Alexis McDonald, '18

During her time at UM, Alexis McDonald received three Prestigious Awards. She used two of those awards to explore and teach in South Africa, and her life has since been forever changed. 

Alexis McDonald

Major: Electronic Media

Minors: Africana Studies and Motion Pictures

Hometown: Atlanta, GA

Professional Goal: Media entrepreneur; Professor in African-American studies

Post-Graduation Plans: Study for an MFA in studio art from the University of Southern California 

Awards received while at UM

Alexis first applied to the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship to help fund her summer abroad in Durban, South Africa, with the School for International Training (SIT). The Gilman scholarship enables students of limited financial means to study or intern abroad, thereby gaining skills critical to our national security and economic competitiveness.

Once abroad, Alexis found that SIT's Education and Social Change program was a great fit for her creative and academic interests. She took excursions to Johannesburg and Cape Town to see more of her host country. Alexis was able learn about South African culture and history, and she was also able to forge connections with Inanda Seminary School, which would play a crucial role in her return to the region the following summer. 

 alexis zulu

"A number of students who apply for awards abroad often come to me with very lofty and/or intangible goals and connections," says April Dobbins, director of prestigious awards and fellowships. "Alexis had successful applications because she did extensive research on her potential host country and forged very solid relationships once she got there, which is what enabled her to receive funding to go back and teach over the summer."

As part of her funded summer project, Alexis created a photography workshop at Inanda Seminary, a private girls' school in South Africa. While at Inanda, she taught students photography techniques and encouraged them to write poetry narratives for their work. 

 alexis class

Alexis with her students

"Receiving the ACC-IAC grant helped me realize that my passion lies in providing people the opportunities to tell their own narratives through different storytelling mediums," Alexis says. "I gained invaluable teaching skills and facilitated cross-cultural exchange through the arts."

Of course, adventure comes with its challenges. When asked if there were moments when she was out of her comfort zone, Alexis shares that she learned basic Zulu and pushed herself to really have conversations with people in Zulu while abroad. "Although it was awkward at times, I just smiled through it all and tried my best to connect," Alexis says.

 alexis jump

Through the University of Miami's PlusOne Scholarship, Alexis spent an extra semester at the University of Miami in order to further pursue courses that she wouldn't normally have time to pursue in the standard four years. 

The Plus One Scholarship is a program of educational enrichment that offers University of Miami undergraduates a tuition-free year or semester beyond the normal number of years required to complete an undergraduate degree. The program’s single purpose is to give students the opportunity to broaden and expand their learning and study subjects their degree requirements and other academic commitments may preclude.

When asked if she has any parting advice for students applying for awards like the PlusOne, Alexis is candid. "Write, write, and re-write. Great writing isn't done in a day, so you have to be willing to solicit feedback and revise," she says. 

For Alexis, this combination of awards and fellowships shifted her perspective and her trajectory. The lessons that she learned from both her time abroad and her time applying for funding are invaluable and have served her as she applied to gradate schools and internships.