Fernanda Angel Evangelista ’27 isn’t wasting any time. The Westover Honors Fellow, who hails from Brazil, already has a long list of extracurriculars beneath her University of Lynchburg email signature.
Among other things, she’s the 2023-24 student body vice president of internal affairs, a student ambassador, a member of the Debate and Forensics Society, a Connection and Summer Transition Program leader, a CHAMPS mentor, a book club president, public relations chair for the International Society, a Pre-law Society senator, and a Model European Union delegate.
She also is a double major — intelligence studies and criminology-philosophy — with minors in criminal forensics, international relations, and political science. And she’s been on campus since January 2023.
“My dream was always to come study in America because I know I’m meant to do something big in the future and I know I would not have that opportunity in Brazil, especially working with law and politics,” Evangelista said.
“I never got to choose my classes growing up. We had no extracurricular activities and we had no GPA. So even though I liked school, I could not do anything much with it like people could here.
“I think this is the main reason why I got myself involved with so many activities on campus, because I know I was given an opportunity that most Brazilians could only dream of, so I’m making sure that I’m making the best out of it.”
Evangelista chose Lynchburg after learning about its Debate and Forensics Society and talking with the team’s coach, Dr. Paula Youra, in the fall of 2021. “I was looking into schools that had the intelligence major and a debate team and I saw Dr. Youra’s email [on the website], so we had a Google meeting where she told me all about it.”
Youra, a professor of communication studies and director of Lynchburg’s Center for Professional Communication, said she and Evangelista hit it off immediately. “She and I have a mutual enthusiasm for debate and forensics,” Youra said.
“It was fun to share with her all we do with our Lynchburg team. She was very excited about our tournaments, travel, practices, community involvement, and team spirit. I kept in touch with her over the following year to make sure she had any questions about Lynchburg answered.”
When Evangelista arrived on campus last winter, she joined the Debate and Forensics Society and competed in two tournaments. “She tried out to join the team — just as any competitor would have to do,” Youra said.
“She brought her A-game to every practice and she competed in the two tournaments we attended. She won and placed in several of her events and won a year-end award for outstanding novice competitor.”
Youra added, “Fernanda is a wonderful asset. I’m looking forward to seeing what she will accomplish next year.”
Evangelista also presented at Lynchburg’s annual Student Scholar Showcase. Her topic, suicide prevention, was the subject of a persuasive speech she gave in debate and forensics competition. It’s a subject she feels passionately about.
“In my freshman year of high school, one of my peers … attempted suicide, and I remember how impactful that was on everyone else’s life as well,” she said. “Treating suicide like a forbidden topic only causes it to be more appealing to those who are considering it, especially in our teenage years.
“Everyone knows you can call a suicide prevention hotline and that you will be put in a mental hospital if your attempt goes wrong, but the resources and impacts go so much deeper than that — and that should be common knowledge.
“A suicide ruins more than just one life, and that principle is often overlooked when it should be another reason for us to raise awareness.”
Once she graduates, Evangelista’s goal is to go to law school and eventually work for the FBI or another U.S. government agency. “Coming from a third-world, underdeveloped country, being able to be part of something bigger that actually impacts national security seems like a literal dream for me,” she said.
“I have wanted [to go to] law school since before I even knew I was coming here, and I know this is a dream I will not give up on.”
Dan Murphy, an assistant professor of criminology at Lynchburg, has seen this determination in the classroom. “Fernanda is a wonderful student,” he said, adding that he first met her last spring in his Victimology class.
“Since she was one of the last students to enroll, her course offerings were limited. She took a chance and took Victimology with me — a 300-level course — and was able to obtain an A through her hard work and obvious intelligence.
“She’s ambitious, to say the least, as her ultimate goal is to be some kind of lawyer for the government, and that is why she is a double major in intelligence studies and criminology-philosophy.
“She’s a pleasant student and an absolute joy to have in the classroom.”
Evangelista said taking Murphy’s class was an “honor” and that Murphy — who spent his early career in law enforcement — “is simply extraordinary and will go above and beyond for any of his students.”
Youra and Murphy aren’t the only members of the campus community who have helped Evangelista since she arrived at Lynchburg.
She said Meg Dillon ’17 MEd and Alison Tuck ’09, ’11 MA, in the Advising and Academic Resource Center, “helped me with anything academics-related and kept me going when times were difficult.”
Tuck, programming and advising coordinator for first-year initiatives, first met Evangelista when she was scheduling her spring classes.
“From my first meeting with Fernanda, it was clear she is the kind of person who takes her education seriously,” Tuck said, adding that Evangelista immediately “set about building her reputation as a scholar and a leader” by involving herself in numerous campus organizations.
“Fernanda is passionate about her academic career and her position on campus. I’ve felt privileged to be a person Fernanda seeks out for academic advice and for help navigating life on campus.
“While we may tackle some complex topics or scheduling issues, she is never discouraged by a challenge. I could learn much from her positivity and ability to invest in her community.”
Dillon first met Evangelista at summer orientation, also known as SOAR. “She was full of energy and had so much excitement about our campus and getting involved,” Dillon said. “I knew from the first day of meeting her that she would [be] a great leader on our campus.
“She has a very kind and bubbly personality and exudes inclusion for all those she interacts with. I was also able to work with her through the orientation and then with advising. From speaking with her, I thought she would be a great candidate for our Westover Honors College and I was able to help her make that connection.
“She has huge goals and desires for her time here at the University and for her career after graduation. I know that she will continue to thrive here at the University of Lynchburg and wherever life takes her.”
Evangelista called Karen Zongrone, executive assistant in the Office of Student Development, “my emotional support person,” adding, “I know I can count on her for anything I need.” She said Aaron Basko, vice president for enrollment, marketing, and communications, “made sure I had all the support I needed as an international student.”
It was Basko who invited Evangelista to apply to be one of Lynchburg’s student ambassadors — students who communicate with prospective students and give campus tours.
“She’s awesome,” he said. “She approached me after a board meeting and said she had some ideas. We sat down and she talked about all the things she thought were working and what could be done better.
“She is so smart and engaging. I loved hearing her ideas and have tried to share them around campus. I knew she would be great at working with students and families, so I invited her to apply for a job as an admissions student ambassador.
“She has helped us, answering questions from international students, too. She just brings such a wonderful perspective.”
In a few weeks, Evangelista will start her second semester at Lynchburg. As one might expect, it will be jam-packed with classes, work, and extracurricular activities. But that’s OK with Evangelista, who encourages all Lynchburg students to be as involved as they can, while being responsible and respecting their limits.
“I just want to tell whomever is reading this that if you’re ever wondering, ‘Should I join this?’ or ‘Should I try that?’ remember that college is the place for you to grow, to have fun, and to have the resources to help you get back on your feet when you can’t do it on your own,” she said.
“Instead of ‘Should I?’ ask ‘Why not?’”