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November 19, 2011                                     

The US-Ireland Alliance announced the 12 George J. Mitchell Scholars selected to pursue a year of post-graduate study at universities on the island of Ireland in the academic year 2012-2013. The thirteenth class of Scholars was chosen from 300 applicants.  Created in 2001, the Mitchell quickly became recognized as a highly competitive scholarship, vying with the more established Rhodes and Marshall Scholarships.

“While I was aware of the reputation of the Mitchell before I took this position, the caliber of these candidates still amazed me,” said Anne Glusker, who joined the Alliance in July as the Director of the program. 

Created more than a decade ago by Trina Vargo, former foreign policy adviser to Senator Ted Kennedy, the scholarship was named in honor of Senator Mitchell’s role as chairman of the Northern Ireland peace talks. Those chosen must have strong records of academic achievement, service and leadership. Regarding the impressive candidates, Vargo noted that when “an expert on water issues in sub-Saharan Africa recites a poem she’s written, inspired by Yeats’ poem Adam’s Curse that juxtaposes his stitching and unstitching of a line of poetry with the women of Senegal weaving and unweaving their hair, it leaves even the most accomplished members of the Mitchell Selection Committee feeling a bit inadequate – especially when the candidate recites it in the Wolof language!” 

Another recipient is a photographer who uses her art to convey the experience of aging, which she says is the “only form of prejudice in which the prejudicial party eventually becomes the other they discriminate against.”  Some of the wide-ranging interests of other winners include the use of gaming in education, nuclear deterrence, work to combat deaths on the US-Mexican border, and the role of Irish as a minority language.

A reception for finalists was held at the Irish Embassy in Washington, D.C. on Friday night.  Guests included alumni of the Mitchell program, Capitol Hill staffers, Irish and British Embassy diplomats, State Department officials including Dan Baer, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Democracy, Human Rights and Labor; well-known mediation lawyer Kenneth Feinberg and Carey Parker, former legislative director to Senator Edward M. Kennedy.

Irish Ambassador Michael Collins told guests, “The Scholarships that bear Senator Mitchell’s name are a wonderful testament to the contribution the Senator made to peace in Ireland and provide an invaluable platform to connect highly talented young American men and women to Ireland today. The Mitchell scholarships are important to Ireland and ensure that Ireland and the United States remain connected in a very special and meaningful way.”

The Ambassador hosted a dinner at his residence for the Selection Committee, which included Brooksley Born, the former head of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, known for her early and persistent warnings about derivatives; Jacqueline Davis, executive director of the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center; John Gardiner, co-head of the international litigation and arbitration group at the Skadden law firm and an Alliance board member; Peter Frosch, a Mitchell Scholar (Class of 2002) and legislative and policy director for Congresswoman Betty McCollum of Minnesota;  Ohio Wesleyan University politics and government professor Sean Kay; physicist Michael Moloney of the National Research Council of the National Academies; and Hofstra University professor and Irish historian Maureen Murphy.

Interviews were held throughout the day on Saturday at the Dupont Circle Hotel in Washington, DC. Support for the program comes for the US Government (Congress and the Educational and Cultural Affairs Bureau at the Department of State), the Department of Education and Learning in Northern Ireland, the Irish Government, institutions of higher education on the island of Ireland, Cross Atlantic Capital Partners, Becton Dickinson, and others.


Full bios follow the list below.


Mitchell Scholars, Class of 2013


Benjamin Bechtolsheim

Brandeis University

MBA, University College Dublin


Rachel Carlson

Rice University

Environment & Development, Trinity College Dublin


Katie Dwyer

University of Oregon

Human Rights Law (Cross-Border Program), Queen’s University Belfast & NUI Galway


Philippe de Koning

Stanford University

International Security & Conflict Resolution, Dublin City University 


Kelly Kirkpatrick


Government, University College Cork


Tara Kousha

Rutgers University

Digital Humanities & Culture, Trinity College Dublin


Mona Lotfipour

Franklin & Marshall

Equality Studies, University College Dublin


Catherine Skroch

University of Wisconsin-Madison

International Relations, Queen’s University Belfast


Tommy Tobin

Stanford University

Georgetown University Law Center

Law, University College Cork


Conor Walsh

Harvard University

Pleanáil Teanga, NUI Galway


Ashleen Williams

University of Montana

Peace and Conflict Studies, University of Ulster


Bessie Young

Amherst College

Photography, University of Ulster




Benjamin Bechtolsheim grew up outside Chicago and currently works as an independent consultant for international development organizations in Washington DC.  His primary client is the Center for Interfaith Action on Global Poverty, where he serves as an associate for health, strategy and management. In this role, Benjamin oversees a multi-country research study in sub-Saharan Africa on new biomedical approaches to HIV prevention. He graduated summa cum laude with a B.A. in politics from Brandeis University in 2009.  After graduation, Benjamin helped start a program to combat gender-based violence in northern Uganda. He serves on the board of the Jewish Reconstructionist Federation and leads alternative college spring-break programs in the developing world through American Jewish World Service.  He will pursue an MBA at University College Dublin.

