Herchel Smith, Martin-Wilson Fellowship winners announced

After reviewing the applications of 21 applicants and interviewing 13 finalists, the Office of Fellowships and the faculty and alumni selection committees have awarded fellowships to six seniors for two years of graduate study in England. As recipients of the Herchel Smith Fellowship, Zoia Alexanian ’08, Marcela DiBlasi ’08, Jerry He ’08, Carrie Plitt ’08 and Sayd Randle ’08 will continue their studies at Cambridge’s Emmanuel College, while William Bruce ’08, the recipient of a Martin-Wilson Fellowship, will do the so at Oxford’s Worcester College.

The total number of applications was down “slightly” from last year, according to Jody Spooner, director of fellowships, but “pretty much on par” with numbers from previous years.

Despite the slight dip in applicants, the selection process was still a difficult one, according to Spooner. “[The selection of fellows] is never an easy process,” he said. “It’s not a question of these seniors not being qualified to pursue graduate study at Cambridge and Oxford. The decision would be a lot easier if some students were clearly not qualified, but that’s not the case.”

In awarding these fellowships, the selection committee looks “for students with outstanding academic records, as well as those who exhibit leadership on and off campus,” Spooner said. “We try to honor the wishes of both Allen Martin and Carroll Wilson and Herchel Smith. All three benefactors cared deeply about academic excellence, leadership ability and the potential to make an impact on society.”

Alexanian, who will receive funding for two years of study at Cambridge along with the other four Herchel Smith Fellows, plans to study English literature next year. “I’ve always been interested in why books like Wuthering Heights produce so many divergent readings, and what’s at stake behind these different critical approaches,” she said. Alexanian, an English and Chemistry double major, eventually intends to get a PhD in literature.

DiBlasi will also be studying literature at Cambridge. The English and women’s and gender studies double major settled on the plan because, “exposure to the canon will help me with more progressive work in an American PhD program later on,” she said. Like Alexanian, DiBlasi will most likely pursue a career in academia.

The only non-English major among the Herchel Smith Fellows, He plans to study mathematics and economics next year. “I always wanted to do mathematics at Cambridge, since they offer a wide variety of courses, including those usually classified as theoretical physics,” said He, a triple major in economics, mathematics and physics. In his first year, He will work towards a Certificate of Advanced Studies in Mathematics, and then pursue a masters in economics in his second year.

Plitt, an art history and English double major, hopes to apply those two fields to her work at Cambridge through the writing of an interdisciplinary thesis, although she will be studying primarily English. “There’s a good chance that I will end up teaching in some capacity, so I probably will make a career out of what I study at Cambridge,” she said.

Also an English major, Randle will study environmental management and development through Cambridge’s geography department, focusing on issues related to water. “The idea for this program took shape when I began to consider the craft I wanted to pursue post-graduation – journalism – and the subject I wanted to focus on – man’s interactions with the natural world,” she said. “Ideally, studying these issues intensely before I shift to reporting on specific events will allow me to write in a more nuanced, contextualized way.”

Bruce, this year’s Martin-Wilson Fellow, plans to pursue a master’s degree in public policy at Oxford. “In short, I want to study comparative social policy because I want to be the guy who can look the world over and find the best possible solution(s) to a public problem,” he said. Currently double majoring in economics and history, Bruce intends “to pursue a career in policy somehow. There are many ways to do this,” he said. “Someone can work in government, in the non-profit sector or in academia. I guess I know what I want to do – public policy – but I’ve yet to settle on how I’m going to go about doing it.”

In addition to the six recently named fellows, several alternates are still eligible for Williams-sponsored fellowships. Faaiza Lalji ’08 and Nancy Haff ’08 are the alternates for the Martin-Wilson Fellowship, while Sarah Fink ’08, Shannon Chiu ’08 and Julia Kropp ’08 have been named alternates for the Herchel Smith.

The list of fellows will likely not be finalized until the spring. Whether or not more fellowships become available depends on several factors, according to Spooner. Fluctuations in currency valuation could potentially open up more fellowships. Also, depending on who receives certain national fellowships, such as the pending Gates-Cambridge and Churchill scholarships, Williams-sponsored fellowships may become available to the alternates.