Ali Preissing was sitting in a quiet library in Italy when she got the news. In the midst of studying for her J-Term exams, the email pinging in her inbox told her that all her hard work was beginning to pay off. She was a semifinalist for the Fulbright U.S. Student Program.

“I told my friend, who’s Italian, that I’m not going to get it, I’m not going to get it, I’m not going to get it, because it’s so competitive,” Preissing said. “I was shocked, to say the least. It’s one of those things you don’t think of as a realistic possibility, so you put it out of your mind.”

Preissing, a graduate student, is one of 14 Miami undergraduate, graduate and alumni Fulbright semifinalists for the 2018-2019 program, the most the university has ever had.

Fulbright is a nationwide program that receives over 10,000 applications every year, yet only about 1,900 grants are awarded. Fulbright provides financial aid for two types of programs outside of the United States: the English teaching assistant program and independently designed study/research projects.

Karla Guinigundo, director of global partnerships at Miami, has worked with each semifinalist over the long application process. This year, Guinigundo said, 28 people applied — two more than the previous year.

“The past few years we’ve been trying to push that number up, but the jump in semifinalists was more than we were expecting,” Guinigundo said. “We were thrilled.”

Guinigundo said this high amount of semifinalists speaks to the quality of Miami education and its students.

“I think it reflects on the caliber of students that we have here,” Guinigundo said. “Fulbright’s a little bit different. Yes, they want to see a strong academic record, but they’re also looking for those engaged student leaders who really want their work to make a difference.”

The Fulbright scholarship covers everything for the recipients’ programs, including airfare, health insurance, orientation, housing and meals. Each program typically lasts for the academic year, varying slightly from country to country.

Guinigundo believes a relationship exists between Miami’s strong study abroad presence and this record number of semifinalists. While Fulbright is not a study abroad program, it is a way to blend global experience with professional development. And, while strong academic records, leadership capabilities and language skills indicate a promising candidate, Fulbright is often looking for something extra in their applicants.

“Fulbright’s mission is increasing intercultural understanding between the U.S. and other countries, so students have to demonstrate that they also share that vision,” Guinigundo said.

John Jeep, a professor of German at Miami, often provides informal advising for some Fulbright applicants, particularly those applying to teach or study in Germany. Jeep’s experience as a foreign exchange student in high school led him to be passionate about what Fulbright offers students.

“They may never have another chance like this in their lifetime,” Jeep said. “It was life-changing for me, and I think it can be for other people, too.”

Fulbright finalists will be announced between mid-March and May, as it varies from country to country. Preissing, who applied to be an English teaching assistant in the Czech Republic, said if she wins, she fully expects her year abroad to be instrumental in her future success.

“I always get the question, ‘What are you going to do with a degree in liberal arts?’” she said. “This is what you can do with it. It’s an amazing honor to be able to represent the United States in this fashion.”