Students gain life-changing experiences through national fellowships, scholarships

7 – minute read

A Florida Gulf Coast University senior who is a first-generation Muslim American will be pursuing a career in the medical field thanks, in part, to valuable experiences gained through the university’s Office of Competitive Fellowships (OCF).


Born after her parents moved to the U.S. from Pakistan, Anusha Malik will graduate this fall with a major in biochemistry and minor in biology. She received a prestigious Goldwater Scholarship in March in recognition of her undergraduate research on ionic liquids — used in anti-cancer and anti-diabetic drug delivery systems.

FGCU student Anusha Malik
Anusha Malik will graduate this fall with a major in biochemistry and minor in biology
FGCU grad Josie Lorea
May graduate Josie Lorea begins medical school this summer.

Malik is among many FGCU students benefiting from the assistance of the OCF. The office works to help students identify professional and personal goals and achieve them through high-impact experiences, made possible by national scholarships and fellowships.


Another FGCU student who credits OCF-supported activities as pivotal to her undergraduate career is Josie Lorea. She graduated in May with a degree in biology and a pre-professional concentration. A native of Charleston, West Virginia, Lorea begins medical school in July.


Part of the Honors College, the duo was inducted into FGCU’s Hall of Fame this spring. Although Malik and Lorea are grateful for the opportunities arising from national honors, they agree going through the application process was integral to their educational journeys.


Malik called learning of her successful Goldwater application “the most unexpected thing” in her undergraduate career.

FGCU student Anusha Malik
FGCU student Anusha Malik received a prestigious Goldwater Scholarship in March in recognition of her undergraduate research on ionic liquids

“I was convinced I was not going to get it, considering it’s one of the top research scholarships in the U.S. I literally screamed in class when I opened my acceptance letter,” she said.


“The application process was honestly the biggest learning experience on its own. Every single moment of writing the personal statements was a ton of introspection, thinking about why I was doing what I wanted to and the best way to articulate it,” Malik said. “I learned so much about the art of presenting your most-unique self in a statement.”

Receiving a Goldwater opens doors to opportunities she might not otherwise have, especially as a first-generation student, said Malik. She hopes to begin medical school in the fall of 2024.

“I am beyond excited for the next step of my journey, and none of it could have happened without the support and experiences I had at FGCU,” she said. “Being a first-generation American and the oldest in my family means I was the first to go through this process, and I could not be more thankful for all the love I received from my family, friends and professors.”


In 2022, Malik also received a Millennium Fellowship, which provides an on-campus internship through the United Nations designed to help students make an impactful change on their campuses. The fellowship enabled her to continue her work on the Food Options Project she previously founded to raise awareness of FGCU students with dietary restrictions.


While Malik chose FGCU because it was close to home, West Virginia classmate Lorea said she always wanted to attend college in a warmer climate. She enrolled at FGCU after being admitted to the Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine Early Acceptance Program in Bradenton.

FGCU grad Josie Lorea
Josie Lorea completed two prestigious national academic programs at the same time while studying abroad in South Korea.

Upon arriving at FGCU, Lorea quickly discovered the OCF, which helped her nab national academic honors including the Gilman Scholarship and the Summer Health Professional Education Program (SHPEP) at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. She received the Gilman in 2020, but because of the global COVID-19 pandemic was unable to use it until spring 2021 – the same semester as her SHPEP award.


“The Gilman enabled me to study abroad at Yonsei University in Seoul, South Korea, while simultaneously completing the SHPEP online,” Lorea said. “I would go to school during the day in South Korea, sleep through the evening and attend sessions at University of Nebraska starting at midnight Korea Standard Time.”


Despite the demands of completing two prestigious national academic programs at the same time, Lorea said she is appreciative of the opportunities that doing so provided.


“Without the Gilman, I would have never been able to study abroad. Being alone in a foreign country with language barriers was one of the hardest things I have ever done, but also the most rewarding. Without the financial assistance from the Gilman Foundation, my undergraduate journey would not be the same,” she said. “And, without the experience of SHPEP, I do not know if I would be as interested in health care as I am now,” Lorea said.

FGCU student Anusha Malik
Anusha Malik at the Hall of Fame induction with Mitch Cordova, vice president of Student Success & Enrollment Management, and President Mike Martin.

The opportunities enjoyed by Malik and Lorea are representative of the assistance OCF provides. The staff has helped students obtain experiences including being a teaching assistant in South Korea through a Fulbright Scholarship and conducting groundbreaking hate-crime research at the University of Arkansas-Little Rock through a National Science Foundation grant.


“Students apply for these scholarships and fellowships because they can sometimes change the trajectory of their lives,” said John Straussberger, OCF’s interim director. “These types of experiences can awaken a passion for medicine and public health, lead students to start thinking about applying to a doctoral program in public policy or begin a journey toward becoming a community leader.”


And OCF is just one part of the larger equation at FGCU, said Lorea. “It’s not common that a national scholar is also a sorority president, fraternity sweetheart, registered organization founder and researcher,” she said. “My heart has always been in a lot of places, whether academics, extracurriculars, leadership or service. Although my many passions often overlapped, I was never once held back or told I could not succeed by my professors or peers.”

FGCU Hall of Fame
Mitch Cordova, far left, vice president of Student Success & Enrollment Management, and FGCU President Mike Martin, far right, with Hall of Fame inductees Ella Guedouar, Damian Hernandez, Ryan McNamara, Serena Truong, Madison Franz, Anusha Malik, Dana Axner, Josie Lorea, Grace Brannigan and Kea Suiko Kamiya.
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