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2017 Class of George J. Mitchell Scholars Announced

For Immediate Release                                                 contact:  Serena Wilson
November 21, 2015                                                      +1. 202.230.2702                   



The US-Ireland Alliance selected the 12 members of the 2017 Class of George J. Mitchell Scholars following interviews held today in Washington, D.C. 

Members of the class include a playwright, a documentary film-maker, a Model UN world champion, a bioengineering student who wants to cure paralysis, the captain of the Naval Academy’s Women’s Ice Hockey, and a medical student working in pediatric oncology.

The scholarship program is the flagship project of the US-Ireland Alliance, a non-partisan, non-profit organization founded in 1998 by Trina Vargo, a former foreign policy adviser to Senator Ted Kennedy.  The scholarship has become so popular that in the previous three years, of the ten individuals lucky enough to be offered both a Mitchell and Rhodes interview, eight opted for the Mitchell.   

The nationwide competition attracted 284 applicants for the 12 scholarships named in honor of the former Maine Senator’s contributions to the Northern Ireland peace process.  Recipients are chosen on the basis of academic distinction, leadership and service and spend a year of post-graduate study at institutions of higher learning in Ireland.

Michael Lonergan, Deputy Chief of Mission of the Embassy of Ireland, welcomed the twenty finalists, many Mitchell Scholar alums, friends of the Alliance, and several Capitol Hill staffers to a reception held at the Irish Embassy last night.

Serena Wilson, Director of the Mitchell Scholarship Program, told guests that the program’s reputation and popularity continue to grow despite some funding setbacks in recent years.  Northern Ireland is temporarily out of the program due to the recent budget impasse in Northern Ireland.  Despite that, there were more applications this year than last and, unlike other scholarship programs, the Mitchell has never decreased the number of scholarships awarded. 

Candidate interviews were held at the Dupont Circle Hotel in Washington, D.C.  Members of the selection committee included Jon Brestoff Parker, a Mitchell Scholar and CEO and co-founder of Symmetry Therapeutics, a startup pharmaceutical company developing more effective anti-obesity treatments; Frank Bruni, New York Times Op-Ed Columnist and the author of three bestselling books, including “Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be: An Antidote to the College Admissions Mania;” Kathleen Claussen, a Mitchell Scholar and Assistant General Counsel, at the Office of the United States Trade Representative; Kerry Healey, President of Babson College and former Lt. Governor of Massachusetts; Michael Lonergan, Deputy Head of Mission of the Irish Embassy; Gerry McCrory, an entrepreneur currently involved in two start-up companies including Scoir, a social media platform designed to improve the college admissions process; Ethan McSweeny, an internationally acclaimed director based in New York City, where his work includes the Broadway revival of Gore Vidal’s The Best Man (Tony Award nomination, Drama Desk and Outer Critics Awards) and the premiere of John Grisham’s A Time to Kill; and Ganesh Sitaraman, Assistant Professor of Law at Vanderbilt University and a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress.

The US-Ireland Alliance is seeking to raise a $40 million endowment so the program may continue in perpetuity.  The Irish Government will match any contributions and significant support is coming from the Ireland’s Department of Education and Skills, Sean O’Sullivan of SOSV, Morgan Stanley and CRH.   Recent support was received from Marcy Carsey, a television producer and winner of multiple Emmy and Golden Globes Awards.  Present at the reception at the Irish Embassy was BioMarin EVP, Robert Baffi.  BioMarin has a presence in Cork and is developing and commercializing innovative biopharmaceuticals for rare diseases driven by genetic causes.

Ms. Vargo noted that the Mitchell has been at the forefront of innovations in the scholarship interviewing process, including the introduction of Skype interviews, early stage video interviews in partnership with the Irish company Sonru, and assisting the many applicants who don’t win a Mitchell:  “There are numerous applicants who are incredibly talented.  While we can’t offer them all a scholarship, we recognize the major effort entailed in simply applying, and we wanted to find ways to help increase their opportunities.  Years ago, we began the process of sharing their information with the universities on the island and we know of many applicants who went on to study in Ireland and Northern Ireland by other means.  This year, we have initiated a process whereby the resumes of applicants may be shared with our major sponsors.   This is a win/win given that recruitment of top talent is a priority for many companies.”

Those selected today will begin their studies in Ireland in September 2016.  

George J. Mitchell Scholarship, Class of 2017

Emma Adler is a senior at Harvard studying English.  A resident of Harrison, New York, she is has been involved in all aspects of theater including writing, producing, organizing, fundraising and publicity.  She currently serves at the Fiction Editor for the Harvard Advocate and previously oversaw the weekly Arts cover for the Harvard Crimson. She has produced three shows and stage-managed two others for the Harvard-Radcliffe Dramatic Club.  Her own play, “GHOST,” was produced at the Adams Pool Theatre at Harvard. Emma is a member of the Board of Directors for the Harvard-Radcliffe Gilbert and Sullivan Players and was also a member of The Harvard Story-Time Players where she performed original shows for children in nearby hospitals. As an intern at Theatre for a New Audience in Brooklyn Emma assisted with fundraising projects, researching, preparing publicity materials, and compiling data on potential patrons. Emma will study Playwriting at the Lir, Trinity College Dublin.

