Five West Virginia University students who have excelled in the classroom and in leadership and service activities throughout their college years will be competing with other deserving students across the country for the highly competitive Rhodes and British Marshall Scholarships.
WVU recently endorsed Sara Berzingi, a senior from Morgantown; Garrett Burgess, a senior from Elkview; Blake Humphrey, a master’s degree student from Wheeling; and Stephen Scott, a second-year law student from Shepherdstown, for the Rhodes Scholarship. The Rhodes is considered to be one of the worlds’ most prestigious awards for postgraduate study at the University of Oxford.
WVU also endorsed Burgess for the British Marshall Scholarship, along with Colin Lopez, a international studies graduate from Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Marshall Scholarships reward young Americans of high ability to study for a degree in the United Kingdom.
“All of these students have impressive and diverse backgrounds and clear-minded plans for post graduate work,” said Amy Cyphert, director of the ASPIRE program that assists students seeking nationally competitive scholarships. “The University is extremely proud and excited to endorse Sara, Garrett, Blake, Stephen and Colin for these international awards.”
Endorsed Students for the Rhodes Scholarship
Each year since 1904, 32 students from the U.S. are selected as Rhodes Scholars. They are chosen not only for their outstanding scholarly achievements, but for their character, commitment to others and to the common good, and for their potential for leadership. The Rhodes Trust, a British charity established to honor the will and bequest of Cecil J. Rhodes, provides full financial support for Rhodes Scholars to pursue a degree at the University of Oxford.
A district committee will review all applicants in October and select finalists. Those finalists will be interviewed in Chicago in November, and scholarship recipients will be selected at the conclusion of those interviews. WVU has produced 25 Rhodes Scholars over the years.
Iraqi-born U.S. citizen Sara Berzingi is an Honors College student from Morgantown, double majoring in biology and English with a concentration in professional writing and editing. She spent the last four summers volunteering with aid organizations abroad, working to manage the Internally Displaced Persons crisis emerging from the siege of Mosul, volunteering in a labor and delivery ward in Erbil, Iraq, and teaching English to children in an Iraqi refugee camp.
She twice served as president of the Muslim Student Association, is a founding member of the Campus Social Advisory Council, served on the Student Government Diversity Committee and is currently a diversity ambassador and student worker in the Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.
An Eberly College Arts and Sciences Scholar, Berzingi conducts research in psychiatric assessment under Dr. Ahmed Aboraya at WVU Medicine, and formerly worked with Dr. George Spirou’s team in the Auditory Development and Connectomics Laboratory at WVU’s Neurosciences Institute. She is a collaborator and guest contributor to 100 Days in Appalachia, an online source for stories about the challenges and hopes of Appalachia during the early days of President Donald Trump’s administration.
She loves to hike, and is particularly fond of hiking the mountains of Appalachia and Kurdistan.
She says she is grateful for the social and academic opportunities available to her at WVU as well as the faculty and staff who have supported her ambitions and educational pursuits.
“The classes I’ve taken, the research I’ve conducted, the organizational networks I’ve built, and the lasting memories I’ve made at WVU have impacted me immeasurably.” Berzingi said. “Having had these experiences, I feel prepared to handle the academic rigor of an education at Oxford University, if fortunate enough to earn the Rhodes scholarship.”
If awarded the Rhodes, she plans to pursue two master’s degrees at Oxford – one in medical anthropology and a second in refugee and forced migration studies.
Garrett Burgess is an Honors College senior from Elkview double majoring in Russian studies and political science. He is wing commander of the Air Force ROTC Detachment at WVU, AFROTC Commander’s scholar and an outreach assistant with the WVU College of Law’s Veteran’s Clinic.
He has studied abroad the past three summers in Romania, France and Lithuania, and last year interned with the U.S. State Department in the Reginal Security Office at the U.S. Embassy in Riga, Latvia.
A Gilman International Scholar, Burgess also earned a Newman Civic Fellowship and an Eberly Arts and Sciences Scholarship, among other awards.
He is president of the WVU Russian Club and Model United Nations team, program assistant in the Department of Russian Studies and a campus sexual assault responder with the Title IX Peer Advocate Program.
An avid runner, he competes in marathons and triathlons.
“My time at WVU has been extraordinary and has provided me with the necessary experiences to prepare me for my future life as an officer in the US Air Force,” Burgess said. “The WVU ASPIRE Office along with my professors, advisors and ROTC cadre have been incredibly supportive of all my University endeavors. From their support, I have been able to study abroad three times and intern in the U.S. Embassy in Riga, Latvia, where I developed a passion for Eastern European diplomacy and security.”
Burgess plans to pursue politics in comparative governance at Oxford if he earns the Rhodes. If he receives the Marshall Scholarship, he plans to pursue a master’s of Russian and Eastern European studies and global security degree at the University of Glasgow.
“With either award I would be able to tailor my programs to match my interests in Eastern European diplomacy and security at a renowned university,” he said.
Blake Humphrey, from Wheeling, received his undergraduate degree in economics and political science from WVU and is currently a master’s student in public administration with plans to attend law school.
He was elected president of the student body and serves as a voting member of the WVU Board of Governors, which oversees the University’s operating budget, policies and business and educational decisions. Humphrey’s focuses as a student leader centers around open educational resources, college affordability, economic development and community service.
