Westminster's Debbie Samaniego Named College's First-Ever Marshall Scholar

December 5, 2016

Honors Program student to pursue prestigious graduate study in the United Kingdom

Westminster senior Debbie Samaniego has received the 2017 Marshall Scholarship to pursue graduate study in the United Kingdom. This marks the first time a Westminster student has been selected for this prestigious award. Samaniego plans to pursue a pair of one-year master's degrees in both international relations at Queen Mary University of London and geopolitics, territory and security at King's College. The program will start in October of 2017.

Each year, up to 40 students from across the country are selected to receive Marshall Scholarships. The program finances young Americans to pursue graduate degrees in the United Kingdom in any field of study. The scholarship aims to create future leaders with a lasting understanding of British society and strengthen the relationship between the United Kingdom and the United States.

As a first-generation, underrepresented student-and a McNair Scholar-Samaniego has focused her undergraduate studies at Westminster on migration, specifically on populations from Mexico and Central America. "I've been looking at the violence they've experienced, the different reasons why they migrated or were forced to migrate and the struggles they encounter as they're forced out of their homes," said Samaniego, who is also an Honors Program student and political science major. "My parents are from Mexico, and they migrated to the United States. I've known many undocumented migrants who have shared their journey and struggles with me, exposing me to the many injustices they've encountered."

Samaniego is looking forward to working with other scholars who are interested in the same area of study. "I'm very excited to be in an area where there are so many scholars who are focusing on what I'm interested in," she said. "This program will give me the resources and the access that I wouldn't have anywhere else. Europe in general is the place to be right now for this kind of research. When you look at the European refugee crisis and what they're going through, it's the ideal place to study."

In addition to her studies, Samaniego has also worked for several organizations that have focused on helping low-income, underrepresented students. She has been a teaching fellow and mentor for the Clemente Program at East High School, which inspires first-generation students to attend college. She has also coached a local swim team for low-income students that helps them participate in the sport. "I just have that personal connection that drives me to want to try to make a change in whatever small way that I can," she added. "I think it's been my personal background that's driven me and a lot of what I do is to try to give back and make it easier for other kids to not have to go through the same experiences I did."

Samaniego attributes her awareness of the Marshall Scholarship to her involvement in the McNair Scholars Program, a federally-funded program to increase the number of underrepresented students who go on to graduate study, as well as its director, Jo Hinsdale. "I honestly don't know if I would've applied for the Marshall Scholarship had it not been for the McNair program," she said. "Jo Hinsdale sent me a list of available fellowships, and she helped me throughout the whole application process. She's been a valuable resource."

"It has been an honor to work with Debbie on her Marshall application," Hinsdale said. "Through her classes, research and extracurricular activities, she has created an academic profile that competes with peers from the most elite schools in the country. McNair Scholars are an accomplished group, and Debbie stands out for her combination of resilience and personal warmth, coupled with a gutsy drive to tackle one of the world's most troubling and pressing problems. I am thrilled that she has received this prestigious award."

This year, students from colleges ranging from MIT to Harvard will attend the program in 2017. The Marshall Scholarship provides students with full university fees, cost of living expenses, annual book grants and travel to and from the United States. For more information on the Marshall Scholarship, visit the Marshall Scholarship website.