PAnews.com, Port Arthur, Texas

July 18, 2013

PA native awarded Fulbright Scholarship, heading to Colombia

Cody Edgerton
The Port Arthur News

PORT ARTHUR — Joining the ranks of notable government leaders, Nobel and Pulitzer Prize winners may seem out of reach to many, but not Megan Echols of Port Arthur.

Echols was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship that will allow her to venture to Medellin, Colombia, to research the transformation the city has undergone using architecture to improve not only urban development, but also  social influences as well.

The Fulbright Program was established in 1946 as an educational exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government. Its purpose is to harbor mutual understanding between the people of the U.S. and other countries. The program gives about 8,000 grants a year split between the participating 155 countries, according to information from the Fulbright Program.

And to say Echols is excited at being part of such an elite group would be an understatement.

She learned of her acceptance while attending Howard University in D.C., studying for a Bachelor’s degree in architecture. As she chatted with a friend online about feeling anxious about whether she would be accepted, the friend told her that it would come when she least expected it.

Little did she know just how accurate her friend’s insight was. Moments later, she opened an e-mail, partially expecting disappointment, to see that she had been awarded the scholarship.

She said she pushed away from her desk, sending her, still in her chair, rolling out into the dorm hallway, yelling, “I’m a Fulbright Scholar!”

“It definitely came when I didn’t expect it,” said Echols.

As the reality sank in, she realized that all the work she had put in finally paid off from trying to balance a full class load and getting everything submitted to the Fulbright Program.

“I’m there sitting up in the middle of the night writing the letter on top of all the other things I’m doing in school,” Echols said.

But having a strong work ethic has been with Echols since a young age, according to Sandra Kaczur, her fourth grade teacher at Booker T. Washington Elementary in Port Arthur.

“She was always such a great student; she always loved looking at things from a different perspective,” Kaczur said, recalling a young Echols ready to learn everything she could.

In regard to Echols being awarded the Fulbright Scholarship, she isn’t amazed at all that she was chosen and is very proud of her achievement.

She remembers a time when Echols went to camp in Palestine. The students were down near a pond retrieving samples for a part of the camp. An overeager Echols created quite the splash.

“She was the child that was so eager to get samples she fell into the pond and came up with the biggest smile,” Kaczur said, adding that even though she ended up in the water, when she popped back up, the sample came right along with her.

Her mom, Deborah, was just as excited, and echoed her daughter’s sentiment. She was at a doctor visit when she got a text message with a picture of her acceptance letter.

Being in the doctor’s office, she didn’t jump up and down but quickly told the doctor about it. Since that time she has come to grips with the fact her daughter will be leaving for a year to Colombia.

“I can’t believe it got here so fast,” her mother said. “I was threatening to go with her.”

But she feels that Echols will do great in her endeavors and has always encouraged her to travel and see the world.

Echols first became interested in design while attending Memorial High School in Port Arthur, even attending Parson’s Design School in New York City between her junior and senior years.

When asked about her favorite building in Port Arthur, Echols responded that it would probably be the building next the World Trade building on Austin Avenue downtown, adding that she really likes most of the buildings downtown and enjoys the old homes on Lakeshore Drive.

Echols said that they don’t take the time to make buildings like that anymore.

And though her taste seems to be design from days gone by, her future is what she is most excited about. As she packs and readies herself for her trip on Friday, Echols couldn’t help but show her optimism.

“I’m really nervous, but I’m interested to find out how much my life will change or how different it will be,” Echols said.

Email: cedgerton@panews.com

Twitter: @cedgerton13