Rachel Carlson, a native of Battle Ground, Washington, graduated summa cum laude from Rice University with a BA in English and an MPS in Civil and Environmental Engineering.  She has studied the social and ecological impacts of large-scale irrigation schemes in Africa and Southeast Asia, conducted field research in the Indian Himalayas, and spent several months gathering oral histories of environmental change in rural Senegal.  She is currently living in West Africa, evaluating the impact of large dams and village-based irrigation in the Senegal River Valley and the Fouta Djallon Highlands. In Houston, Rachel worked at the James A. Baker III Institute of Public Policy, investigating residential energy use and she advised the Mayor’s Office on establishing domestic energy conservation workshops. At Rice, she was editor-in-chief of the undergraduate literary magazine and published numerous short stories and poems.   She will study Environment and Development at Trinity College Dublin.

Katie Dwyer is a graduate student in the Conflict and Dispute Resolution program at the University of Oregon. A native of Colorado, Katie graduated with highest honors from the University of Oregon in 2010 with degrees in sociology and comparative literature. Her focus has been on social justice, particularly involving the rights of immigrants and incarcerated people. She works with existing national organizations to create new programs for Oregon students, including spring break volunteer trips on the US-Mexico border with the group No More Deaths, and she founded a book club for incarcerated youth after participating in university classes offered at the state prison through the Inside-Out program. Katie hopes to have a career that combines her activism and her academic interests.  She will study for an LL.M in Cross Border Studies at Queen’s University Belfast and National University of Ireland Galway.

Philippe de Koning graduated from Stanford University in June 2010 with a BA in International Relations, with interdisciplinary honors in international security studies and election to Phi Beta Kappa. He is currently a Herbert Scoville Jr. Peace Fellow at the Nuclear Threat Initiative, where he works on nuclear materials security and US-China nuclear relations. He spent the last year studying nuclear policy, Japanese defense, and East Asian regional security as a Fulbright Fellow at Hiroshima University in Japan. Previously, he worked at Stanford’s Center for International Security and Cooperation and served as a research assistant to Dr. Condoleezza Rice at the Hoover Institution. At Stanford, Philippe taught a course on public service leadership, co-founded a student group aimed at engaging the student body in microfinance, and was national events director for the non-profit organization FACE AIDS. He will study International Security and Conflict Resolution at Dublin City University. 

Kelly Kirkpatrick grew up in Davis, California.  She graduated with honors from Northwestern University’s School of Education and Social Policy in 2009, with a B.S. Ed. in Social Policy and a certificate in Service Learning.  While at Northwestern, she coordinated a public service fellowship for Northwestern alumni, studied community development in rural Thailand, and worked with nonprofit and philanthropic organizations in Chicago and Northern California. After graduation, Kelly declined a Princeton in Asia fellowship to work in Thailand so that she could be her mother’s caregiver during the final stage of her battle with leukemia.  Kelly inherited her mother’s passion for Ireland.  After her mother’s death, she completed a fellowship at the California Environmental Protection Agency and currently works at Olive Grove Consulting, a firm that advises Bay Area nonprofit organizations.  She will study Government at University College Cork.

Tara Kousha, from Basking Ridge, New Jersey, will graduate with honors in May from Rutgers University with a major in English and a minor in Economics. As an undergraduate, Tara has served on the board of Toastmasters International, led campus-wide technology campaigns through the Google Student Ambassador Program and co-founded a mentorship program for high school students.  She served on the university’s Allocations Board, responsible for allocating more than $3 million in student fees. Tara also helped to develop community-building and technology programs while working as an intern at Google, the Educational Testing Service, and the Food Network.  Tara is fascinated by the ways in which innovations in technology, especially the use of cloud and mobile platforms, can contribute to the improvement of education.  She will study Digital Humanities and Culture at Trinity College Dublin.

