One of the most selective higher education scholarship plans in the U.S. could wind down in the subsequent several years if it doesn’t elevate a considerable sum to shore up its endowment.
The program is the Mitchell Scholarship, which sends 12 modern college graduates to research at a college in Ireland and Northern Eire every single year. Run by the nonprofit US-Eire Alliance designed in 1998 to administer the scholarship, the application is extra selective than Harvard, and some many years it’s more durable to gain than a Rhodes Scholarship.
But its founder and longtime chief, Trina Vargo, is nearing retirement age, and she’s apprehensive that the scholarship’s bank account is not sizeable enough to keep on funding the hard work.
“We’re both gonna have to raise that endowment fairly rapidly so it can go on just after me, or I will sad to say be the person who will also shut it down,” she informed EdSurge.
The Mitchell Scholarship will quickly pick its 24th cohort, and has supported far more than 250 pupils above the several years, some of whom have absent on to keep elected place of work or other influential political positions. Each yr much more than 300 learners vie for the 12 slots, filling out considerable programs and securing the endorsement of their schools.
There’s an ecosystem of prestigious scholarships, and universities close to the state have set up offices to help college students acquire. Some of the opportunities are authorities supported, these kinds of as the Fulbright Scholarship, operate by the U.S. Department of Point out, and the Marshall Scholarship, established by a gift from the British authorities in 1953. But these prospects are much more frequently privately funded, including the Rhodes Scholarship (to review at Oxford University), the Gates Scholarship (to pursue scientific tests at Cambridge College) and the Schwarzman Students (to review at Tsinghua University).
All of these prospects have a vital actuality in typical: they were established by billionaires—all of them white males.
As a initially-generation faculty scholar raised by middle class mom and dad in Pittsburgh, Vargo’s story stands apart, and she says that could keep the scholarship from continuing.
So how did she come to produce this scholarship? And what does her tale expose about which educational possibilities get funded and which really do not?
Listen to the episode on Apple Podcasts, Overcast, Spotify, Stitcher or where ever you listen to podcasts, or use the participant on this website page. Or study a partial transcript beneath, frivolously edited for clarity.
EdSurge: How did you occur to create the Mitchell Scholarship?
Trina Vargo: I used to be Senator Ted Kennedy’s overseas policy advisor a gazillion decades in the past. And I was heavily involved in the Northern Eire peace system. That was all around 1998 [when] Senator [George] Mitchell was the negotiator of what finished up becoming the Great Friday agreement that brought peace to Northern Eire.
Kennedy often used to say to me, ‘the Irish under no circumstances get their act jointly like Jewish People do and Greek People do’. And he said, ‘What are they likely to do when we are not all-around any longer?’
He realized—and I realized—watching all of this, that when there was an issue that arrived up with Eire, the Irish ambassador or the prime minister would call Ted Kennedy, or they’d contact [Senator] Pat Moynihan. And there was a era of persons who ended up very connected to Eire, and they ended up fading absent. They were being leaving the scene, they have been retiring, most of them have now considering that died. There’s only a several remaining. The only ones who were being even now all over who had been connected to the Northern Ireland peace process would’ve been Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi—Senator Leahy just retired.
And if you glimpse at the range of people today coming from Eire to the U.S., that is declined drastically due to the fact the 1980s since Ireland is not a inadequate place any more. So there are all these demographic good reasons that it is a question mark as to irrespective of whether or not the connection will continue to be in upcoming generations. But I imagined that the scholarship was a way—a piece—of building that kind of a link.
And so when I was leaving Senator Kennedy’s business office, I experienced the thought for the scholarship and desired to name it after any person. And Senator Mitchell had just experienced this massive accomplishment with the Superior Friday arrangement. So I just questioned him, ‘Do you intellect if I set your name on the scholarship that I’m building?’
When we did our Bootstraps podcast sequence, we dug into the history of the Rhodes Scholarship, and its founder Cecil Rhodes, who created his fortune in diamond mining with tactics that are now widely found as cruel and exploitative of employees. It has an endowment of about $529 million. But your scholarship’s story has been one more of moxy than of dollars.
And likely naivete extra than nearly anything else.
I retain hoping that a person will give. It could be governments, it could be corporations—there are so several American multinationals in Ireland—or just a rich particular person that claims: You know what? This is a fantastic idea. I care about the potential of this partnership. I’m gonna lock it down. And they can even increase their title to it if they want. I necessarily mean, Senator Mitchell would be the to start with to inform you. Absolutely. So as legacies go, it would be considerably significantly less pricey than the other ones that exist.
Your scholarship, and the other related alternatives like the Rhodes Scholarship, only help a small range of learners every single 12 months. Why is this technique well worth all this money and hard work?
That is a fair concern, and I feel we attempt to make it far more impactful than just the 12 that receive it.
Just one point that I comprehend is that for someone to fill out this application—to place all the effort into getting tips, undertaking all that they are doing—they have a extremely small possibility of actually remaining selected. So one particular of the factors that we begun undertaking a long time in the past is if we have a corporate sponsor … we will say to our applicants … verify this box if you allow for us to share your CV with this corporate sponsor … and with an Irish College. And we will give the Irish universities or our company sponsors at the end of our process all the CVs of these people today who checked off and asked us to share them with them. [This sometimes leads those universities to accept them or companies to hire them.]
And when you have these [alum] out there, that impacts the U.S.-Ireland romantic relationship. These people today have examined on the island. They know Ireland. They can perhaps make conclusions that aid benefit the connection. I generally realized in building this that I would not see the legitimate worth of it in my life span.
Cecil Rhodes did not see Monthly bill Clinton, who was a Rhodes Scholar, turn into the president. That would not happen in your life time. So mainly what you need to have is that bridge to get there. Ted Kennedy applied to talk about it all the time. He would do a lot of points, but he realized he wouldn’t see the benefit of [those efforts] in his lifetime. But you just have to drive it out there … [because] sometime, a person else will see the price of it.
Did you at any time believe of putting your identify on the scholarship?
Hardly ever. It really is funny now when I glance again since I have to truthfully acknowledge that I think that is extremely a lot a female form of issue. I believe every single other scholarship’s title that is on a significant scholarship is a gentleman, and it truly is white male. So I would love, if Rihanna is listening (I feel she has some Irish American heritage) … If [Melinda] Gates or [MacKenzie Scott] want to … I would adore to see a woman’s name on a important scholarship. It needn’t be mine. If some female desires to [donate the] funds for [our] endowment, I’d be very delighted to put her identify on it.
How hopeful are you at this level that you can set this upcoming chapter in movement to continue on the Mitchell Scholarship?
It is a flip of a coin in my look at, to be trustworthy. Only due to the fact there is this element of me that feels like it is successful—it’s tested alone. So if anyone would like to invest in it and give to it, they’re not getting a possibility on anything that might or may not work. It can be previously [working]. So that part of me is normally hopeful.
But then there is the element of me that states, we have been searching for 25 yrs, and if [we] have not discovered that particular person, [maybe that’s a sign].
Pay attention to the entire interview on the EdSurge Podcast.