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Burnett Honors College Alumna Wins Jeopardy!

On an average day, Latin and sports do not go together in the same sentence. Unless, perhaps, you’re a contestant on Jeopardy!

Luckily for Courtney Paulson, an alumni of UCF and The Burnett Honors College, she is well educated in both.

Paulson ’11 won the July 29 airing of the TV quiz show thanks to her successful answer on this final question: This Catholic university gets its name from the Latin words for “new” and “house” and was in the news in Spring 2016.

“I had taken Latin in high school, and the first school I thought of was Notre Dame, and knew the Latin word for new was nova by watching a taping of Jeopardy! earlier that day, but I couldn’t think of a school that had nova at the end,” she said. “Until I remembered watching the last March Madness game when Villanova had won. I’m a huge sports fan.”

Paulson, originally from Minnesota, attended UCF as a National Merit Scholar. She graduated in 2011 with her Bachelor of Science in statistics while receiving recognition for completing both University Honors and Honors in the Major. Paulson was also a part of the math club, athletics tutoring program, physics society, astronomy club and Marching Knights, and completed a college work experience internship with Lockheed Martin.

“Once I visited UCF I was sold and made my decision to attend the day we got home,” Paulson said. “It’s so hard to pick a highlight when you get to spend four years in Orlando…but I loved everything about UCF and was so sad to leave.”

She then decided to further her education after receiving a full scholarship in the business statistics Ph.D. program at the University of Southern California.

“I was able to bypass getting my master’s since I already had the research experience by completing a thesis through the Honors in the Major program,” Paulson said.

She is currently enjoying a two-week break after completing eight years of continuous schooling. She is moving to Maryland to start her professional career as both a researcher and professor in statistical regressions and business analytics at the University of Maryland.

“I grew up doing trivia leagues in high school and was also a part of the Honors College bowl team, so I always knew I wanted to be on Jeopardy! I actually took the online test periodically and auditioned back in high school for their teen tournament,” Paulson said.

After nailing the timed online 50-question quiz, she was then invited to an in-person audition. The audition consisted of another quiz and a mock version of the game, as well as a personality interview. After passing the online quiz and feeling very confident in the face-to-face audition, she was put into the contestant pool where she could be called anytime within the following 18 months.

After going through the process a few times, she finally got the call to put her trivia skills to the test.

“I had no idea what to expect. You spend the day doing practice rounds and watching the other people compete. You basically have a whole day of free jeopardy trivia, answering daily double and final-answer questions, where you get to stand up in front of the podium and ring the buzzer,” Paulson said. “It’s the ultimate nerd experience.”

Paulson’s episode was taped the last week of April and aired July 29. Although there were many rigorous questions about women authors, word origins, scary-sounding animals, battleships, musicians and Ireland, she came out as the champion with a total prize of $11,700.

Paulson returns to the air Sept. 12 to defend her title.