Mona Lotfipour immigrated to the United States with her family from Iran at the age of 7. As an undergraduate at Franklin & Marshall College, she is majoring in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Health and Human Rights. She founded the F&M Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program, in which 75 students helped more than 500 low-income families realize more than $800,000 in tax credits. After interning at a primary health clinic in South Africa, she saw the need for preventive health efforts to address the AIDS pandemic. She launched the ONE Goal, a program that uses soccer as a tool for public health education. The initiative matched American volunteers with South African facilitators to reach more than 300 South African youth. Interested in achieving both sustainable peace and improved health care in rural communities, she hopes to combine an academic background in conflict resolution with a medical degree in order to work with local leaders in conflict regions to create sustainable health clinics.  She will study Equality Studies at University College Dublin.

Catherine Skroch is a Herbert Scoville Jr. Peace Fellow at the Truman National Security Project where her work includes implementing a new Democracy and Human Rights Initiative and managing TNSP's Nuclear Threat Initiatives. After graduating from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2009 with degrees in Peace Studies and Conflict Resolution, she went on to become a Fulbright Scholar in Morocco. Her fieldwork included monitoring the effects of Morocco’s Equity and Reconciliation Commission, as well as the rehabilitation of torture victims. She has previously worked in Senegal and Palestine.  She has worked on conflict mitigation, democratization, and peace-building campaigns. She is also a human rights writer for the blog PolicyMic, a volunteer chef-instructor for urban youth in Washington, DC, and enjoys gathering diverse communities around the dinner table.  She will study International Relations at Queen’s University Belfast.

Tommy Tobin graduated in 2010 with distinction from Stanford University, where he studied International Relations and History. At Stanford, he earned the Deans' Award for Academic Accomplishment for his research in composition, American history, and psychology. He also led a food salvaging program to recover 100,000 meals from the campus for his local community. In 2008, Tommy earned the Special Recognition Award from the U.S. Department of Justice after he served on the trial team of US v. General Electric, which resulted in an estimated $50 million judgment for environmental damages. Among the organizations where he has worked or interned are the White House Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation; Ashoka: Innovators for the Public; and DC Hunger Solutions. Tommy was a national finalist for the President Clinton Hunger Leadership Award and is a 2011 Echoing Green Social Entrepreneurship Fellowship Semi-Finalist. He currently studies law at Georgetown University Law Center in Washington, DC.   He will study Law at University College Cork.

Conor Walsh will graduate from Harvard University in 2012 with a degree in Linguistics and an emphasis on Celtic languages and literatures. Raised in Medfield, Massachusetts, he has studied linguistic and cultural diversity throughout his undergraduate career. He speaks Irish and French at advanced levels, and has studied Chinese, Hindi, and Tamil. He has worked as administrative director of the Harvard Square Homeless Shelter, the only entirely student-run shelter in the US. He has mentored Boston and Cambridge high school students through the Crimson Summer Academy and has served as a member of the steering committee for Harvard’s community service pre-orientation program, the First-Year Urban Program. Conor is interested in issues of minority language justice and hopes to work in the fields of language policy and planning.  He will study Pleanáil Teanga at National University of Ireland Galway.

Ashleen Williams is originally from Snohomish, Washington, and attended the University of Montana in Missoula, Montana. She graduated with a degree in Political Science, and served as the president of the Associated Students of the University of Montana. In addition to her involvement with student government, Ashleen was a conversation partner to students from the Middle East, worked with international students in their adjustment to living in the US, and acted as an advocate for the Muslim community in Montana. Ashleen is currently a US Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in Bahrain studying the continuing political reform efforts being made by the Shi'a community.  She also coaches the speech and debate club at the University of Bahrain She will study Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Ulster.

Bessie Young graduated summa cum laude with distinction from Amherst College in 2011 as a triple major in Psychology, Art and the History of Art.  She is currently a Henry Luce Scholar living in Nishinomiya, Japan, where she is studying aging and long-term care for the elderly at Kwansei Gakuin University.  Her photography  focuses on the aging environment in differing cultural contexts.  While an undergraduate, Bessie performed in an improv comedy group and participated in an athletes’ Bible study.  In Japan, she is involved with a bilingual improv comedy group and is a member of a Japanese church with dual Japanese-English services. Bessie spent the past four years studying Turkish, but is now learning Japanese in an effort to better connect with the elderly in Japan.   She will study Photography at the University of Ulster.