On Saturday, Chris Colonna graduated from WKU as the Ogden Foundation Scholar, the highest academic honor at WKU.
Now the Elizabethtown native and John Hardin High School graduate is preparing to spend a year teaching English at Mae Fah Luang University in Chiang Rai, Thailand, after receiving a fellowship from Princeton-in-Asia.
Colonna, who graduated from the Honors College at WKU with degrees in Biology and Chemistry, is the son of Paul and Brenda Colonna. He also received one of the Scholar of the College awards from the Ogden College of Science and Engineering on Saturday.
Princeton-in-Asia (PiA), founded in 1898, provides service-oriented experiences for highly qualified students while serving the needs of various regions throughout the continent. In 2010, the program sent 165 fellows to serve in 18 Asian countries. A majority of these fellows teach English at high schools and universities.
After completing his year abroad, Colonna plans to attend the University of Kentucky College of Medicine with interests in primary care and international medicine.
“One of the main reasons I eventually want to be a physician is that I love the interaction with patients,” Colonna said. “While teaching English does not have direct applicability to becoming a physician, having excellent personal relation skills is crucial. Being able to present complex information in a way that is accessible to the average person is important in the hospital as well as in the classroom.”
Before being offered a PiA Fellowship, Colonna said that the possibility of spending a year overseas seemed like a distant dream.
“When they first called, I was a bit overwhelmed,” he said. “After a while, the fact that I’m going to be spending a year teaching in Thailand truly sunk in and now I’m just really excited.”
After participating in a study abroad course with Professor Michael Stokes in Biology, Colonna first became interested in spending a year abroad. “Dr. Stokes has always been an outstanding mentor and continues to encourage me to put forth my best effort in all of my endeavors,” he said.
“I’m proud of Chris and his achievements,” Dr. Stokes said. “I’m particularly delighted with his inquisitive, investigative approach to life. He combines brilliance, a terrific work ethic, responsibility, social adaptability and the mind of a scientist into a whole person of unusual potential. Chris will be a great representative of our university, of Princeton and of the U.S. in Thailand.”
Colonna was also thankful for the support offered by the Office of Scholar Development to refine his application.
“The help that was provided by OSD when I applied for the Princeton-in-Asia scholarship was truly invaluable,” he said. “The insight that the staff shared and the encouragement were vital in helping me to prepare a competitive application and, ultimately, be awarded the scholarship.”
Dr. Audra Jennings, Interim Director of the Office of Scholar Development, works with students applying for fellowships like PiA and other nationally competitive awards.
“Chris came to OSD with a dream of spending a year in Southeast Asia,” Dr. Jennings said. “He utilized the resources of OSD to their fullest and worked tirelessly until his application was as polished as possible. Chris faced strong competition, at least three applicants from the nation’s top universities for every fellowship, but his focus, hard work, and commitment to that dream have made it a reality.”
About the Office of Scholar Development: The Office of Scholar Development is committed to helping students on all WKU campuses and in all majors and degree programs develop the vision, experience and skills to be independent, engaged scholars. OSD welcomes the opportunity to work with students interested in the Princeton-in-Asia program or other similar opportunities. Contact Dr. Audra Jennings, (270) 745-5043.
About the Honors College at WKU: WKU is home to the only Honors College in the Commonwealth of Kentucky. Created in 2007, the Honors College at WKU provides an intimate, highly selective learning environment where college-age gifted and high-achieving students can develop the skills to prepare them for success in the nation’s top academic and career opportunities. Contact Drew Mitchell, (270) 745-2081.