classes for the Hispanic Family Center. While on her study abroad in Costa Rica, she volunteered in the local elementary school and worked in a horse range in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

• Dalton Lauderback -- A semifinalist for a teaching Fulbright in Germany, Lauderback graduated from MTSU in August 2015 with majors in political science and global studies.

Lauderback volunteers as an English teacher for Catholic Charities and has worked with families from Myanmar, Congo and Somalia. He studied abroad in Switzerland and also served as a Global Ambassador while he was an MTSU undergraduate. He plans to apply for the Yale University Institute of Global Affairs master's program in combination with the Peace Corps.

• Opal "Rayne" Leonard -- A semifinalist for a teaching Fulbright in Poland, Leonard is a biology graduate student and received her undergraduate degree in biochemistry from MTSU. She was an Honors College Buchanan Scholar from 2009-13.

In 2014, Leonard visited China as a National Science Foundation East Asia Pacific Summer Institute Fellow and has a teaching assistantship from the biology department. She has conducted science research, but also is very passionate about teaching and helping students develop their intellectual potential.

• Erin Paul -- A semifinalist for a teaching Fulbright in Thailand, she is a Buchanan Scholar majoring in interdisciplinary studies. She was recognized by the state of Tennessee with the Harold Love Community Service Award.

Paul has spent the past three years teaching English as a second language to refugees and immigrants in a low-income housing community. Her love of teaching has inspired her to make four mission trips. She taught in Bangkok and a Korean refugee camp in northern Thailand and performed volunteer work in an orphanage. She lives in a Smyrna housing project among Korean refugees.

Laura Clippard, who directs the Honors College's Undergraduate Fellowship Office, worked directly with each student on their application, Vile said.

"The U.S. Student Fulbright program is a great match for our MTSU students," Clippard said. "MTSU has very motivated, hard-working and caring students who are interested in international affairs."

Clippard also assists students with other national and international opportunities and has students currently waiting to hear from the Critical Language Scholarship, Princeton in Asia and Latin America and the DAAD RISE scholarship in Germany.

Clippard herself is a Fulbright semifinalist for an International Education Administrative program to spend two weeks in South Korea this summer.

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