KINGSTON, RI – May 14, 2013 – In a few weeks, Alyssa Mason will board a plane and fly to England to spend a month at a university polishing her writing skills. Oh, and she might eat some shepherd’s pie, too.
The trip is a dream come true for the 21-year-old University of Rhode Island junior, who just won a prestigious Fulbright award to study at the Nottingham Trent University Summer Institute.
“I still can’t believe it’s real,” says Mason. “Being part of a culture that’s different from my own is really exciting.”
Mason is URI’s first-ever participant in the Fulbright UK Summer Institute, which offers academic and cultural summer programs to students with at least two years remaining of undergraduate study.
That honor should come as no surprise. Mason’s life is full of “firsts.” She is the first in her family to attend a four-year college, and she’ll be the first to study overseas. If all goes as planned with her studies, she’ll be the first in her family to work as a teacher.
“I like to challenge myself,” she says. “I have goals I want to achieve.”
Growing up in Pawtucket Mason knew early on that she wanted to better her life. She excelled at Blackstone Academy Charter School, but didn’t know how she would pay for college.
URI’s Talent Development Program set her on her way. The program provides financial and academic support to URI students from economically stressed backgrounds. Mason was admitted into the program in 2010, the year she enrolled at URI.
Her hard work has paid off. She’s a member of the Honors Program and has a grade-point average of 3.83. For her honors project, she and another student, Maggie Vidal, created a blog, Little Green Blog, about how to protect Mother Earth. Mason wrote many of the posts.
“It was a great experience,” she says. “It was a true independent study. It was so gratifying.”
In between her studies, she found time to work at two jobs. As student director of URI’s Mentor-Tutor Internship Program, she hooks students up with at-risk children and teens in Rhode Island schools. She also works as a manager at Rhody Market in Hope Commons. And one day a month she volunteers at the Breakthrough Collaborative Saturday Program at Providence’s Wheeler School, providing academic help to middle school students around the state.
“That volunteer job has given me a lot of hands-on experience,” she says. “That’s really important if you’re going to be a teacher.”
In Nottingham, she’ll join other college students from throughout the world. Besides taking writing classes, she’ll learn about the city’s history, volunteer in the community, and participate in a slew of social events. Her adventure begins June 26.
Next year, in the spring of 2014, Mason hopes to return to England, this time at the University of East Anglia in Norwich through a program offered by URI. Mason is taking a fifth academic year at URI and plans to graduate in 2015, with a bachelor’s degree in English and secondary education. Her minor is writing and rhetoric.
After URI, she plans to get her master’s degree in education or education administration. Some day, she would like to serve on the Rhode Island Board of Education. With her drive, she probably will. “If I set my mind on something,” she says, “I do it.”
Applicants for the summer Fulbright were selected for their leadership qualities and initiative, academic ability and character, as well as their interest in the United Kingdom and its culture.
The application process included a lengthy written application and a 20-minute phone interview with the executive director of the UK Fulbright Commission and an external reviewer.
Mason is the third URI student to win a Fulbright this spring. Eily Cournoyer, of Portsmouth, won a Fulbright scholarship to study cancer at the graduate level in England. Daniel Belbey, of Narragansett, was awarded a Fulbright to study in Germany.
Pictured above: Alyssa Mason, 21, of Pawtucket, a University of Rhode Island junior who won a Fulbright award to study this summer in England.
Photo by Michael Salerno Photography