Political science/music major named a Marshall Scholar

Zachary Smith
Zachary Smith

With the holidays approaching, one UNL senior already has a newfound gift to be thankful for -- albeit a hard-earned one. On Nov. 21, Zachary Smith was formally awarded a prestigious Marshall Scholarship.

Marshalls are supported by the United Kingdom’s government to encourage young Americans of high ability to study for a degree in the UK. Each year, up to 40 scholars are selected to receive these scholarships, which allow winners to spend two years at a British institution pursuing any area of study.

“Zach is a shining example of what it means to be a modern college student,” said Michael Wagner, associate professor of political science and a mentor to Smith the past three years. “It’s exciting to see students doing that kind of thing around here and being successful when they make the effort.”

Smith, 20, will attend the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London. In his first year, he will obtain a master’s degree in Middle East politics. He will then work toward obtaining a master’s degree in Islamic societies and culture.

“I have wanted to apply for graduate study in the UK pretty much since my freshman year,” Smith said. “When I got the phone call, my friend who was with me at the time said I turned pale white. It was very emotional. I barely remember all of that happening.”

A senior music and political science major from East Troy, Wis., Smith is not new to receiving scholarships. In May 2010, he received a Boren scholarship, which he used to travel to Jordan for six months to study Arabic language and international studies. He also was a finalist for a Truman Scholarship. He is currently president of the Young Democrats, the opinion section editor at the Daily Nebraskan, a teaching assistant in the Arabic department, and an Honors Program student adviser, among other things.

UNL’s Fellowship Adviser and Associate Director of the Honors Program, Laura Damuth, is thrilled that Smith won the Marshall.

“We have a process in place in the Honors Program to identify high ability students who will be competitive for this scholarship and others like it," Damuth said. "Zach was identified in his first year at UNL and he has been working diligently with me to prepare for these kinds of competitions for the past three years. We believe that we will continue to see students like Zach be successful with these prestigious awards.

“The competition is always fierce," she said. "Of the Marshall region that includes Nebraska, only 25 students of 200 applicants are chosen to interview in Chicago. Three of those 25 were UNL Honors Program students.

“This is a real testament to the quality of our graduating seniors in Honors.”

Founded by a 1953 Act of Parliament, and named in honor of U.S. Secretary of State George C. Marshall, the Scholarships commemorate the humane ideals of the Marshall Plan and they express the continuing gratitude of the British people to their American counterparts.

Noteworthy Marshall Scholars include New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, former Arizona governor and U.S. Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt, and Harold Koh, dean of Yale Law School. Marshall Scholarships are mainly funded by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and are overseen by the Marshall Commission. The Secretariat is provided by the Association of Commonwealth Universities. In the U.S., the selection process is managed by the regional Consulates General in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco, and in Washington, D.C., by the British Council on behalf of the British Embassy.

- Haley Whisennand, Honors Program