Azza Cohen is a senior History major at Princeton.   A resident of Highland Park, Illinois, she aspires to be a maker of documentaries.  A Dalai Lama Fellow, Azza spent a year volunteering at Guria, a nonprofit organization based in Varanasi, India.  Her work there led to her directing and a producing a documentary, Specks of Dust, which profiles the Indian activists at Guria fighting human trafficking. The film includes a curriculum about human rights and ethical leadership.  At Princeton, she helped reshape Career Services to strengthen encouragement of careers beyond finance and consulting.  She also teaches documentary journalism to a group of high-achieving, low-income high school students. Azza has studied the British Empire and the process of border formation.  Her interest in Northern Ireland was sparked when she lived with a Belfast family as part of high school exchange program.  Her next film project will examine the oral history of borders in a transnational context.  Azza will study Culture and Colonialism at the National University of Ireland Galway.

Byron Cohen, a native of Cambridge, Massachusetts, is a senior at Claremont McKenna College where he is pursuing a dual degree in International Relations and PPE (Philosophy, Politics and Economics). He spent a summer designing training curricula in organic agronomy, financial literacy and business skills for 40,000 smallholder farmer partners in Gulu, in northern Uganda. While there, Byron contracted Typhoid Fever, and learned that roughly 1/3 of Gulu's residents lack access to clean water. With support from local partners, he implemented the Gulu Clean Water Initiative, ensuring sustainable access to clean water for 5,000 impoverished and vulnerable residents. Byron and his local partners have since created Water & Health For All, a nonprofit that is building upon the work of the Gulu Clean Water Initiative. Byron also founded the Claremont Journal of Law & Public Policy and spent a summer tutoring inside San Quentin State Prison while exploring the impact of prison education programs with former prisoners.  Byron will study Public Health at University College Dublin.

Phillip Cohen is studying for his MD at the University of Pennsylvania.   He grew up in Washington, DC and graduated from Yale with a degree in African Studies.   In high school, an NGO-sponsored summer service-learning trip to Ethiopia led to his parents visiting with him the following summer.  While there, they met a ten-year-old named Temesgen who had osteosarcoma. The family brought the boy to the US where he died a few years later.  It was through Temesgen's former doctor that Phillip met Irishwoman Dr. Trish Scanlan, who was running a pediatric oncology ward in Tanzania. His time volunteering with her in Tanzania inspired him to pursue a medical career. Upon his return to the US, he worked for Temesgen's former oncologist and others on a pilot program to improve pediatric cancer care in Ethiopia.  This initiative became the Aslan Project, and is currently training the country's first pediatric oncologists.  Wanting to create pediatric oncology programs in the spirit of the Aslan Project and Dr. Scanlan's work in Tanzania, Phillip will study Global Health Trinity College Dublin.

Micaela Connery is pursuing a Master’s in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School.  A resident of West Hartford, Connecticut, she obtained an undergraduate degree in Service, Community, and Social Policy in the Interdisciplinary Majors Program at the University of Virginia.  At the age of 15, Micaela founded Unified Theater, a non-profit that brings young people with and without disabilities together through school-based, student-led, arts programming. She expanded operations into six states and led 5-year strategic planning with national Board of Directors. When she left Unified Theater in 2014 to attend the Kennedy School, the organization had impacted thousands of young people in almost 100 schools across the country.  On a brief visit to Ireland, she was struck by how people with disabilities were included in Irish life and wonders what drives this kind of culture of connection and wants to learn if it can it be replicated, even in a small way, in the US. Her goal is to work on issues of disability housing and employment on a national scale.   Micaela will pursue an MBA at the Smurfit School at University College Dublin.

Claire Dillon is a graduate of Northwestern University with degrees in Art History and Italian.  She is the Director of Education and Outreach at ART WORKS Projects, an organization that uses art to raise awareness of human rights issues.  She has worked on exhibits touring in eight countries to date.  At Northwestern, she was a Mellon Mays Fellow, the Editor in Chief of Northwestern Art Review, and an executive member of the largest student-run human rights conference in the US.  Claire also worked to increase Northwestern’s participation in Ireland’s Undergraduate Awards.  She interned for the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago and the Museo Civico Medievale in Bologna, Italy.  Noting that Medievalists are typically not known for their engagement with contemporary issues, Claire wants to pursue a degree in medieval studies to research art objects’ political and cultural power in their original contexts and in their changing significance across time. Claire will study Medieval Language, Literature and Culture at Trinity College Dublin.

