Belfast Telegraph

Twelve selected to receive the George J Mitchell Scholarship for 2015

Twelve of the best and brightest have been selected to receive the George J Mitchell Scholarship
Twelve of the best and brightest have been selected to receive the George J Mitchell Scholarship

Twelve of the best and brightest have been selected to receive the George J Mitchell Scholarship for 2015.

Members of the class include an advocate for those with autism, an associate editor at Foreign Policy magazine, a journalist at the Wall Street Journal and a youth manager for the Romney presidential campaign.

Attracting nearly 300 applicants for the 12 scholarships, the prize is named in honor of the former senator George Mitchell's contributions to the Northern Ireland peace process.

Those selected are chosen on the basis of academic distinction, leadership and service.

Recipients spend a year of post-graduate study at institutions of higher learning in Northern Ireland and the Republic.

Trina Vargo, founder of the scholarship said the unique aspect of the program is the "value placed on service to others".

"On this 50th anniversary of the assassination of President Kennedy, I can’t help but see these finalists as part of President Kennedy’s enduring legacy," she said.

"While the scholars themselves may be too young to personally sense that connection, it is likely that those who have inspired them, whether parents, grandparents or teachers, were inspired by his call to service."

On Friday evening at a reception at the Irish Embassy, Ireland’s new Ambassador to the US, Anne Anderson, welcomed guests to a reception for the finalists and supporters of the program.

Biographies of the lucky dozen

Sarah Bufkin is a resident of Atlanta, Georgia and a senior at the University of North Carolina studying Cultural Studies and History.  Poetry, journalism and justice inform her life.  Knowing that Auden wrote, “poetry makes nothing happen,” she researched the poetry that emerged out of the Troubles to understand if it could.  She recently returned to Northern Ireland as one of ten writers admitted to the Seamus Heaney Poetry Summer School.  Working with an NGO in India complicated her belief in the press.  Victims of child labor would not garner headlines because everyone already knows that child labor is rampant.  And in the US, she could see how editorial discretion and economic pressures condition what events qualify as newsworthy. Working at ThinkProgress and The Huffington Post, she sought out stories about the marginalized.  Growing up in Atlanta, she was inspired by how African-Americans had raised their voices mid-century—to great effect—in the streets and in the courts.  A course taught by Pulitzer Prize-winner Taylor Branch, exposed her to how racial discrimination corroded the capital sentencing process.  This led to a comparative analysis of death penalty abolition movements in North Carolina and Great Britain in the 1960s. On both sides of the Atlantic, she saw how extralegal factors such as racial bias, socioeconomic privilege, and even personal zeal could influence how justice and equality played out in practice. As a Mitchell Scholar, she wants to deepen her understanding of civil-rights struggles. Upon returning to the US, she will complete a joint JD/PhD and will fight for a substantive approach to political and economic rights as a public-interest lawyer.  Sarah will study Moral, Legal, and Political Philosophy at Queen’s University Belfast.

Simon Boehme is a native of Kalamazoo, Michigan and a senior at Cornell University where he will obtain a degree in Industrial and Labor Relations.   As a research assistant, he is involved in a comprehensive study of teacher and Board of Education negotiated agreements in 700 New York State public and charter schools. The project will help stakeholders understand how disputes with teachers and principals appeals are resolved.  For the African Leadership Academy, he created curriculum on leadership for 15 teachers and 200 students that is being used in Kenya, Uganda, Egypt, South Africa and Ghana.  He is the Founder and President of Red Ideas, an organization that encourages creativity and innovation to improve the human condition.  As the co-founder and co-president of Cornell Global Law Brigades, he took 26 students to provide support and legal aid in Panama.  After leading his high school to win the first White House Race to the Top Commencement Challenge, which was selected by President Obama, Simon was given a White House internship where he wrote education policy briefs and coordinated a mentorship program for students in Washington D.C.  He was a special adviser on city and youth issues to the Mayor of Kalamazoo and an elementary school tutor.  Simon's future plans include law school and then a return to Michigan to become a non-profit consultant to school districts on negotiating and education management.  Wishing to complement his studies in workplace conflict with a more macro perspective, if selected as a Mitchell Scholar, Simon will study Conflict Mediation at National University Ireland, Maynooth.

