I Am The Bear

Mercer Bears don’t just learn. They master. They don’t just accomplish. They thrive. They don’t just compete. They dominate. Mercer Bears command respect and walk with confidence. They are distinguished leaders. Movers and shakers. Real-life difference makers. 

Meet our Bears.



Sam Orjuela

Mechanical Engineering Major, Class of 2019
A native of Bogotá, Colombia, Sam and his family moved to the U.S., where he developed a passion for baseball. While attending a baseball camp at Mercer, Sam fell in love with campus during a tour. When he arrived at Mercer, Sam immediately got plugged into campus life. He is a member of the Student Events team through the Office of University Admissions and served as a Peer Advisor during Orientation the summer after his first year on campus.
“Mercerians truly care about making a difference. We hold fast to our beliefs and welcome varying perspectives from those around us. Mercerians are passionate about what we are involved in, and that’s something you can’t teach. We don’t sit back and watch. We get in and get our hands dirty if we have to. The atmosphere at Mercer pushed me to find my passion and pursue it.”




Kyla Semmendinger

Environmental Engineering, Mercer Alum, Class of 2018, Ithaca, NY

From her roots in the small town of Bremen, Georgia, Kyla has gone on to do big things. She earned a Goldwater Scholarship, the nation’s most prestigious undergraduate award for the natural sciences, mathematics, and engineering. Kyla participated in Mercer On Mission trips to Kenya, where she monitored the efficacy of using biosand filters to treat water for drinking, and Ecuador, where she investigated the impacts of artisanal small-scale gold-mining practices on microbial concentrations in drinking water. In addition, she also conducted research on low-cost shallow geothermal heating and cooling systems for households in Central Georgia. Now, she is pursuing her Ph.D. in environmental engineering at Cornell University as a Phi Kappa Phi Fellow.
Everything will change your first year at Mercer. You’ll meet professors who make even the seemingly boring subjects interesting. Your professors won’t let you settle for less than your best. They will push you to give it your all. You’ll begin to realize that when you give it your all, you are capable of more than you thought.




Shane Buerster

Economics, Marketing, and Spanish Major, Mercer Alum, Class of 2018, Pooler, GA

When Shane’s dream of playing college baseball ended, he needed another outlet to channel that drive and determination. While participating in a Mercer On Mission trip to Ecuador to study the economic viability of the coffee industry, he befriended a local government official. The two kept in touch so Shane could practice speaking Spanish, and through these phone conversations, the idea of Z Beans Coffee was born. With support from the Mercer Innovation Center, Shane started his own business, importing processed organic coffee through fair trade to provide top-quality coffee to U.S. consumers and a fair wage to impoverished farmers in Zaruma, Ecuador. In addition to an online storefront and business wholesales, Shane has expanded his business to include a coffee shop in Mercer Village.




Donald Williams

International Business and Marketing Major, Class of 2020, Columbus, GA

Selected by the U.S. Department of State as a Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholar, Donald had the opportunity to spend the summer studying abroad in Seville, Spain, where he improved his Spanish language skills while studying Spanish foreign markets. Donald says this experience increased his global perspective and made him a more informed world citizen. As a leader on campus, Donald is vice president of professional activities for Delta Sigma Pi business fraternity and a member of the Residence Hall Association’s Programming Committee. He volunteers with anti-trafficking organization Traffick Jam, MerServe, and as a tutor at a local elementary school.

Mercer nurtures ingenuity. You just have to be willing to take the first step. My Mercer experience is helping me discover my passions so I can better tailor my life to create value and solve problems. That’s success to me.



Ashila Jiwani

Global Health and Biology Double Major, Mercer Alum, Class of 2018
Ashila has a hand in almost everything on campus. As a member of the Student Government Association, Greek Life, the Greek Programming Board, the American Mock World Health Organization, MU Miracle, and the Peer Advisor staff, Ashila has become a true campus leader. She is passionate about pursuing what she calls the essence of Mercer” the intersection of service, scholarship, and leadership.