He was appointed by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and then reappointed by Gov. James C. Justice to serve on the state Commission for National and Community Service. In addition, he is a mentor and junior counselor with American Legion Boys Nation and active with Mountaineer Boys State. As a member of Sigma Alpha Epsilon Fraternity, he has served as vice president and scholarship chairman and was project director for WVU’s Greek Day of Service, leading 1,000 students in 26 diverse service projects across the community.
Humphrey is committed to public service in West Virginia. He was an intern for both U.S. Congressman David McKinley and U.S. Senator Shelley Moore Capito, and from a young age has been active in campaigns, causes and other forms of advocacy.
“Serving the people of West Virginia has always, and will continue to be, a passion of mine,” he said. “In a sense it has been my life’s work and purpose, and WVU has allowed me to discover this passion through creativity, learning and self-expression, both inside and outside the classroom.”
Humphrey said Oxford provides one of the most dynamic and vibrant academic environments in the world, producing global thought leaders, world-class researchers and civic-minded citizens. “If given the opportunity to study there,” he said, “it will broaden my scope and understanding of the challenges that we face as West Virginians by engaging in meaningful research and exploration. Above all, I will bring what I learn back to West Virginia to help create solutions to elevate our state to its fullest potential.”
Second-year law student and Honors College alum Stephen Scott, from Shepherdstown, clerked for the Honorable Judge Irene Keeley, U.S. District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia, and formerly interned on Capitol Hill with U.S. Senator John D. Rockefeller. He conducts research for law professor William Rhee, is a teaching assistant for law professor Thomas Cady and a graduate assistant on a recent comparative law study abroad trip to Brazil.
He recently published an article in the National Journal of the Collegiate Honors Council, “Black Excellence: Fostering Intellectual Curiosity in Minority Honors Students at a Predominantly White Research Institution,” and has earned numerous awards including the law school’s Scholarship, Character and Activism Award and the WVU Foundation’s Order of Augusta, reserved for the top 8 graduating seniors.
He was elected president of his law school’s first-year class, serves as vice president of the Student Bar Association and was active in Student Government as a WVU undergraduate, where he majored in political science and multidisciplinary studies.
“I have been truly blessed to attend WVU for both my undergraduate and graduate education, to succeed and thrive at the University, and to pay it forward to other first-generation and minority students like me,” Scott said. “If I am fortunate enough to earn the Rhodes, Oxford will show me how to pay it forward by studying educational accessibility initiatives that can be adopted throughout the country.”
Rhodes Advisor and Professor of History Katherine Aaslestad said the four Rhodes candidates represent different facets of WVU. “All West Virginians with records of academic excellence, these candidates provide leadership in such diverse areas as student government, ROTC, educational reform and diversity leadership,” she said. “They have already touched the lives of many at WVU, worked in international settings, endeavored to reform policies within the University, performed significant charitable and humanitarian outreach, and fund-raised for worthy causes. They are unique and outstanding role models for our student body.”
Endorsed Students for the Marshall Scholarship
Up to 40 student scholars are selected as Marshall Scholars each year to study at the graduate level at a United Kingdom institution. Founded by a 1953 Act of Parliament, and named in honor of U.S. Secretary of State George C Marshall, the awards commemorate the humane ideals of the Marshall Plan and they express the continuing gratitude of the British people to their American counterparts.
A district committee will review all applicants in October and select the scholarship recipients in late November. WVU has had two previous Marshall Scholars.
Colin Lopez is preparing to go to Amman, Jordan, on a Fulbright Scholarship to conduct research with the United Nations Refugee Agency in healthcare services in that country. He is a recent WVU graduate with a degree in international studies, with an emphasis on international business, and an Honors College alum from Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
An advanced Arabic speaker, Lopez also studied in Jordan and Morocco on a Boren Scholarship and a Critical Language Scholarship. He also speaks Spanish and has studied abroad in Brazil and participated in a Global Public Health internship in Panama.
He is the founder and past president of the WVU Global Health Brigade, a student organization focused on combating preventable diseases in developing countries.
His numerous awards include being named to the Order of Augusta, one of the top eight graduating seniors out of a class of 4,500, and receiving the Paul and Jean Driver Award to the one WVU undergraduate who is committed to improving the lives of others and involved in social justice and civic activism.
Lopez is the former captain of the WVU lacrosse team.
If he should earn the Marshall Scholarship he would like to pursue a master’s degree in health policy, planning and finance and global population health at the London School of Economics and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. His career goal is to work in global health and contribute to building equitable and accessible healthcare systems around the world.
“It is an honor to be endorsed by WVU for the Marshall scholarship,” Lopez said. “I would not be in the position without the continuous support of my WVU professors. WVU has offered me every opportunity and more to succeed and I am truly grateful.”
Garrett Burgess, who is competing for the Rhodes, is also being endorsed for the Marshall Scholarship. (See information above)
“Both candidates endorsed by WVU for the British Marshall Scholarship are outstanding students who have brought their studies outside the classroom into the real world to make an important difference in their communities, both here and abroad,” said Marshall Scholar advisor Lisa Di Bartolomeo, who herself was a Marshall Scholar as an undergraduate at WVU. “Every year the selection committee gets to meet some of the best students on campus, and as we learn about their accomplishments, we see how much WVU has to be proud of.”
Di Bartolomeo and Aaslestad both praised the ASPIRE Office, saying, “The student applicants and faculty advisors alike remain grateful to the ASPIRE Office for their many layers of help with the intensive Rhodes and Marshall applications.”
Students interested in competing for these awards in future years should reach out to the ASPIRE Office to learn more at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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