Matthew Cortland is a Luce Scholar in Taiwan from Marlton, New Jersey.  He obtained his BA in Interdisciplinary Studies, Art History and Italian Studies from Rutgers and an MSc in Education and Social Change from the University of Miami.  Matthew co-founded BrosUnited, a program that paired his fraternity brothers with teenage boys with autism in the community.  In 2011, New Jersey's First Lady, Mary Pat Christie, named Matthew a "New Jersey Hero" for his work and Governor Chris Christie appointed him to the N.J. Council for the Medical Research and Treatment of Autism. Matthew then joined Teach for America, teaching at Miami Northwestern Senior High School.  Responding to the bullying of gay students, he mobilized Teach for America’s resources to assemble a national task force to create a safe classroom campaign for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender students.  Over 21,000 teachers have now pledged to make their classrooms Safe and Affirming for Everyone (SAFE).  With 81% of students at Miami Northwestern reading below grade-level, Matthew used technology and social media to inspire students.  He turned complex theories of reading pedagogy into tasks performed with the click of a button, including identifying materials to give a student for improvement.  By year’s end, his students’ reading levels had progressed an average of 2.4 years, contributing to the school having the highest rates of reading growth in the County.  These results were a factor in the school's grade increase from a grade "D" to a "B" grade for the first time in its 57-year history. Matthew wants to participate in ensuring literacy, and next needs to acquire technical skills. Matt will study Mobile, Tablet, and Dynamic Web Design at the Dublin Institute of Technology.

Travis Davis, a resident of Camp Crook, South Dakota, is a senior studying mechanical engineering at the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology.  Early in his college career, Travis worked at John Deere as an engineering intern; at Caterpillar, ensuring diesel engines met EPA standards; and at NASA with four different internships.  His mother, born without a hip joint, had undergone multiple surgeries and when Travis began college, a recurrence of his mother’s health crisis worsened to the point that an amputation, a hemipelvectomy, was the only procedure that would save her life. While at NASA, Travis designed cryogenic valves that were printed out of metal using a cutting-edge manufacturing process known as Direct Metal Laser Sintering. The process is also used to develop custom prosthetics.  While completing his projects at NASA, Travis always linked the technologies he was working with to his mother’s struggles.  Growing up on a cattle and sheep ranch in one of the most rural parts of the United States, Travis is a volunteer firefighter, a pilot, and a junior high basketball referee.  He has generally leant a helping hand in his close-knit community which supported his family by establishing a community fundraiser to help make their house handicap accessible, lending a hand with farm and ranch chores, and checking on his mother. Despite being courted by NASA, Travis believes he must help others avoid the hardships his mother endured. He has an “unfaltering passion … driven by an intimate understanding of what is at stake.”  Travis will study Bioengineering at Trinity College Dublin.

Born and raised in St. Paul, Minnesota, Molly Hayes currently serves as the Kenya Desk Officer at the Department of State.  In this capacity, she led State’s Washington-based crisis response management for the September 2013 terrorist attack at the Westgate Mall in Nairobi.  She was a Deputy Coordinator for the Egypt Task Force during the Arab Spring.  Other responsibilities included stints as Desk Officer for Morocco, Western Sahara, and Tunisia; North Africa Advisor to the Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs at the UN General Assembly; and Staff Assistant to the Coordinator for Counterterrorism.  Molly is a graduate of the University of Notre Dame with a degree in English and Arabic.  In 2008, she co-founded the ND-ABROAD initiative, persuasively arguing for practical, sound policies to protect students on university-administered international programs.  She restructured Notre Dame’s orientation and reentry programs, created a documentary on sexual assault and gender issues, and developed a university counseling center support group for students who experienced trauma abroad.  When she began her work at the State Department on North Africa, Molly noted that she began where she always did, with literature.  Exploring the midcentury colonial struggles of the Algerian Arabs and Berbers, the pied noir settlers from Europe, the former French colonizers, and the civil wars of the 1990s, she noticed similarities between their stories and the stories told through the literature of the Troubles in Northern Ireland.   Molly will study Postcolonial and World Literatures at National University of Ireland, Maynooth.

