From Local Student to Global Scholar:  The Transformative Power of a Christian Education

Dr. Debra A. Schwinn, Palm Beach Atlantic University President

Palm Beach Atlantic University (PBA) has a distinguished track record of fostering international scholars, exemplified by its continued success in prestigious global scholarship programs. In the last seven years alone, PBA alumni have received 17 Fulbright awards.

This year, three exceptional graduates — Brody Eldridge, Niang Thang and Kyla Gates — earned the Fulbright English Teaching Assistant (ETA) award. Their achievements will enable them to serve as cultural ambassadors in various countries during the 2024-25 academic year. Additionally, Dr. Ariel Viale, a professor of finance at PBA, received a Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program award to conduct research and teach in Vietnam for the same academic year. Moreover, Amy Scarborough recently won the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship, marking her as the fourth PBA recipient in the last three years. This consistent recognition underscores PBA’s commitment to equipping students to lead with wisdom, serve boldly, and excel internationally.

As we celebrate these graduates and faculty on their accomplishments, I’m reminded of the power of education to instill change. Among the 2024-25 Fulbright recipients is Niang Thang, a second-generation college student who pursued a major in psychology and a minor in chemistry. She was also accepted into the PBA Frederick M. Supper Honors Program, received a 2024 Woman of Distinction Scholarship and was the Class of 2024 Outstanding Graduate for the psychology department.

Thang overcame numerous obstacles, including academic and mental health challenges in high school to get where she is today. She is a testimony of how a Christian higher education, mentorship and the transformative power of belief can help someone feeling stuck receive the support to live out their calling.


Niang Thang

Finding academic renewal at PBA

Thang heard about PBA from her friend’s sister, who attended the university. She entered PBA as a freshman in fall 2020, all while navigating college life during the COVID-19 pandemic. She says her past experiences of learning how to manage her mental health in high school helped her thrive in college during the pandemic.

Thang also credits her success to PBA’s supportive community. She was particularly moved by the genuine care that faculty and staff demonstrated, especially as she entered PBA with an undeclared major.

Thang added that she could focus on her academic and career goals thanks to the scholarships she received, including the 2024 Women of Distinction Scholarship, which gives funds to female students who excel in academics, service and leadership, and the Johnson Scholarship, which is distributed to PBA students with demonstrated financial need.


Looking ahead: Fulbright and future goal

This summer, Thang will embark on a year-long English teaching assistantship to Taiwan under the prestigious Fulbright U.S. Student Program. Though she wasn’t initially planning to apply, a professor urged her to consider it, and she took a leap of faith. Guided by Dr. Carl Miller, associate professor of English and PBA faculty coordinator for the Rhodes and Fulbright scholarships, Thang prepared her application last semester while also applying to graduate programs.

Last month, she learned that she received the Fulbright award.

“Tears started flowing; I was in utter shock. I could not believe it,” Thang said, adding that these moments remind her to believe in herself. “People would think I was a failure with no future, but there was something in me that said I knew better.”

After her teaching assistantship, Thang wants to continue her education and become a clinical psychologist.

“PBA is something special — I’ve never encountered people like this,” she reflected. “These professors are investing in our lives, and their belief in me [reminded me] that I can thrive. I don’t think I would have done as well as I did if I attended another school.”

Stories like Thang’s demonstrate the value of a Christ-centered education. I truly believe PBA is helping students make a difference in their communities, in the country, and in the world, and Niang Thang’s story is an example of that.


Dr. Debra A. Schwinn, a physician, researcher and innovator, is president of Palm Beach Atlantic University. (

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