When political science graduate Semaj C. Martin-Redd learned he had become Mississippi State University's latest Fulbright finalist, he was beyond excited to see the intense application process had paid off.
"I felt great," Martin-Redd said. "Within an hour of each other, I found out that I got a full-time job with Congressman Trent Kelly and the Fulbright, so you know it was a really good day."
Martin-Redd is set to begin his Fulbright program in Hamburg, Germany in January 2021. He is currently residing in Washington, D.C., working as a staff writer for Mississippi Congressman Kelly.
The decision to go to Germany was a relatively simple one for Martin-Redd, considering he has been studying German since high school. In Hamburg, Martin-Redd will be teaching English to young students.
"I've been studying German since my first year in high school, and I minored in German when I was at Mississippi State," Martin-Redd said. "I decided that this would be a good opportunity to help some children out across the world."
Martin-Redd's plans may be put on hold, however, depending on the development of travel restrictions due to COVID-19. He says he would not be too disappointed if that was the case, because he is currently living out a lifelong dream — working in Congress.
Martin-Redd's political science professors saw a spark in him the moment classes began. Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science & Public Administration Thessalia Merivaki describes him as a "superstar."
"Semaj is a superstar; he truly stands out," Merivaki said. "He is intellectually curious and wants to be challenged in and outside of the classroom. I watched him grow in the course of a few years into a strong leader, team player and a professional. I was not surprised at all when he became a Fulbright finalist."
Vasabjit Banerjee, also an assistant professor in the Department of Political Science & Public Administration, said it is students like Martin-Redd that make teaching a joy.
"Semaj was the sort of well-rounded student with excellent academic and extensive co-curricular interests who made teaching and mentoring a pleasure," Banerjee said. "What struck me most was how he always went that extra length to understand the topic at hand—a true scholar and a gent."
During his time at MSU, Semaj could be found in a number of leadership roles, including president of the College Republicans and the Residential Advisor Association, co-director of the Student Association Cabinet's Community and Governmental Relations Committee and member of the Model United Nations campus group.
After completing his Fulbright program in Germany, Martin-Redd plans to run for office and one day work for the White House.
Martin-Redd first learned of the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Program through the Shackouls Honors College's Office of Prestigious External Scholarships. David Hoffman, interim director of the office, mentored Martin-Redd throughout the application process.
"Semaj had many of the qualities that make for a good Fulbright applicant and future Fulbrighter," Hoffman said. "He had a good story, was qualified and had the interest in the program. He was always willing to work hard with me to get his essays to a point where they were excellent and communicated what he brings to the table as a scholar and representative of the best the U.S. has to offer."
The Fulbright Program began in 1946 and has since accepted more than 390,000 finalists from the U.S. and 140 countries. Martin-Redd encourages other students to apply for the numerous scholarships offered at MSU by reaching out to the Office of Prestigious External Scholarships.
"The number one thing I want people to know is you never get these things unless you put an application out there," Martin-Redd said. "Half the battle is putting in an application. The worst they can do is say no, and the best thing they can do is consider you for it, right?"
Hoffman said the office is open to all students interested in the Fulbright and other prestigious fellowships and scholarships. They are dedicated to helping students identify potential opportunities during or after their time at MSU.
The Office of Prestigious External Scholarships also helps applicants prepare for interviews and other elements that might come down the road as they are selected as semi-finalists.
Hoffman's advice for students interested in these opportunities is to attend the information sessions offered for various opportunities, set up an appointment at the office to talk about their interests, experiences and future plans and to follow all updates on the office's social media accounts.