Alumna Named Marshall Scholar

Stephanie Figgins, B.A.’11, is the first George Washington winner of the UK scholarship since 2006.

November 26, 2012

Stephanie Figgins, B.A.’11, has been selected as a 2013 Marshall Scholar. The first George Washington recipient of the award since 2006, Ms. Figgins will spend two years in graduate programs at the University of London.

The highly competitive scholarship program, open only to U.S. citizens, selects up to 40 scholars each year to pursue graduate studies in the United Kingdom. The two-year scholarship will cover all academic and living expenses as well as some travel.

“I could not be happier for Stephanie. Stephanie unmistakably embodies that originality and flair that the Marshall Scholarship program seeks in its scholars,” said Paul Hoyt-O’Connor, director of George Washington’s Center for Undergraduate Fellowships and Research. “Stephanie is terrifically bright and accomplished and has served as a leader on campus and off. Whether as a member of national committee of STAND [the student-led division of United to End Genocide] or as journalist, she has been committed in demonstrable ways to improving the lives of other people.”

Ms. Figgins learned the good news in Cairo, where she has worked as a journalist for Voice of America since graduation. Ms. Figgins studied abroad in Cairo for 11 months while an undergraduate student at George Washington.

“I did the interview on a Friday, but knew I wouldn't hear back from the Marshall Commission until the next Tuesday, so I had three days to convince myself I hadn't gotten it,” she said. “I was surprised and, of course very happy, to learn that I had.”

Ms. Figgins plans to pursue a master’s of arts in postcolonial culture and global policy at Goldsmiths, University of London, during her first year of study, and then enroll in a Near and Middle East studies program in The School of Oriental and African Studies. Each of these programs is one year, allowing Ms. Figgins to pursue all her academic interests in a two-year span.

“The scholarship gives me the opportunity to do two really distinct master’s of arts that satisfy both of my areas of interest (cultural studies and Middle East studies),” she said. “If I were to go to graduate school in the United States, where master’s programs are usually two years, I'd have to choose between one or the other.”

London is also an “amazing place” to pursue Middle East studies, said Ms. Figgins.

“It's a culturally diverse city with a large Arab population; it’s a hub for scholars of the Middle East; and it’s geographically close to the region, making it easy for me to go back to do language study and to conduct research,” she said, noting that London is only a five-hour flight from Cairo.

“Finally, I just couldn't pass up the chance to apply for full funding for graduate school,” she said. “There was no way I could foot the bill myself.”

Although Ms. Figgins has new academic challenges ahead, she credits George Washington University’s programs in international affairs and economics as “great primers” for her upcoming scholarship in London.

“I'm especially grateful for the training I got in economics—I’m not a math person, so it was often a challenge,” she said. “But I’m glad I stuck with it and finished the degree.”

“Moreover, I had a good amount of flexibility in my program to take elective courses and explore other disciplines,” she added. “Through a couple of really inspiring classes with [Associate Professor of Anthropology and International Affairs] Stephen Lubkemann, I found that I really loved anthropology. So now, I feel that I have the tools to go forth and do a degree in cultural studies, which is characteristically interdisciplinary.”

For students interested in studying and living abroad, Ms. Figgins encourages them to explore language classes in and outside the classroom—she began studying Arabic by taking free classes at GW Hillel—and to subscribe to the mailing list for GW’s Center for Undergraduate Fellowships and Research to explore available scholarships.

“There are a surprising amount of people who want to give you money to go abroad,” she said. “I received the Boren Scholarship to fund my year abroad in Egypt, and the Critical Language Scholarship Program to fund a summer of Arabic study in Morocco.”

Ms. Figgins credits Marc St. Hilaire, coordinating adviser at the Center for Undergraduate Fellowships and Research, and Dr. Hoyt-O’Connor for helping her pursue study abroad opportunities since freshman year.

“For the Marshall Scholarship, not only did they look at dozens of drafts of my personal statements, but they secured funding for me to fly from Cairo to the United States for my interview, and set up three days of much-needed interview prep,” she said.

Dr. Hoyt-O’Connor said the Marshall Scholarship program will enable Ms. Figgins to pursue “the historical, anthropological, economic and political study” that will inform her work on developments in and the populations of the Middle East and North Africa.

“I eagerly look forward to her future journalistic work and the contributions Stephanie will make in promoting greater understanding of lives of the people of the Middle East and North Africa,” he said.