By Doug McPherson
When Janet Hernandez got the news, tears welled up in her eyes.
“I don't think I could hear myself think for about 10 minutes,” Hernandez says. “I just joyously screamed ‘yes!’ I was very excited, but mostly relieved.”
She has good reason to be relieved and excited – and proud. In March, Hernandez became the first MSU Denver student ever to win a Fulbright Scholarship, one of world’s most prestigious academic awards – recipients of which are funded to research, study and teach in more than 140 countries.
“It was the culmination of six months of waiting,” says Hernandez, who’ll travel to South Korea later this year to teach English and Spanish to elementary students. “This was something I was constantly thinking about since last October when I sent in my application. To me, it’s proof that all my hard work throughout the years hasn't gone unnoticed.”
Hernandez certainly knows about hard work. When not in class (where she holds a 3.88 GPA with a double major in English and Spanish), she works 16 hours a week at the Colorado Press Association and volunteers regularly in the community.
“Maybe I get my dedication … from my experiences,” she says. “I’m the oldest daughter of immigrant parents and was always the one to be the first to do a lot of things.”
Indeed, she’s the first in her family to graduate from high school. And this May, she’ll be the first to finish college.
“I’ve always felt like I needed to strive to be the best to encourage my younger sister to exceed my steps,” she says. “I also want to make my parents proud, so they know that all of our hard work means something.”
Fulbright winners get to choose where they’ll work, and Hernandez, fluent in Spanish, admits she could have chosen a Spanish-speaking country. But she felt more daring. “I wanted a challenge, I like to challenge myself to always keep learning. I picked South Korea because I’m fascinated with their culture and languages – it’s completely different from anything I've ever spoken. I’m excited to be in a new region of the world with the amazing food, and I’m especially excited to meet new people and learn the Korean language.”
Hernandez adds that she loves languages “because they connect humanity.” She wants to learn as many languages as possible so she can speak with people of different backgrounds in more intimate ways, to really get to know other people.
“At my core, I think that I am honestly just a very curious person who enjoys walking this earth with an open mind and an eagerness to learn as much as possible.”
Hernandez says it was an MSU Denver study abroad experience last year in Prague, Czech Republic, that prompted her to apply for the Fulbright scholarship. She volunteered at an elementary school there and assisted an English teacher. She loved teaching so much she decided to apply.
As a future teacher, she has a great deal of respect for her MSU Denver instructors. “I’ve had wonderful professors who’ve inspired me to continue my education and get the best out of my education.”
MSU Denver’s Fulbright program advisor, Akbarali Thobhani, Ph.D., isn’t surprised she won the Fulbright. He hopes others will follow in her footsteps. “Her success and experience will hopefully inspire other students to consider applying for this very prestigious honor.”
When Hernandez returns from South Korea, she plans to apply to graduate school. She’s still trying to figure out what subject is the best fit for her.
Oh, and on the day she got the good news, after she dried her tears, she called her parents and sister. “Then I started jumping up and down screaming ‘yes’ again.”
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