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Meet Colleen Ryan

Class: Haslam Scholars 2017
Major: Global Studies (Politics and Economics) and Sociology (Honors)
Hometown: Cookeville, Tennessee

Before I even began my first year at UT, I began taking advantage of the amazing opportunities the Honors and Scholars Programs provide their students. The summer before I came to campus, I participated in an honors study abroad program to Costa Rica called Honors Bridge. During this trip, we learned about the politics and sustainability of the eco-tourism industry. This in-depth look at what affected how other countries develop began an academic journey culminating in receiving a Fulbright Award and later being named a Schwarzman Scholar.

 

After Costa Rica, I had the opportunity travel abroad three different times to study, intern, and conduct research. During the course of my undergraduate career, I spent time in London learning about comparative politics, in Uganda working with a grassroots NGO, and in Scotland conducting archival research. Back on campus, I expanded on my experience in the field as a research assistant, a Baker Scholar, and through various internships ranging from the Knox County Public Defenders’ Office to the US Agency for International Development. Through these opportunities, I was able to explore my interests in international development and rule of law — particularly post-conflict transformation. In the process of applying for nationally prestigious fellowships, my international studies and local involvements were the types of experiences I could reflect upon as having prepared me for advanced study.

 

Honors & Scholars also stresses the importance of social responsibility within its programs. While at UT, I was active in several advocacy and education groups on campus, most notably Sexual Empowerment and Awareness at Tennessee (SEAT). For two years, I served as a co-chair of the organization that puts on educational programming related to sex, sexuality, and sexual assault prevention, including UT’s Sex Week and Red Zone, and had several opportunities to contribute to campus policy and programming in these areas. These experiences helped me understand the importance of social responsibility and the many forms it can take.I think as a Volunteer community, ensuring that our fellow students have a safe and welcoming place to live and learn is one of our most foundational responsibilities if we take seriously the need for equitable opportunity and education. Advocating and educating through these organizations provided a connection between my course and internship work and the type of leadership expected in both the Fulbright and Schwarzman Scholars programs.

Outside of the classroom, I convened several lecture series on campus where we examined structural violence both internationally and domestically. I also worked on-campus jobs with the Global Studies Program, the Undergraduate Research Office, and the Honors & Scholars Office where I could contribute to other students having access to these same opportunities. Increasing access to experiential learning opportunities, which are so critical to exploring interests and gaining expertise, is necessary to create graduates who will be ready for the world beyond UT and especially for diversifying the perspectives within fields. Because access is such a determinant of outcomes, it is an important aspect of being socially responsible to be committed to expanding these kinds of opportunities.

By developing programs, providing funding, and connecting me to other high-achieving students who served as my mentors, the Honors and Scholars Programs at UT opened many of the doors I’ve needed to step through to get to where I am today. It has been with the support of the Honors and Scholars staff and faculty mentors I met through the office that I have built the leadership skills and international expertise that have made my subsequent overseas studies possible.

Following graduation, I began my Fulbright Award to the United Kingdom, earned my master’s in post-war recovery studies at the University of York, and learned more about development processes from an entirely new angle. Now, I will be moving to Beijing, China to join the third class of Schwarzman Scholars at Tsinghua University. While in Beijing, I will be able to learn more about development in the Chinese context and China’s role in development assistance, while expanding on the leadership experiences I built in my time in Honors and Scholars.

 

Before I even began my first year at UT, I started taking advantage of the amazing opportunities the Honors & Scholars Programs provide their students. The summer before I came to campus, I participated in an honors study abroad program to Costa Rica called Honors Bridge. During this trip, we learned about the politics and sustainability of the eco-tourism industry. This in-depth look at what affected how other countries developed began the four-year journey that has culminated in receiving a Fulbright Award.

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