Meghan Hussey is a resident of Windsor Locks, Connecticut and a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania with a degree in International Relations and Political Science.    Having a sister with autism has meant that disability has always been a part of Meghan’s life.  Her desire is to be part of the movement to bring disability issues onto the international development agenda.  She is currently an international fellow for the Mosaic Collaborative for Disabilities Policy and Practice in Moshi, Tanzania, which works with a local partner on developing community-based disability services. Her work includes programming at neighborhood therapy centers for children with disabilities, developing partnerships with local schools and hospitals for inclusive education and preventative healthcare, and supporting our caregiver owned social businesses. For the academic year 2012-2013, she was a Fulbright scholar in China, affiliated with Beijing Normal University where she conducted research on programs and services for adolescents and adults with autism and other developmental disabilities. She engaged in participant observation at government special schools, NGO programs, and family support groups, and conducted interviews with parents, special educators, and disability advocates.  While at UPenn, for four years she tutored children in the autism support class at a West Philadelphia elementary school.  She was also the Director of Service and of Public Relations at Penn for UNICEF, focusing on child rights and child survival issues.  For more than a decade, she has been involved with Special Olympics Connecticut.  Meghan will study Global Health at Trinity College Dublin.

Lillian Jin is a resident of Newtown, Pennsylvania and a graduate of Columbia University with degrees in English and Biology. Lillian is currently working with the Baylor International Pediatric AIDS Initiative in Lesotho to implement a WHO grant supporting HIV and TB co-infection programs. She is also developing a curriculum for the clinic's adolescent psychosocial support group and a system for mental health screenings. At Columbia, as Co-President of GlobeMed, she designed and funded an HIV/AIDS prevention and maternal health project with a partner organization in Uganda. In Uganda, she worked closely with an HIV positive women’s group to evaluate and design the next phase of GlobeMed's HIV project. As a patient advocate at Harlem Hospital, she learned how intimately poverty is connected to poor health and that medicine must be accompanied by social change. Volunteering at the Terrence Cardinal Cooke Health Care Center, Lillian was matched with a long-term, elderly resident to visit weekly. Although early visits were coldly received, Lillian was able to develop a friendship with the resident by connecting with her on a personal level about her Irish identity and their shared interest in Irish literature. Lillian admires Ireland’s long history with postcolonial development and global health, especially after taking an Irish literature class with Colm Toibin and learning about the importance of social justice to Irish national identity. Lillian will study Public Health at University College Dublin.

Ty McCormick is an Associate Editor at Foreign Policy magazine, where his work focuses on the Middle East and global economy coverage.  He writes the FP Morning Brief, which is emailed to 150,000 subscribers, as well as the “Anthropology of an Idea” column that appears in every print issue.  Ty has written more than 50 essays and articles for Foreign Policy and more than 100 in leading international publications, including Newsweek and the New York Times.  A former freelance correspondent in the Middle East, he was awarded a grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting for his 2011 reporting project, “Art and Politics in Post-Revolutionary Egypt.” From 2010-2011, he studied Arabic and conducted research at the American University in Cairo as a presidential scholar. Born in Amherst, Massachusetts, he obtained his BA in Political Science from Stanford and a M.Sc. in Global Governance and Diplomacy, as a Clarendon Scholar, from the University of Oxford.  With experiences as a reporter and editor, and believing that better journalism makes for better policymaking, Ty intends to start his own publication that leverages the personalization and individualization of quality, fact-based news coverage to reach new audiences, especially in emerging markets. Ty will study Comparative Ethnic Conflict at Queen’s University Belfast.

Destenie Nock, from Lusby, Maryland, is a senior at North Carolina AT State University studying Electrical Engineering and Applied Mathematics. Before travelling to Malawi to tutor, Destenie’s advisor suggested she raise funds to buy feminine pads for girls there.  Recognizing that as costly and ineffective, Destenie determined that teaching girls how to make reusable pads would provide a more sustainable, environment-friendly solution.  Prior to going to Africa, she thought the primary way she could help girls stay in school was to introduce them to various technologies but found something more basic, their periods, was causing them to miss school.  Addressing and solving these kinds of basic problems is what Destenie intends for her career.  Her specific interest is in helping developing nations enhance their power infrastructure.  A lack of reliable power sources means students spend less time in school, as they have to complete chores and schoolwork before dark.  Her research will focus on the effects of integrating renewable energy sources to the power grid because reliable power resources can increase time spent in school, employment, and the quality of hospitals while reducing poverty levels. Destenie spent a summer researching energy storage devices at the Department of Energy and another summer at Iowa State studying how integration of wind turbines affect the economics surrounding the power grid. In addition to working with leaders in Africa, Destenie would like to mentor girls who want to enter the STEM field.  She has also spent her undergraduate years teaching tutors how to use a learning tool that helps elementary school students learn math.  Destenie will study Sustainable Electrical Energy Systems at Queen’s University Belfast.    

