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Alumni profile: Marshall finalist Chris Looney

By Kim Germain on January 13, 2016

Colgate alumnus Christopher Looney ’13 was a Finalist this fall for the highly competitive and prestigious Marshall Scholarship. It is a rare honor to reach the Finalist stage, and the Colgate community is very proud of his accomplishments – both those that got him to this point and those yet to come. After the process was over, Chris spoke with me about this experience; the following profile comes from those conversations.

Path to the Marshall

Christopher Looney '13

Chris Looney ’13

After he graduated in 2013, Chris took a research internship with the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, DC, where he worked on their Transnational Threats Project, with a focus on extremist groups in the Middle East. This opened the door to a research analyst position in Turkey, where Chris reported as a journalist along the border with Syria, where he interviewed combatants and refugees as well as monitoring humanitarian organizations there. He subsequently joined the Peace Corps and has been in Burkina Faso since June 2014, where he leads educational initiatives.

Fellowship Application Process
Building on the academic interests he pursued at Colgate as a double major in International Relations and History, Chris applied for the Marshall, which would fund two years of graduate study in Britain. Able to select from nearly any UK university and graduate program, he selected two one-year programs: the MSc in Conflict Studies at the London School of Economics and the MA in Humanitarianism and Conflict Response at the University of Manchester. “The Marshall first attracted me because of the wide breadth of academic programs available in the UK and the ability to merge two master’s programs to focus specifically on a narrow academic interest. I wanted to look at refugee issues, but not in the classical sense that views the topic on humanitarian terms. Instead, I was interested in integrating refugee studies with post-conflict studies and analyzing how refugee policies undertaken during a war impact the reconstruction process,” said Chris.

While in Burkina Faso, Chris worked remotely with me, the Assistant Dean for Fellowship Advising in the Office of National Fellowships and Scholarships, to secure Colgate’s nomination for the Marshall. “The process was long, time-consuming, but ultimately very rewarding,” said Chris. “You are forced to think very deeply not just about graduate school, but the trajectory of your career in the long term. In that sense, it was a bit like a 6-month journey of self-reflection.” Candidates for the Marshall and other similar awards work closely with me and Colgate’s UK/Ireland Fellowships Committee over a period of many months to tell the story of their academic and career interests, conduct research about academic programs in the UK, and build their application dossiers.

Nationwide, 32 Marshall Scholars were selected out of 916 candidates endorsed by their universities. Only 17% of endorsed candidates received finalist interviews nationally in this year’s competition. It was even tougher in the New York region, where only 20 of 166 endorsed candidates (12%) were granted finalist interviews, so it is a very great honor for Chris to have reached that level. The last time Colgate had a student reach this level in the Marshall competition was Fall 2007.

The Marshall Commission flew Chris back from Burkina Faso to interview in New York City on November 10; he was able to get a full week off, which helped him get acclimated to our time zone.  Chris came to campus in the days prior to November 10 for two days of intensive interview preparation with our UK/Ireland Committee and other faculty members.

Chris said: “The interview was a great experience, and I received an incredible amount of support from the University and faculty through mock interviews, discussions, and their critiques. During the actual interview in New York, I was asked about everything from the effect of the influx of refugees on German national identity to my favorite Bruce Springsteen song. The panel was made up 5 incredibly intelligent and accomplished professionals, and was more conversational than anything. I actually had fun, which I definitely did not expect going in. Despite not receiving the scholarship, the application process was very enriching and helped me clarify where I want my career to take me.”

Future Plans
Even if it’s not through the Marshall, Chris plans to pursue a similar path in conflict studies and refugee issues in graduate school, and he is currently looking into a number of programs in addition to the ones he found through the Marshall process, including the option of law school with a focus on legal rights of refugees. He also hopes to return to Turkey to get back in touch with what’s been happening on the ground vis-à-vis the Syrian conflict. Chris’s future work should have a positive impact on the lives of people in conflict and post-conflict zones.

About the Marshall Scholarship
Founded in 1953 by an Act of Parliament, Marshall Scholarships are mainly funded by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and commemorate the humane ideals of the Marshall Plan. They express the continuing gratitude of the British people to their American counterparts. Marshall Scholarships finance young Americans of high ability to study for a degree in the United Kingdom. Up to forty Scholars are selected each year to study at the graduate level at a UK institution in any field of study. As future leaders, with a lasting understanding of British society, Marshall Scholars strengthen the enduring relationship between the British and American peoples, their governments and their institutions. Marshall Scholars are talented, independent and wide-ranging, and their time as Scholars enhances their intellectual and personal growth. Their direct engagement with Britain through its best academic programs contributes to their ultimate personal success.

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