“At Mercer, we all push each other to reach our maximum potential. Simply said we are one big family, and I’m proud to be part of a family who embraces change and values different perspectives.”



Darice Cudjoe

Biology Major, Class of 2019

I came into college relatively shy. How could I ever come out of my shell and do great things? That quickly changed when I stepped foot onto Mercer’s campus and was overwhelmed by the amount of encouragement coming my way. Mercer has given me the confidence and resources I need to overcome my fears and to be a leader in my generation.



Ponch Chantha

Marketing and Sports Marketing and Analytics Major, Class of 2018, Atlanta, GA

When Ponch arrived at Mercer, he quickly got involved with MU Miracle, an extracurricular organization that fundraises for the Beverly Knight Olson Children’s Hospital in Macon. In fact, he once shaved his head and raised $1,800 for MU Miracle. Ponch is president of his fraternity and a member of the executive board of the Sports Marketing and Analytics Club. He works as creative marketing intern for Elite Basketball Services, where he generates sponsorship leads and designs brand assets. After graduation, he plans to work in collegiate athletics or with an NBA franchise, focusing on ticketing and sales or marketing and digital analytics.

“The people here are so genuine, driven, and passionate about all they are involved in, and it’s inspiring to be surrounded by that.”



Shailey Shah

Shailey Shah

Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Major, Class of 2021
Chattanooga, TN

Working with the Office for Student Success, Shailey and a group of Mercer students created an event called “Real Talk: Student Edition,” where students could share their stories about the challenges they have faced overcome in life. She began conducting research during her first year at Mercer, working with bacteria to synthesize antibiotics for human use. As a member of the Mercer Orthotics and Prosthetics Club, she serves as lab secretary, teaching other members how to modify, cut, and wrap prosthetics. In the community, Shailey volunteers on Service Saturdays, works on projects with Rebuilding Macon, and participates in the Backpacks for Kids food drive. She enjoys engaging the community, getting to know the city of Macon better and the people who live here.

Research is important because it helps students see what it’s like to find a new piece of information in the world. If you really want a research experience, you can get it at Mercer. Research is more accessible to freshmen here than at any college I’ve seen.




Josh Wilck

Biomedical Engineering Major, Class of 2019
Originally from upstate New York, Josh first heard about Mercer when the Bears defeated Duke in the 2014 NCAA Tournament. He made his way to Macon and has gotten involved on campus as a member of the Mercer Tennis Club, International Bears Association, and Mercer Maniacs, the student spirit group. He even paints up for games to show his support for the Bears.


 “A true Mercer Maniac wants to cheer loud and support their fellow Mercerians. I paint up for sporting events because it’s fun to get out of my comfort zone, and it’s a great way to make friends. My favorite memory as a Maniac would have to be when we upset Chattanooga in football my freshman year. The crowd brought so much energy, and you could tell the team was feeding off of it.” 




Sagar Patel

Biomedical Engineering Major, Pre-Med, Class of 2019, Perry, GA

Sagar is a member of CURE Mercer, Reformed University Fellowship (RUF), Alpha Epsilon Delta (National Health Pre-Professional Honor Society), Mercer Prosthetics and Orthotics Club (MPOC).

“By being at Mercer, I know I can help change the world for the better. My goal is to become a doctor and join Doctors Without Borders.”



Margaret Rooyakkers

Public Health Major, Class of 2019
As executive director of MerServe, the University’s student-run service leadership board, Margaret helps plan, coordinate, and implement service and community engagement projects for Mercer students. In addition, she works for the Office of Housing and Residence Life and as a member of BearForce, a team of students who provide support for various events. During summer 2017, she traveled to Ecuador as a part of a team of students deployed by Mercer On Mission.
“I personally serve because I love the feeling I get when I am able to make a difference in someone’s life. I think Mercerians are so passionate about service because we know we have the knowledge and resources to help our community and to improve the lives of others. I cannot say enough how proud I am to be an active member of the Mercer community as well as the Macon community.”