Raised in Hanover Park, Illinois, Sanette Tanaka currently resides in Brooklyn and is a journalist with the Wall Street Journal.  She is a multimedia producer and a reporter for Mansion, the paper’s weekly luxury real estate section.  She writes a weekly column analyzing and explaining buying and selling trends based on an academic study or raw data set.  She also writes longer features and cover stories, is a regular contributor to the Developments blog, creates multimedia content for the website, and decides which stories will be covered in a daily video segment on a WSJ online news show.  In 2012, Sanette obtained her BA in Public Policy and History at Duke University where she served as the Editor-in-Chief of The Chronicle, Duke’s independent, student-run daily newspaper with a readership of 70,000.  She managed 25 editors and supervised a staff of 250 student volunteers.  During her time at the helm, they launched a redesigned, student-engineered website.  In that capacity, she also served as President of the Duke Student Publishing Company, a non-profit with a $2 million annual operating budget, and currently serves as a voting member of the board.  Passionate about leading traditional media outlets into the digital age, she wants to learn technical and design skills as well as better understand the theory and psychology behind user interaction.  Sanette will study Creative and Digital Media at the Dublin Institute of Technology.

Daniel Strunk, a native of Cincinnati, Ohio, will obtain degrees in Political Science and Economics from Duke University in May 2014.  Daniel served as the North Carolina Young Americans Manager of the Romney for President campaign, establishing the youth voter outreach organization involving 20 colleges and universities and 1,000 student volunteers.  Representing the Romney Campaign at Duke, he registered voters with a table sign that read, “Come tell us why we’re wrong.”   His interactions resulting from this invitation to dialogue both changed and solidified his views.   Daniel serves as Chief Justice of the Duke Student Government Supreme Court, the Editor in Chief of the Duke Political Science Standard and a Columnist and Copy Editor for the Duke University Chronicle.  He is also a Founding Member and President of the Duke Chapter of The Alexander Hamilton Society which fosters foreign policy debates.  A survivor of childhood cancer, he has raised over $25,000 for The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society through running endurance events and by founding an annual Slam Dunk event in Cincinnati that is still in operation.   As a summer intern for Friends of the Earth, he oversaw the organization’s logistics for the Rio+20 climate change conference.  He is a weekly tutor for academically achieving low-income students. Daniel plans a career in public service, either in a Republican Administration or in Appellate Advocacy.  Believing, like Woodrow Wilson, that the U.S. has a great deal to learn from European countries that have dealt with partisan divides in much more effective ways than we have, if Daniel will study Politics at Trinity College Dublin. 

Kat Trujillo is currently working towards her MA in Human Security and Gender Issues at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy.  A native of South Central Los Angeles, she obtained her BA in Interdisciplinary Studies from UC Berkeley where she worked her way through school, often holding three jobs.  She was the President and Outreach Chair of Berkeley’s chapter of the Hispanic Scholarship Fund, which provides scholarships and academic support services to Latino students throughout the United States.  She oversaw a 60-member student group and an 8-member executive board for two years and was directly responsible for professional workshops, outreach events for Bay Area K-12 students, community service projects, a fundraiser and an alumni event.  During her term, membership doubled and she expanded partnerships with local businesses.  She also served as translator and volunteer for the East Bay Sanctuary Covenant, where she worked with refugees seeking asylum. A volunteer for Global Brigades, she worked in Honduras helping a rural community improve sanitation. In Washington, D.C., Kat served as a financial literacy teacher for victims of domestic violence at the Calvary Women’s Shelter, a Communications and Advocacy Associate for the National Head Start Association, and an Education Policy Specialist for the Thurgood Marshall College Fund. Kat plans to be involved in peace-building initiatives and immigration issues.  Wanting to examine the role of racial and ethnic identity in impacting nationalist and conflict resolution disputes on an international level, Kat will study human rights law at the University of Ulster, Belfast.


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