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Matthew Abel captures Beinecke Scholarship

  • Congratulations!
    Congratulations!  Junior Matthew Abel is the recipient of a Beinecke Scholarship, a $30,000 prize to help defray the cost of graduate school.  Courtesy Matthew Abel
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Matthew Abel doesn’t know where he’s going to attend graduate school. He’s not even completely sure when he’s going.

What he knows is that, whatever it costs, he’ll spend $30,000 less than had he not recently won a Beinecke Scholarship.

Abel, a junior majoring in Anthropology and Environmental Policy, is the eighth William & Mary student to receive a Beinecke Scholarship since its inception in 1975.

“I was sitting on my computer, trying to apply for a credit card with my bank, and then the e-mail popped up,” he said. “I had a bit of a freak-out when I saw it. It’s very exciting, and I think I spent the whole day on a buzz.”

The Beinecke Scholarship Program was established by the board of directors of The Sperry and Hutchinson Company (S&H) to honor Edwin, Frederick and Walter Beinecke.

The goal was to provide substantial scholarships for the graduate education of young men and women of exceptional promise, and for them to be “courageous” in selecting a graduate course of study in the arts, humanities and social sciences. The Beinecke money must be utilized within five years of completion of undergraduate studies.

“It makes grad school definite for me,” Abel said. “I’d been thinking about doing graduate work a lot, but finances always factored in there. I thought I’d have to work for a few years before that was a possibility. But this definitely makes grad school feasible and an imminent reality.”

One of the criteria that must be met in order to be considered for the scholarship is “superior standards of intellectual ability, scholastic achievement and personal promise during his or her undergraduate career.”
Lisa Grimes, associate director of the Roy R. Charles Center for Academic Excellence and director of fellowships and undergraduate research, said that description fits Abel perfectly.
“His intellectual curiosity and seriousness of purpose were evident from the start, in the best way,” she said. “With Matt, it feels like we’ve been having a three-year-long, coffee-fueled conversation rather than working. Our discussions often leave me reconsidering my opinions … He’s an outstanding student and scholar, and he is absolutely deserving of the Beinecke Scholarship.”
Abel, who is leaving for Oxford University to complete the spring semester of his junior year before returning to campus in the fall, has completed a variety of independent research projects, all funded by the Monroe Program. They have taken him to places like an organic farm in Montana, part of an overall interest in urban farms that he said, “made the Beinecke folks think I might be a good candidate for graduate school.”

He has also worked as a volunteer on an urban farm in Northwest Washington, D.C., where he also served as an every day historian of life in the neighborhood.

“It’s rapidly gentrifying, but it is also a neighborhood where people are organizing over organic agriculture,” he said. “The idea is that this project will soon serve food to a neighborhood that otherwise doesn’t have very much fresh food. My job was to be there and tell the story of this place and think about it in academic terms.”

It was the type of job, Associate Professor Bill Fisher said, that Abel was born to do.

"I trust Matt's instincts, intellect and humanity. He just inspires a tremendous amount of confidence and good will in others," Fisher said. "His humility and refusal to take what he sees at face value -- including his own views -- energizes a continual effort to add new perspectives to his understanding. That's what makes him such a wonderful anthropologist."

Abel credits the entire Anthropology department – and especially Fisher -- for putting him in position to win a Beinecke scholarship because “they’ve been incredibly supportive and really made me into someone who’s enthusiastic about my discipline and learning about anthropology.”

That enthusiasm just paid big dividends.