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This weekend, two Penn seniors answered their phones to congratulations from the Marshall Scholarship selection committee.

Nursing and Wharton senior GJ Melendez-Torres and College and Wharton senior Kristin Hall are among 40 recipients for 2011.

Out of the 17 Penn students who applied, four were Marshall finalists. The two winners will spend the next two years earning master’s degrees at the University of Oxford free of cost.

It’s coincidental that both students will be in the same place, since the award pays for high-achieving young Americans to study for two years at any graduate institution in the United Kingdom. Last year, Penn recipient Joshua Bennett won the Marshall and chose to study at the University of Warwick to earn a master’s degree in Theatre and Performance Studies.

During his two-year stay, Melendez-Torres plans to obtain a research master’s degree in Evidence-Based Social Intervention. According to him, Oxford has “the only program in the world in this field.”

Melendez-Torres is interested in eventually making an impact on research surrounding mental health issues in disadvantaged older adults. After Oxford, he intends to return to Penn to pursue a master’s degree in Advanced Practice Psychiatric Mental Health Nursing with funding from the Truman Scholarship he won last spring.

At Penn, Melendez-Torres is the chairman of the United Minorities Council, speaker of the Undergraduate Assembly, member of the Sphinx Senior Society and a residential adviser.

“The application process was very rewarding,” he said. “By answering lots and lots of essays, I learned about myself and what I want to do.”

Hall, a finance and international studies major and math minor in the Huntsman program, hopes to leave Oxford with two master’s degrees — one in Economics for Development and the other probably for Financial Development, though the latter is “not set in stone,” she said.

During her years at Penn, Hall has served as a representative on the Wharton Dean’s Undergraduate Advisory Board, an editor for 3808: A Journal of Critical Writing and chief financial officer of student organization Generation Enterprise.

She is interested in sub-Saharan Africa and has spent summers in Botswana and Tanzania helping poverty-stricken citizens with finances.

“I’m excited to go to Oxford because it’s the premiere think tank of sub-Saharan African issues,” she said. “There’s much more interest because it’s a commonwealth and has shared history.”

Eventually, Hall hopes to work at a development bank or the International Monetary Fund, informing economic policy for African countries.

“This will be very rigorous and challenging, but it’s something I’ve been looking forward to for a long time,” she said. “My degrees will make it easy to transition into a career.”

Center of Undergraduate Research and Fellowships Director Harriet Joseph said both winners are “incredibly diverse in all of their interests, strong academically and wonderful leaders.”

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