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BW grad student one of five globally to receive Fulbright-National Geographic Awards

Jamil Wilson, MAEd '24, took his childhood passion and dreamed big. Then he dreamed bigger until he achieved a goal that put him in an elite category of being named both a recipient of a Fulbright U.S. Student Award and National Geographic Award. It is a rare honor that many desire and few achieve.

 Jamil Wilson by water

From a small creek in his hometown of Centerburg, Ohio, Jamil Wilson, MAEd '24, began his childhood interest in science. His fascination with water and biology grew as he did. Upon graduation from high school, he took his dream of becoming a scientist to Cleveland State University, where his goals came closer to fruition.

To support his studies, he worked no less than three jobs at the same time while still maintaining full-time student status. It was difficult, time-consuming and tiring. But he persisted. Along the way, Wilson's dreams of science and research came true. He was a participant in The McNair Scholars Program and later was awarded a National Science Foundation REU (Research Experience for Undergraduates) at the University of Puerto Rico. Among accolades, he was named one of Princeton's 2018 Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Scholar Finalists.

Jamil Wilson in lab
Wilson working in a lab in Ohio preparing algae samples to be seen under a microscope.

Ready for the next step, Wilson earned his undergraduate degree in 2018 as a biology major with the goal of attending graduate school. But fate had other plans. After failing to get into a graduate program, he pursued scuba diving — traveling to six U.S. cities and seven countries to earn his rescue diver certification in less than a year's time.

In 2020, despite the pandemic, Wilson participated in a virtual internship at the Smithsonian Marine Station. A year later, through mentorship and membership with the National Association of Black Scuba Divers, he became the first African American OWUSS Rolex scholar, where his fascinating, scenic and adventure-filled one-year experience was captured on video — showcasing his growing knowledge and skills in underwater research and photography and more ecological activism.

Pursuing marine environmental education in Papua New Guinea

Fast forward to today, and Wilson is on the brink of another prestigious and enviable adventure that will further catapult him to his dream career. And cheering him on along the way are his Baldwin Wallace professors, who not only provided ongoing support and mentorship but also helped him fine-tune his Fulbright and National Geographic applications — among them Drs. Matthew FeinbergGabriel Swarts and Heather Marzenski. It is BW's team approach to student success that makes BW's Fulbright program a standout among universities vying for the prestigious honor.*

For Wilson, the Fulbright-National Geographic Award is the perfect next step after earning his BW Master of Arts in Education (MAEd) degree. "I want to help teach others like me about the ocean and how they can be a part of changing the oceans for the better. When I got word that I had won both awards, I was overwhelmed with joy and disbelief. I'm simply excited that I will be able to teach science to students and conduct research while working with Fulbright and National Geographic."

"My plan includes traveling in late November to Papua New Guinea, where l will be leading a research project that aims to assess how marine environmental education programs can effectively motivate diverse students to engage in ocean advocacy through educational, cultural, technological and personal influences. To help me conduct this research, I will be working with the organization Mahonia Na Dari," explained Wilson.

"I chose to work in Papua New Guinea, an island country in the south-western Pacific, because of its cultural diversity, rich biodiversity, and its vital relationship with the ocean as a large island nation. I got interested in doing this type of research after getting involved with scuba diving and helping kids (who look like me and are often not perceived as ocean-faring) learn how to dive for the first time," Wilson went on to say.

Jamil Wilson by water
While in Mexico, Wilson was able to look at why Devil Ray aggregations occur.

From disappointment to accolade as principal researcher

"In the future, I hope to build international rapport, positively impact the future of marine education, and to learn valuable research skills from this experience that will better prepare me for a Ph.D. program. Though I've participated in many research projects, this will be my first as the principal researcher," noted Wilson.

"I hope this opportunity will allow me to pursue even greater accomplishments in the realm of marine-related research, education and advancements. My goal is to one day create my own non-profit organization that supports minorities in marine science and exploration," he added.

"One of the biggest hardships I faced was in 2018 when no graduate programs accepted me. It gutted me at the time, as such events can do to a person who has goals they want to achieve. However, I have learned that when it seems like all the doors shut in your face, persistence and perseverance are the key to making those doors open back up or to open new doors," he said with wise affirmation.

"I've always said that the greatest things we fear in life often tend to be the things that are the most worthwhile. So, my advice is to chase your fears because you might not only find them worthwhile, but you may also, at the very least, find more of yourself than you ever imagined," he noted with reflective insight as he recalled the challenges and successes that served as stepping stones to his personal and professional self-actualization.

BW Fulbright Program

Under the direction of Drs. Matthew Feinberg, associate professor of Spanish, and Danielle Kuntz, associate professor of music history and literature, Baldwin Wallace's Fulbright Program has had illustrious success. Since 2019, BW has had nine finalists and one semi-finalist, with destinations spanning Taiwan, Mexico, Ukraine, Macedonia, Germany and Colombia. In 2024, BW had two finalists (including Bonnie Vigil '24) and one semi-finalist (Hunter Duseau '24), just missing the elite designation of being named a top Fulbright-producing institution. The Fulbright Program, which is sponsored by the U.S. government in partnership with countries around the world, awards grants to approximately 20% of applicants, making it an esteemed honor.

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