Christopher Kilner is a senior at The University of Scranton studying Environmental Science/Biochemistry and Cell and Molecular Biology/Philosophy.  A resident of Rockville, Maryland, he is the Chairman of The Woape Foundation, which he founded after a high school visit to Pine Ridge.  Through a sustainably constructed a greenhouse and a STEM program at Red Cloud School for Native American children, the foundation addresses education and nutrition.  Christopher has been a student researcher at the National Institutes of Health, at his university and, as a Goldwater Scholar, he proposes to study vector-borne illnesses in Central America.  He also serves as the President of the Student Government.  Deprived of many athletic opportunities as a young child -- he had 10 surgeries before he was 14 -- Christopher has taken advantage of the opportunity to compete in athletics since and is a prize-winning rower, cycles and participates in triathlons. In ten years, he plans to be doing a postdoc at a large climate change center like Stanford or Columbia.  Christopher will study Biodiversity and Conservation at Trinity College Dublin. 

Megan McNulty is a senior at the US Military Academy where she studies Economics.  A resident of Queensbury, New York, she briefly resigned her commission at the Academy to work as the CFO for a school and mission in rural Liberia where she managed the budget and, as assistant to the Mission Director, was responsible for the education and health of 100 orphans and disadvantaged youth.  Megan found that Liberia epitomized the problems of foreign aid with money inadvertently spurring foreign dependence, political instability, and financial liability rather than reducing poverty, minimizing inequality, or encouraging infrastructural development.  After returning to West Point, Megan won the first place Diplomacy Award in the Model United Nations World Championship.  She was the only freshman on the Women’s Varsity Crew Team.  Given Ireland’s reputation for peacekeeping and international assistance, Megan sees it as the perfect backdrop to a rigorous academic program focused on finding solutions to poverty and aid.  Megan will study International Development at University College Dublin. 

Peter Prindiville is an AmeriCorps volunteer teaching at St. Patrick Catholic High School in Biloxi, Mississippi.  After growing up in Woodstock, Illinois, he obtained a degree in History and International Affairs at Georgetown and is currently working on a Master’s degree in Education from Notre Dame.  In 2012, Peter was elected as Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner in the District of Columbia with the highest margin in district's history.  One of the youngest elected officials in D.C. history, he sat on the Commission’s Committee on Zoning and Historic Preservation.  Considering teaching to be his passion and not his job, Peter has encountered the inherent political bias in History education. Noting that the Common Core team couldn’t agree on content standards for History, he sees value in rethinking social studies methods to encourage historical thinking and a deeper conceptual understanding of the past.  Peter sees his future as marrying scholarship and policy advocacy to envision education for the future.  Peter will study Irish Historical Research at University College Cork.

William (Wills) Rooney is a senior at Duke University with a self-designed major entitled, “Markets, Society, & Personalism.”  A resident of Darien, Connecticut, Wills locates his intellectual passion at philosophical anthropology – exploring the origin, nature and meaning of the human person.  He is the Director of Academic Programming for the Duke Catholic Center, which serves more than 2000 students.  He served for two years as an Editorial Board member of Duke’s student newspaper, The Chronicle, where he is now a biweekly columnist.  Wills has also worked at numerous think tanks, including the American Enterprise Institute, and has been a firefighter with the Noroton Fire Department for five years. He is a member of Duke’s NCAA Division I varsity cross-country/track team and has been a mentor to first-year student-athletes, facilitating their adjustments to college life.  Through a values-driven, professional or academic public-career, he hopes to personalize our culture and its economic and political institutions.  Wills will study the Philosophy of Religion at Maynooth University.

Allyson (Ally) Strachan is a senior at the US Naval Academy where she studies Weapons & Systems Engineering and academically ranks in the top 5% of her class.  A resident of Vinalhaven, Maine, Ally is the captain of the Academy’s Women’s Ice Hockey team.  Ally has synesthesia, a neurological condition in which one sense is perceived and then overlapped by others.  Her interest in prosthetics and medical device design stems from her own sensitivity to movement.  She is working on a project modernizing a common 3D-printed prosthetic hand for children so that it is touchscreen compatible.  Over the summer, she served as Battalion Commander for STEM Camp and was responsible for 1000 campers from across the US.  She did a month-long backpacking trip in the Alaskan wilderness and also climbed Mt. Ararat in Turkey.  She is also a potter.  Ally will become a Navy pilot, hoping to fly P-8s and one day hopes to create a business that makes medical devices.  Ally will study Biomedical, Audio and Image Signal Processing at the Dublin Institute of Technology. 

Carla Winter is a senior at the University of Pennsylvania majoring in Bioengineering with minors in Mathematics and Biophysics.  From Morristown, NJ, Carla wants to contribute to curing paralysis.  She works as an undergraduate researcher in D. Kacy Cullen's Laboratory within the Center for Brain Injury and Repair at the Perelman School of Medicine. She leads her own research project with the goal of developing a tissue engineered treatment out of living cells to effectively recreate the lost cytoarchitecture and signaling due to neurodegeneration (such as spinal cord injury) and ultimately promote functional recovery. Her responsibilities include study design and execution, manuscript preparation, and teaching lab members tissue-engineering methods that she develops. She has submitted two manuscripts for review, on which she is first and second author. As an Amgen Scholar at UC San Diego, she researched the development of strategies to regenerate damaged neurons.  Carla will study Regenerative Medicine at the National University Ireland Galway.