Elite ASU scholars to continue world-changing ways in England
They all have big goals, and they’re taking their talent overseas this fall.
One Arizona State University scholar grew up in Zimbabwe, where an unstable electrical system forced him to read by candlelight. He is now an electrical engineering major and dreams of solving his homeland’s power problems. Another scholar is exploring novel ways to better develop aid programs and economies in developing countries; a third conducts chemical engineering research with the goal of one day addressing climate change concerns.
And they’re only getting started.
This fall, three ambitious ASU Barrett, The Honors College students — Ngoni Mugwisi, Erin Schulte and Christopher Balzer — who seized educational and research opportunities in their undergraduate years, will head to England as elite Rhodes, Marshall and Churchill scholars to further their education and pursue ambitious life goals.
Big ideas for big data
Erin Schulte’s father hoped his daughter would become a doctor. There was one small problem: She can’t stand the sight of blood. However, she still strives to make a difference in the world.
“My parents always tried to emphasize my entire life to give back to the community, to leave the world a better place than the way we found it,” she says.
Schulte was awarded the Marshall Scholarship and will study development and political economy at King’s College London this fall. Named in honor of former Secretary of State George C. Marshall, the scholarship supports high-achieving students pursuing future work for the good of mankind. Attracting roughly 1,000 university-endorsed applicants annually, the program’s acceptance rate is only 4 percent.
During her time at ASU, Schulte started a nonprofit addressing human trafficking and also did research work at the university’s Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict. There, she became passionate about her study of conflict and poverty in Syria and the Gaza Strip. Courses in economic development enhanced her desire to help improve developing nations.
“When I learned about economic development, that’s when I really fell in love with this,” she says.
Schulte offers a unique approach to helping craft better aid and economic development programs in developing countries. With global technology expansion, she has identified an opportunity to study massive amounts of data like video, still images and other information coming from the internet. Through her research, she has learned that too often well-intended aid efforts fall flat for a lack of cultural understanding in a developing nation. These technological insights could offer critical information needed to better plan and develop strategies to improve economies, she asserts.
“We can learn how to analyze unstructured data and images and video and all those things that come along with the internet. There’s so much storytelling done through images and videos. It’s an important part of the overall story,” she says.
Rhodes to a better world
In 2013, Ngoni Mugwisi came from Zimbabwe to ASU to study electrical engineering. At the airport, when he first arrived in the US, an attendant insisted he find the adult traveling with him. He was traveling alone and had to explain he was indeed older than 12.
“That was how I learned that I look young for my age,” Mugwisi says with a laugh.
The Zimbabwe native quickly embraced those curious Americans and excelled in his electrical engineering studies. Today, he is a Rhodes Scholar heading to Oxford to complete a doctorate degree in electrical engineering. His ultimate goal is to bring a more stable electrical system to Zimbabwe with the help of renewables.
The Rhodes Scholarship offers students the opportunity to advance their academic careers at Oxford University. In 2016, 882 university-endorsed students in the U.S. applied and only 32 were awarded scholarships, making it one of the most prestigious education honors in the world.
Mugwisi credits his ASU experience as a “powerful journey of self-discovery” that helped him earn the scholarship. He appreciates how his American peers accepted him and his culture, and he counts his participation in two Clinton Global Initiative events as highlights in his academic career.
“It was the first time I was part of a large group of students who believed the world could be better,” he recalls.
He also found inspiration in the photos of past scholarship recipients inside the hallways of Barrett, The Honors College.
“I walked down those halls daily and it made me wonder about what I wanted to do,” Mugwisi says. “Every day I was getting to interact with others. I had to think through experiences and connect the dots. I also learned that even though my ideas have a place in the world, I should be tolerant and cognizant of others and find ways to collaborate with them.”
A Churchill first for ASU
Christopher Balzer is ASU’s first Churchill Scholarship recipient. Named after British statesman Winston Churchill, the scholarship encourages the advancement of knowledge and the further pursuit of original, creative research work in the sciences, engineering or mathematics. Balzer will attend Cambridge University in the fall for one year to pursue a master’s degree in chemical engineering and advance his ASU research on carbon capture, which could offer solutions for climate change concerns.
From a young age, Balzer says he was destined to become a scientist.
“Both of my parents were engineers. My dad volunteered at the [Arizona] Science Center and would run experiments. [Science] was always around me,” he says.
Balzer credits the Lorraine W. Frank Office of National Scholarship Advisement (ONSA) for recommending the Churchill Scholarship. The ASU office also helps applicants better articulate their past experiences, motivations and philosophies and guides them through mock interviews.
“We teach the student how to frame a question, help them brush away verbal ticks. It’s about learning how to react and think on your feet. We don’t want prepared phrases,” says Kyle Mox, the ONSA office director.
The art of making ASU small
This year, ASU, Stanford, Harvard and the University of Chicago were the only universities to produce student-scholars in each of the Rhodes, Marshall and Churchill programs. The New York Times calls Barrett the “gold standard” among honors colleges in the country. Its more than 100 staff members serve about 6,800 students with one primary goal in mind: to make ASU — one of the largest universities in the country — personal and accessible.
Barrett Dean Mark Jacobs says it’s about creating a fully immersed ASU experience without students becoming overwhelmed by the sheer size of the university. Personal attention is a focus of the effort, and Barrett faculty and staff advise students on internships and scholarships on and off campus.
“It’s the whole idea of extra care and support,” Jacobs says. “It has helped us to attract many excellent, highly motivated students.”
Both Balzer and Schulte say the Barrett experience helped them feel immediately “connected” to the university in their freshman year.
“I was a little nervous when I first came to ASU. I didn’t think I would be able to do all the things I wanted to do,” Schulte says. “But they really gave me the confidence and resources I needed.”
To learn more about the research and academic efforts of honors students looking to make global impacts, visit barretthonors.asu.edu.
Originally published at www.azcentral.com on April 28, 2017.