Matt Halbert

Matt Halpert

Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Major, Class of 2019
Fayetteville, GA

During his first year at Mercer, Matt began conducting research and spent two summers studying brain tumors. He has since been published for this work. Matt’s current research focuses on developing alternative forms of antibacterial production, testing each compound’s potency to create a library of antibiotics. After graduating from Mercer, he hopes to earn a master’s degree and a Ph.D. in biochemistry or molecular biology to work on cancer therapeutics and drug development.

As of right now, I’m a published scientist, and I haven’t even graduated yet. Not only did the faculty take me in freshman year on a research project, they also pushed me to start pursuing summer experiences. I’m extraordinarily grateful for all the opportunities that Mercer has presented me. I don’t think I would have gotten that support anywhere else.




Kay Bush

Biology Major, Mercer Alum, Class of 2018
Kay has become a leader on campus in several areas. As a student-athlete and Mercer cheerleader, she leads the crowd in cheering on the Bears, but her involvement stretches far beyond athletics. Kay is a member of the Student Leadership Team for the Office of University Admissions, an active member of Greek Life, and a proud Mercer Service Scholar. She has traveled to Peru and Vietnam as a Mercer On Mission team member, and she plans to begin medical school next fall.


“I love having the student section with us at football and basketball games! The fans add a lively dynamic to the atmosphere that keeps the games fun and exciting to watch. I know our players appreciate seeing our fans in the stands, too.”




Kyle Bligen

Politics, Philosophy, and Economics Major, Class of 2018

“I want to tell you to get ready. For what? For what’s next. These next for years will consist of an amalgamation of experiences that are more than life-changing. Mercer University will be a birthing ground for new experiences, relationships, and destiny-defining decisions.”



Elise Young

Electrical Engineering Major, Class of 2021, Lawrenceville, GA

An Honorable Mention for the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship, the nation’s most prestigious scholarship for undergraduates in science, mathematics, and engineering, Elise conducts research that investigates the inherent presence of state dependent time delay in internet traffic congestion problems, as well as developed control strategies for optimizing the coordinated control of signalized traffic intersections. She plans to earn her master’s degree through the School of Engineering’s 4+1 Integrated Degree Program, obtain a Ph.D. in electrical engineering and work in a national laboratory. She also hopes to study abroad in Japan. On campus, Elise has participated in Mercer’s women’s choir, K-Pop dance team, Mercer Asia, and intramural soccer and volleyball.



Jayla Moody

French and Global Development Studies and Journalism Major, Class of 2019, Decatur, GA

In the summer after her first year at Mercer, Jayla participated in a research fellowship in Israel sponsored by the Anti-Defamation League. Through the fellowship, she studied Israel’s historical and current social challenges while researching conflict-resolutions. Then, she brought these lessons back to apply in the local community through programs, clubs, and projects. Jayla was also chosen to attend the National Campaign for Political and Civic Engagement Conference, coordinated by the Institute of Politics (IOP) at Harvard Kennedy School, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where she worked to identify processes and strategies to support open, diverse, and inclusive political conversations that can provide first steps toward reconnecting college students and Americans who often see no common ground.

In addition, Jayla has served as arts and entertaiment editor for The Cluster, and is a member of the Admissions Special Events Team and Leadership Mercer as well as a Peer Advisor and sorority member.



Micah Davis

History Major, Class of 2020, Stone Mountain, GA

“I wanted a distinctive college experience. As I considered my options, Mercer was clearly the right fit for me. There’s a vibe to this place that I didn’t find anywhere else. Mercer is big enough to offer a thriving campus life experience but small enough that you feel connected to a community. When I came to Mercer, I joined ROTC and immediately found a tight-knit group of friends. We all care for each other and want to see each other improve to reach our full potential as leaders. My fellow cadets motivate me to exceed what I thought I could do. Mercer and ROTC have taken me beyond my comfort zone in a good way.”


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