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GCU Basketball Player Takes a Shot and Nets a Fulbright Fellowship

Hanna Thrainsdottir

Hanna Thrainsdottir ’22, a Georgian Court University women’s basketball forward, knows the thrill of making challenging shots both on and off the court. The Iceland native recently learned she will receive a prestigious Fulbright Fellowship for the 2022–2023 academic year. Only a handful of applicants are chosen each year by the Icelandic Fulbright Commission for the highly competitive scholarship, which supports Icelandic students’ graduate studies in the United States and furthers its goals of mutual understanding and knowledge sharing between the two countries.

“I never imagined I would receive a Fulbright Fellowship,” said Hanna, a double major in digital communication and psychology. “I discovered the application as I was researching other scholarships and thought, ‘I don’t have my hopes up, but it will be a good experience to apply.’”

The generous financial award would go far toward covering master’s program tuition, Hanna thought, and the opportunity to participate in the scholarly Fulbright community was even more appealing. With the support of her parents back in Iceland; suggestions from Brittany Bursa, a GCU global education and student success specialist and previous U.S. Fulbright recipient; and some very compelling letters of recommendation, Hanna submitted her application—a long shot, or so she believed.

The Icelandic Fulbright Commission felt differently, and while Hanna is “very surprised” at her selection as a Fulbright scholar, others in the Georgian Court community are not.

Hanna—Inspired and Prepared

“Hanna is a dedicated, genuine leader who inspires and encourages those around her to be themselves and be engaged,” said Laura Grodewald, director of global education programs. “Hanna’s receipt of this prestigious award reflects her commitment to GCU’s core values of justice, respect, integrity, service, and compassion, locally and globally. She demonstrates this commitment that aligns both with GCU’s mission and the Fulbright mission, and we are proud to say that she is a GCU Lion!”

Upon learning the news, GCU Women’s Basketball Coach Jasmina “Jazz” Perazic posted on Facebook: “Anyone who has met Hanna Thrainsdottir will not be surprised by this announcement . . . No one deserves it more. The hard work, the diligence with which Hanna approaches all tasks, the endless desire to learn and improve have been so wonderful and inspiring to witness.”

Fulbright Fellowships are awarded to the very brightest, most accomplished college students—Hanna now among them. She currently has a 4.0 GPA, has won multiple academic and athletic awards, is a member of three academic honor societies, holds leadership roles in campus organizations, presents at professional conferences, is a published short story author and writer for the GCU student newspaper, is fluent in Icelandic and English, and can hold her own in Spanish and Danish.

A Turnover of the Academic Kind

Hanna presented research at the Mid-Atlantic Popular & American Culture Association Conference in Pittsburgh, PA, in 2019.

While she is a stellar scholar, Hanna admits it was the opportunity to play basketball, not academics, that drew her to GCU. “When my parents and I toured the campus in 2017, it was meeting Coach Jazz, as well as liking the smaller, family feel of the campus, that convinced me I was meant to come here,” she said. Hanna chose the digital communication major because she thought it would be a good use of her skillsets—she was the go-to video maker among her friends in Iceland—and allow her to focus on basketball.

However, after one class with Marci Mazzarotto, Ph.D., assistant professor of digital communication and coordinator of the digital communication program, “I realized my major was not going to be a breeze,” Hanna said. “That class changed my life. It made me passionate about my studies, especially the application of theoretical concepts to the real world.” In her sophomore year, she added a second major, psychology, to challenge herself further and receive additional exposure to empirical research.

Now a senior, Hanna has applied to about 10 media studies master’s programs in the United States, with a goal of earning a Ph.D. and pursuing a career in higher education research and teaching. “While my undergraduate studies have broadly covered both the theoretical and practical sides of digital communication, I’m excited to move onto a more focused academic program in the realm of media, culture, and technology.

