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July 31, 2014

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UNLV student comes from a dark past, has a Fulbright future

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Paul Takahashi

UNLV senior Bradley Davey is the 12th student at UNLV to win a Fulbright scholarship. Davey, 26, plans to teach English and American culture in Germany next year.

Growing up in a poor, single-parent household, Bradley Davey never thought he would go to college, let alone receive one of the nation’s most prestigious scholarships.

But the UNLV Honors College senior graduated Saturday with a 4.0 grade-point average and an impressive resume, including research fellowships with the Desert Research Institute and Lincy Institute.

Recently, Davey was named one of 20 Fulbright Teaching Scholars nationally. The Fulbright scholarship, founded more than 60 years ago, is the nation’s largest and most competitive student exchange program.

His accomplishments belie his tough upbringing and the obstacles he has had to overcome.

Davey’s father committed suicide when Davey was 5. Davey says his mother once sent his brother and him to live with relatives because her boyfriend at the time didn’t like them.

During his teenage years, Davey began questioning his father’s suicide and his strained relationship with his mother. He became depressed and stopped going to school.

“I was coming to terms with my life at the time,” he said. “It was a difficult and trying time for me. School was the least of my concerns.”

By the time he was 16, Davey had dropped out of high school, gotten his GED and was living on his own in Las Vegas. To make ends meet, he worked as a fast food server and Starbucks barista.

His life seemed bleak — until he met his neighbor and friend, Kyle George. The UNLV alumnus encouraged Davey to go to college and get his degree.

“(George) was the first father figure I had,” Davey said. “He looked me in the face and said he loved me but I was screwing up my life. It was a really profound moment for me.”

At age 21, Davey enrolled at the College of Southern Nevada and later transferred to UNLV. He excelled in all of his pre-med classes but fell in love with German after taking an introductory class, so he decided to major in German studies.

Davey’s college mentor, Ryan Larsen, advised him to study abroad. Davey didn’t think it would be possible.

“I was on my own and supporting myself financially,” Davey said. “Living abroad was a really daunting thing.”

Larsen, assistant director of UNLV’s International Programs, helped Davey apply for several UNLV and federal scholarships, which allowed him to study and teach in Lüneburg, Germany, during his junior year. Davey made some of his closest friends during his year abroad and grew to love his host family, who treated him as one of their own.

“It was an incredible eye-opener,” Davey said. “They were the first example of what a real, true, loving family is. It was such an antithesis to my life.”

When he returned to the United States, Davey immediately began looking for a way to return to Germany. With Larsen’s assistance, he applied for the Fulbright Scholarship program, which was passed by Congress in 1946 to create better cultural understanding between the United States and other countries.

This month, Davey learned that he won a Fulbright scholarship, worth between $15,000 and $20,000. He is the 12th Fulbright scholar in UNLV’s 57-year history.

“A lot of people who apply for the Fulbright have high academic achievement, but Bradley was able to tell them a story that made him stand out,” Larsen said. “At UNLV, we have so many first-generation college students and so many students who are paving their own way. Almost every obstacle was put in front of Bradley, and he was able to scale those walls and succeed. It’s extraordinary.”

This fall, Davey plans to travel back to Germany to teach low-income students at a Frankfurt school. He hopes to teach them a thing or two about what it takes to overcome adversity and persevere despite long odds.

“There are so many students who are born into my situation each day through no fault of their own,” Davey said. “It’s extremely unfair, and no one should have to go through what I did. If I can change that, that would be a dream of mine.”

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