Anita Qualls was in shock when she was notified over the phone of her acceptance as a Churchill Scholar.

“I have never been to England before, so I think I was also trying to imagine what spending a year of my life there was going to look like,” she said.

For the first time in the University of Georgia’s history, Qualls, a fourth-year Honors student majoring in biology and minoring in Spanish and nutritional science, has been awarded the prestigious Churchill Scholarship.

The scholarship, established by Winston Churchill in 1959, provides American students with the opportunity to travel across the pond to pursue a one-year master’s degree at the University of Cambridge.

“The program was set up to fulfill [Churchill’s] vision of U.S.–U.K. scientific exchange with the goal of advancing science and technology on both sides of the Atlantic, helping to ensure our future prosperity and security,”according to the Churchill Scholarship website.

Qualls said she will be pursuing a Masters of Philosophy in Medical Science through the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Cambridge.

She won’t be taking any formal classes, deviating from an American master’s program. Instead, as part of the British system, she will conduct research in the lab and conclude her year with a thesis paper and oral exam.

Her research will focus on how immune cells in the uterus change during pregnancy. As of now, she is still deciding between becoming a pediatrician or an OBGYN.

“I anticipate that the Churchill Scholarship will impact my career the most by providing a network of friends and colleagues across the world who are extremely passionate and successful in the sciences,” Qualls said.

Getting accepted

The UGA faculty and staff that have been essential to her success include David Williams, Jessica Hunt and Elizabeth Hughes in the UGA Honors College.

“I feel incredibly honored and grateful to the University of Georgia for all of the opportunities and individuals at this institution for shaping my undergraduate experience in a meaningful way,” Qualls said.  

The regenerative bioscience center and CURO played integral roles in launching Qualls’ research skills in a professional lab setting. Both offer UGA undergraduates with a variety of research opportunities where they can learn under experienced mentors in subjects such as biochemistry, engineering and medicine.  

“Both provide research and presentation opportunities, and that provided a way for Anita to talk about her research,” said Jarrod Call, assistant professor in the Department of Kinesiology. “Really, it’s always motivating for a student to talk about and show off what they’re doing in lab.”

Call, who mentored Qualls throughout her entire UGA career, remembered the first time he met the curious freshman.

“I thought she was really ambitious because she walked into the research center two weeks after her freshman year began,” Call said. “She struck me as someone who could hold a conversation very well in terms of asking questions and being curious.”

Call hopes that during Qualls’ year abroad and beyond, she pursues whatever makes her happy. He said he “would be welcome” to formally recognize her as a research colleague in the future.

Qualls already has a tentative plan once her year in England is complete. She plans on entering medical school to pursue academic medicine and has already started the application and interview process. This combination of research, medicine and mentoring, as she describes it, encompasses what she loves most.

“I am excited for my time abroad and hope I can bring back some good memories, new friends and a fresh perspective for the start of my medical education.”

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