While many William & Mary seniors are busy searching for first jobs or applying to grad schools, Rebecca Schectman is gearing up for an entirely different adventure.
The 22-year-old senior is one of 18 students and young professionals across the country who will travel to Asia for one year in July as a member of the 2016-17 class of Luce Scholars. Schectman, an international relations major whose focus is on humanitarian aid and international development, is only the second W&M student in the program’s 40-plus-year history to be awarded this prestigious opportunity. Jason Ferguson '03 spent a year in Taipei from 2009-10 working for National Taiwan University's Population and Gender Studies Center and Women's Research Program.
Founded by Time Inc. Editor-in-Chief Henry Luce in honor of his parents, who did missionary work in China, the Luce Scholars program is a nationally competitive fellowship that offers stipends, language training and individualized professional placement in one of 14 countries in an effort to provide young leaders with a deeper understanding of Asian culture and practices. In order to apply, a candidate must be under 30 and nominated by one of 75 eligible universities.
"Rebecca Schectman's success in the prestigious Luce Scholarship competition is a testament to the outstanding abilities of W&M undergraduates interested in global and regional issues," said Steve Hanson, vice provost for international affairs and director of the Reves Center for International Studies. "All of us at W&M know that Rebecca will take full advantage of this opportunity, and go on to make a real difference in the world."
Along with her application, Schectman submitted four letters of recommendation, including one from her advisor, Professor of International Relations Michael Tierney. “I could not be happier,” said Tierney. “In addition to being a brilliant student and a fantastic research collaborator, Rebecca is one of the nicest people I know. The honor is well deserved.”
Schectman, while contemplating her post-graduation plans, was encouraged to apply for the fellowship by Lisa Grimes, director of fellowships in the Charles Center. “I knew I wanted to spend a year working abroad but I hadn’t really considered Asia, or this scholarship, because I didn’t have any experience there,” said Schectman. “But then I realized that’s exactly what the Luce Foundation is looking for.”
While Schectman didn’t have experience in Asia, she has enjoyed a well-traveled life interacting with myriad cultures from around the world. As a student at Charlottesville High School, she was a family mentor, along with her mother, for the International Rescue Committee, assisting newly arrived refugees with acclimating to life in the U.S., learning English and finding jobs. “We were their first friends and their point of contact for any kind of living questions like how to use public transport or apply for a job,” she said. “It was a great way to get to know somebody who I might not have been friends with before.
Those experiences turned out to be incredibly formative for Schectman, who chose international relations as her major with an aim to practice humanitarian aid in developing countries. During her time at W&M, she’s worked as a research fellow with AidData — an innovation lab that seeks to track development financing in foreign countries — studied abroad in Argentina and traveled to Uganda as a fellow with UNICEF. Her time there was spent facilitating a crowdsourced data collection program in which Ugandans are encouraged to send in information about the state of development and aid in their communities.
“I really loved working directly with the people on the ground who are the recipients of these aid projects,” she said. “I think it’s important that their voices are incorporated into this whole process.”
In Asia, she hopes to pursue a similar kind of work helping residents of impoverished areas and displaced people. In the coming weeks, she’ll work with the Luce Foundation and the Asia Foundation to tailor her year abroad to fit her professional interests. “I’m hoping for placement somewhere in Southeast Asia, like Thailand, Malaysia or Myanmar,” she said. “But anywhere would be great. I’m just thrilled and honored to be given this opportunity.”