It’s always nice to have a testimonial from a close friend when making a major decision. When Zach Dooley was deciding where to go to college, and whether to pursue the Presidential Scholarship at Georgia State, his trusted advisor was one of his best friends since the seventh grade — Melynda Pommells, a member of the 2014 class of Presidential Scholars.
“Melynda told me I should apply for the scholarship,” Dooley remembers. “When I was a senior, her dad was telling me all about her being a Presidential Scholar and the opportunities she was getting — the Honors College, the urban setting, how close everything was, and especially the diversity. And one day I got a voice mail from Dean [Larry] Berman while I was in class, and I listened to it, and he was telling me ‘Congratulations, you have the scholarship.’”
Never Lost in Translation
At Georgia State, Dooley will be studying languages, a field that has fascinated him — and one in which he’s had a special talent — ever since he was very young.
“I’ve been taking Spanish since the fourth grade,” he says. “In middle school, I got so good at Spanish that I wasn’t allowed to talk in class — my teacher made me sit off to the side and read ‘Diary of a Wimpy Kid’ in Spanish. Before I started high school, my grandmother got me a French Rosetta Stone, and I skipped the first two levels of French from just a summer of doing that. I’m really thankful to have a natural ability in language. I’m just able to pick it up really quickly.”
Specifically, Dooley’s major is applied linguistics, which he describes as “the study of language in diverse settings — how language works and why it works, and what we can do with that information.” He says he’s looking forward to the new challenges it presents.
“For a linguistics major, you have to take a less commonly taught language, and my options were basically Chinese, Arabic, or Korean — I think Russian might have been an option too. I’m currently taking Korean, because I have a lot of Korean-speaking friends, and I don’t have any friends who speak any of the other languages.”
Ultimately, Dooley wants to apply his skills outside the specific field of linguistics. “I eventually want to go to law school and be an immigration lawyer,” he says, “which I guess does have to do with diverse populations and different linguistic pockets of people. And not just immigration law, but defense of the under-represented in general. Because I had a lot of friends growing up who were from minority groups, especially Spanish-speaking minority groups, and a lot of them still feel disenfranchised.”
A Vast Array of Voices
Being among a wide variety of different cultures was an important factor in Dooley’s college search. So far, he says, Georgia State has lived up to its reputation.
“I really appreciate the closeness of the Georgia State community, where people aren’t afraid to talk to people that they don’t know. And there are people from so many diverse backgrounds,” he says. “Also, the gay community here is thriving, whereas in Douglasville it was basically 10 teenagers and that was it. So that’s been nice to see.”
Dooley says he’s also enjoying the experience of attending college in the middle of a major urban area. “I have a lot of friends who go to other universities — I’ll be texting with them and they’ll say things like, ‘It’s gonna take me 30 minutes to get to this next class.’ Meanwhile, my next class is in the same building, just five floors up.”
As a kid, Dooley made occasional trips to Atlanta with his family, enough that when he got a car in high school and started coming on his own, he knew his way around. Still, he says, it’s nice to have one of his best friends living right nearby — in the same building, in fact. “Melynda lives two floors above me,” he says. “We see each other all the time.”