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“O-M-G,” junior Gabrielle Thornhill uttered as a name that sounded like hers was called from the stage at O’Donnell Auditorium. She was one of more than 600 Eastern Kentucky University students who had entered for a chance to win a study-abroad scholarship.

“This is my third year trying,” she said. “They said ‘Gabriel’ Thornhill. I was like, ‘Wait, is it Gabrielle? Are they mispronouncing my name?’”

It turns out, they were. She had finally won, and at the last possible moment — hers was the final name called of the 16 qualified winners. Thornhill breathlessly took the stage and spun the wheel to find out where she would study this summer. She was all smiles as the wheel that would point her toward her destination stopped on Germany.

In EKU’s annual Spin the Wheel Scholarship event, students enter online and then hope to beat the odds to have their names called. Those who do spin the wheel to find out where they will be studying for the summer. This year, the options were Asia, Germany, Latin America, the British Isles, Israel, Egypt or Morocco, Spain, Slavic Europe and the popular “student’s choice” and “president’s choice.”

“We’ll need to charter a plane,” Dr. Jerry Pogatshnik joked after the third student in a row learned they were headed to the British Isles.

Pogatshnik, interim senior vice president for academics and provost, and Dr. Sara Zeigler, dean of the College of Letters, Arts, and Social Sciences, drew the winning students’ names. EKU President Michael T. Benson joined them on stage to emcee the event and spin the wheel for students who missed the event because they were in class.

Benson welcomed students at the start of the ceremony, recalling how there were only 10 to 20 students in the audience the first year the drawing was held, compared to the hundreds who packed O’Donnell Auditorium this year. A record number of students — 620 compared to last year’s 500 — were eligible to win.

Dr. Benson stressed the importance of gaining a global perspective through education, relaying personal stories from his many experiences studying and participating in mission trips in faraway cities like London and Rome.

“My world view, my perspective, I hope my empathy for people, and the appreciation for differences, and languages, and cultures, and opinions was enhanced, was built, was broadened by these study abroad experiences,” Benson said.

“I had the great opportunity to grow up in a different country, and I can not begin to tell you the beauty that exists outside of this country,” said Regent Juan Castro, a native of Ecuador, who also gave opening remarks. “Your success is yours. You have to have the capacity to dream. The only way I can help you to dream is to send you there.”

To be eligible, students must be present at the event or in class, with attendance verified by their professor. Students must also be in good standing with the office of student conduct and not scheduled to graduate prior to the summer trip.

Scholarships are funded from a variety of university sources, including the president’s office; the provost’s office; the Education Abroad office; the College of Letters, Arts and Social Sciences; the College of Education; and Friends of the Library.

The scholarships, and the opportunity to broaden their worldview, have helped dozens of EKU students step outside their comfort zone and make memories that last a lifetime. That’s especially impactful for students like Thornhill who, aside from an international cruise with her family, had never left the country.

“I’m ecstatic. It doesn’t feel real to me,” she said. “I’m so thankful.”

This year’s winners were:

  • Hannah Pendleton, pre-art/design studio major, Slavic Europe
  • Hannah Evans, psychology major, president’s choice
  • Samantha Tamplin, journalism major, British Isles
  • Jena Doellman, public health major, British Isles
  • Hailey Riddle, apparel design and merchandising major, Germany
  • Ryan Boone, business major, British Isles
  • Joshua Adams, broadcasting and electronic media major, Asia.
  • Larissa Heslop, anthropology major, student’s choice
  • Amanda McCrystal, elementary education major, Latin America
  • Amber Scherer, parks and recreation administration major, Spain
  • Brooke Hammons, pre-child and family studies major, Spain
  • Makayla Jones, pre-art/design studio major, Slavic Europe
  • Shelby Baker, psychology major, Latin America
  • Adriana Fisher, pre-health services administration, student’s choice
  • Delaney Eubanks, pre-ASL and English interpretation major, British Isles
  • Gabrielle Thornhill, elementary education major, Germany