“I have many research interests, but I am specifically interested in analyzing the representation of different social groups in popular culture,” she said, “as well as researching how Icelandic, a minority language, is used in our digitally saturated world.”

Her GCU education, notes Hanna, is a solid foundation on which to build her future. “The teaching has been amazing. Both of my advisors, Dr. Mazzarotto and Susan E. O. Field, Ph.D., from the Department of Psychology and Counseling, have been extremely supportive. They’ve gone above and beyond in many ways and provided me with opportunities to attend and present at conferences.”  In April, she’ll make her second appearance at the National Popular Culture Association Conference, where she’ll present her project, “Tailoring Gayness for the Mainstream: The Nuances of Queer Representation in Love, Simon.”

Basketball and Beyond

Portrait by Joshua Tinto ’20, ’22

Playing basketball for Georgian Court has given the 6-foot forward, a team captain, numerous experiences. One of them was a first for GCU—last season’s appearance in the NCAA Division II Eastern Regional Tournament. She’s also had an “automatic friendship group.”

“My teammates are my best friends, my family here,” said Hanna. “In Coach Jazz, I have a coach who’s encouraged me academically and who sees her team not just as players, but as people.”

Added her coach: “Hanna has been the most wonderful young woman to coach and to have on our team. Her positive influence has been key to our team’s culture and to our unprecedented success last season. Hanna is an amazing student-athlete, but even more importantly she is the best teammate anyone could ask for. We are all fortunate to have had her on our team. She made us better in every way possible.”

As with any college sport, playing basketball requires Hanna to be an extremely organized planner and to carefully prioritize other activities. With that mindset, she’s had a presence not only in the classroom and on the court, but in the broader GCU community.

In her junior year, Hanna was an international student mentor for the Office of Global Education Programs, guiding new international students as they prepared for their experience at GCU.  “As an international student myself, I felt it was important to give back and share my experiences with new students and help them through what can be a challenging time,” she said. In addition to typical questions (“Where’s the laundromat?” “What should I pack?”), studying in the United States during a pandemic raised other concerns that Hanna talked through with one mentee in particular. That’s not her only involvement with the Office of Global Education Programs. Her video storytelling talents are evident in four study-abroad videos she created as a video and digital media specialist for the office (watch one of them here).

She also is president of GCU’s LGBTQ student organization and has served on the GCU Council for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion as an active contributor to its programming committee. Being able to offer panels and other events to students, even by Zoom, is important, she believes, as the university builds a more inclusive community, not one where differences are merely tolerated.

With one semester and half a basketball season remaining, Hanna said she is most grateful—for the variety of experiences she’s had at GCU as a vibrant ambassador for international education and for what lies ahead as Fulbright Fellow.

Story contributed by freelance writer Sheila Noonan.

Aerial view of GCU.

About Georgian Court University

Georgian Court University is a leading regional university that provides a transformative education, preparing students for ethical leadership and service in the Catholic Mercy tradition. Founded in 1908 and sponsored by the Sisters of Mercy, Georgian Court University is Central and South Jersey’s only Catholic university. The university has a strong liberal arts core and a historic special concern for women.

As a forward-thinking university that supports diversity and academic excellence, GCU is known for expanding possibility for more than 1,900 students of all faiths and backgrounds in 35+ undergraduate majors and 10+ graduate programs. The GCU Lions compete in 16 NCAA Division II sports in the Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference (CACC). In 2020, GCU was named a Best Value College by and a Best Bang for the Buck (Northeast) by Washington Monthly. High student retention and graduation rates make GCU a Top Performer on Social Mobility on U.S. News & World Reports rankings, and in 2024, GCU was named one of the best Online Master’s Colleges in New Jersey.

The main campus is in Lakewood, New Jersey, on the picturesque former George Jay Gould estate, a National Historic Landmark. Georgian Court, which is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, also serves students through its Center for Professional Studies, and at other locations, including GCU at Brookdale, and through multiple online degree and certificate programs.