The James Monroe Scholars Program

  • Monroe Scholars
    Monroe Scholars
    Thanks to private support for the Monroe Scholars Program, a W&M freshman designed an international research project and sustained and extended it with summer research funding.
    Photo by Stephen Salpukas

Is it ever too early for William and Mary students to immerse themselves in cutting-edge research? Not according to the idea behind the Monroe Scholars program. Funded largely through private support, the program guarantees Monroe Scholars — who represent the top 7 percent of the College’s student body —  $1,000 for projects after their freshman year and a $3,000 summer scholarship after their sophomore or junior years for research projects of their own design.

Stephen Schworer, who graduated in May 2008 with a degree in biology, certainly benefited from early exposure to the undergraduate program. Combined with other undergraduate research opportunities, Schworer’s experience as a Monroe Scholar confirmed his desire to pursue a career in medical research, and he is now enrolled in Tufts University’s M.D./Ph.D. program.

Kaity Smoot ’09 likewise dove wholeheartedly into research when a freshman Monroe Scholars grant allowed her to study economic development in Botswana. The Richmond, Va., native also visited cultural sites in Botswana’s capital city, Gaborone, and small surrounding villages, and observed a few days of junior secondary school with volunteers for a guidance program called “Operation HIV.” 

“Trying to find the answer to questions about economic development in Africa seems like one of the most important pursuits in the world,” Smoot said, “and I think I’d like to do that as my career, maybe working for the World Bank or Oxfam International.”

Sabrina Horvath ’10 used her freshman grant to work with the leaders in autism research at UNC–Chapel Hill. “They had several research projects going on,” said Horvath. “I actually helped with their research team and even used some of the data to do my own research.”

Horvath’s project allowed her to study the latest theories and treatment methods for developmental disorders. She even attended a conference at UNC where she saw what other schools were doing with regard to autism research.

Catherine Schwenkler ’06, who returned to the College in spring 2008 to pursue a master’s in foreign language education, can attest to the strength of the Monroe Scholars program. As an undergraduate, Schwenkler engaged in service trips to Reynosa, Mexico, Chile and other locales, and used her Monroe Scholarship to intern with the Community Action Program in New Jersey. “I couldn’t have gone to Mexico or had my unpaid internship or done my honors thesis without help,” she said. “It’s the only way a lot of us can afford to do things.”

No matter where their dreams take them, Monroe Scholars leave their comfort zones and immerse themselves in exciting research opportunities. And they’re grateful for the people who make their experiences possible.

“There aren’t too many freshmen who get to do what I got to do as a Monroe Scholar,” said Horvath. “I could not have done it without generous support.”