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Three students have been awarded the prestigious Marshall and Schwarzman scholarships to pursue graduate studies at universities in the United Kingdom and China during the upcoming academic year.
LSA seniors Amanda Burcroff and Noah McNeal won the Marshall Scholarship, which provides up to 50 students from across the United States full funding to study at any U.K. institution in any field of choice. Business and LSA senior Eduardo Batista became the first University of Michigan student to win the Schwarzman Scholarship, which was created in 2016. According to the website, the Schwarzman Scholarship offers students interested in global affairs the chance to study at China’s Tsinghua University.
Burcroff and McNeal became the University’s 8th and 9th Marshall Scholarship winners, and are the first winners since 2013. A press release published Monday afternoon by the Marshall Scholarship Program said the 48 scholars were chosen from a pool of over 1,000 applicants. The winners will join an accomplished alumni base including Supreme Court Justices Stephen Breyer and Neil Gorsuch and Reid Hoffman, the founder of LinkedIn.
For McNeal, winning the Marshall Scholarship represented a unique opportunity to pursue his interest in public policy and its intersections with science and technology. McNeal, who is planning on attending the University of Sussex, said he has been fascinated with physics and mathematics since high school but hopes the scholarship will allow him to indulge in other interests as well.
“When I started undergraduate, I had this linear progression in my mind about where I was going to go,” McNeal said. “I was going to go to high school, go through undergraduate, do physics, and then go straight to grad school, then have a postdoc, then keep going along that path. But then, along the way, I have other interests that motivate me and that linear progression kind of excludes those. It didn’t allow for much deviation and so I wanted to look at alternative paths.”
During his years at the University, McNeal served as the undergraduate liaison between students and faculty for the Physics Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee. He also leads the Society of Physics Students and Japanese Language Circle as president of both groups. McNeal said his experiences working both in physics labs and in student organizations led him to realize that he wanted to incite meaningful change through policy work — he will pursue a degree in Science and Technology Policy starting in September.
“Just barreling forward just didn’t seem like the right thing to do,” McNeal said. “These other interests and these other sides of life that I’m interested in, they’re calling me as well to not just become a researcher — because there’s more to life than just physics research. And I wanted to be more impactful outside of that, and part of where I could see myself making a difference would be in some aspect of policy.”
After Burcroff spent the summer after her freshman year studying advanced mathematics and combinatorics at the Budapest Semesters in Mathematics program, she became increasingly passionate about understanding the different ways math is taught. As an aspiring mathematics professor, Burcroff tutored high school students in the Michigan Math Circle and Wolverine Pathways program throughout her undergraduate career and found it meaningful to teach younger students about creative approaches to mathematics.
“All of these experiences allow me to mentor younger students, and I’ve watched a few of them as they’ve grown and some of them have gone on to the same Budapest Semesters in Mathematics program,” Burcroff said. “Walking them through the process and the benefits of what it can mean to study abroad or what it can mean to learn mathematics from a different culture really reaffirmed for me why I wanted to continue doing it.”
The Schwarzman Scholarship recruits students interested in international politics to pursue a master’s degree in Global Affairs in Beijing. Unlike the Marshall Scholarship, Schwarzman Scholars can hail from any country around the world — according to a press release published Monday. The 2020 class includes students from 38 countries and 119 universities. After a competitive application process resulting in 400 semi-finalists, 147 applicants were chosen to receive the award.
As the University’s first Schwarzman Scholar, Batista said he hopes to both further his interest in global affairs and represent Brazil, his home country. Batista was a community assistant in Mosher-Jordan Residence Hall his freshman year and currently serves as a residential adviser in South Quad Residence Hall. He is also an intern in the Boston Consulting Group’s Detroit office. For his senior thesis in the Ross School of Business, he is researching the role of trust and corruption in democratic societies. Batista said his experience as an international student at the University gave him a new perspective on Brazil’s politics and culture.
“As soon as I came to the U.S., I had a view that was as an outsider of the United States and almost as an outsider of my own country, as well,” Batista said. “I think that allowed me to think more deeply about systems of governance as opposed to just being immersed in that system and not exactly understanding what is going on.”
Batista said his reaction to winning the Schwarzman Scholarship was utter shock, especially because he is only the fifth Brazilian to ever receive the award.
“My jaw just dropped, and I think it dropped for a solid week,” Batista said.
Though Dyson attributed the award winners’ success to their incredible academic achievements, he also mentioned how the scholarships also reflect the students’ personalities, interests and character.
“I don’t want to set up a stereotype of what a Rhodes Scholar or Marshall Scholar or Schwarzman Scholar looks like,” Dyson said. “I really think it’s about your story — so who are you, where you’re going in the future, how this scholarship moves you forward.”
Each August, students complete the first step of the Marshall Scholarship application by seeking institutional endorsement from the University. According to Henry Dyson, director of the Office of National Scholarships and Fellowships, applicants are required to submit an online application and four letters of recommendation in a competitive nomination process. Once nominated, Dyson oversees their applications as they move to the national level and begin interviewing with the scholarship program itself.
“It’s quite prestigious and competitive even to be nominated for these scholarships,” Dyson said.