By Matt Ellsworth
Five years ago this month, 2003 Flinn Scholar Megan McGinnity was beginning her final semester at Mountain View High School in Mesa, not yet knowing whether she would attend an Arizona university or bolt for one of the Ivy League schools. Over the course of that spring, questions were answered one by one as she interviewed for the Flinn Scholarship, was named a Scholar, and decided to matriculate at Arizona State University.
This January, McGinnity starts her final semester at ASU with more certainty about what awaits. In the fall she will be studying Middle East politics at the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London, courtesy of the latest and most prestigious award she has received, the 2008 Marshall Scholarship.
McGinnity’s selection as a Marshall Scholar—one of just 37 nationwide, out of some 950 applicants—honors her extraordinary investigation of a transnational criminal menace, human trafficking. The award also demonstrates how powerfully she has leveraged her ASU studies and the initial opportunities conveyed with the Flinn Scholarship.
Following her freshman year, McGinnity joined the rest of her first-year Flinn Scholar class for a three-week seminar in Hungary and Romania, a trip intended to build community among the new Scholars, teach them about the young democracies of Eastern Europe, and fortify their confidence for travel and study beyond the English-speaking world.
When the seminar ended, McGinnity stayed on to complete a volunteer project. “My freshman year, I had started studying Romanian and learned about the many orphanages in Romania,” she says. “I wanted to do something to learn about the situation of these children and, hopefully, help.” McGinnity spent the balance of the summer serving at one of those orphanages.
While holding and comforting babies in the hospital and mentoring older orphans, McGinnity also became aware of what was happening to many unwanted children: they were secretly being sold from Eastern to Western Europe. She recognized that the same economic and political forces underlying arms and narcotics trafficking around the world applied to human trafficking.
Given McGinnity’s existing interest in international relations and security issues, further study of human trafficking seemed a perfect fit. Back in Arizona, she applied for and won a David L. Boren Undergraduate Scholarship from the National Security Education Program (NSEP). The NSEP, a federally-funded program, supports students exploring geographic areas, languages, and fields of study underrepresented in study abroad and recognized as important to U.S. national security.
McGinnity used her NSEP Scholarship to return to Romania in her junior year; she continued to study Romanian, volunteered at another orphanage, and conducted research for her honors thesis.
“Dr. Allan DeSerpa—an ASU economics professor—advised me on my thesis about the economics of human trafficking,” McGinnity explains. “He edited numerous thesis drafts, and encouraged me along the way. And he helped me form the research proposal for the Circumnavigators.”
That would be the Circumnavigators Travel/Research Grant, which McGinnity received from the Circumnavigators Club Foundation. The award supported her on a Summer 2006 journey that literally took her around the world; she gathered data from encounters with anti-trafficking governmental and nonprofit organizations in eight nations.
“A great deal of learning, new perspectives, and motivation have come through travel,” she says.
Last year, McGinnity’s research and work toward combating human trafficking yielded two other nationally competitive awards. She received the Harry S. Truman Scholarship, the nation’s premier fellowship for graduate studies in a public-service field, and was also named one of the Top 10 College Women for 2007 by Glamourmagazine.
During the application and interview processes for the Truman and the Glamour award, McGinnity met peers from top universities across the country, which provided perspective on her own collegiate education.
“I believe I’ll be leaving ASU with a breadth of experiences that are comparable to any of the best universities,” she says. “However, I think students at state schools need to be self-motivated and even more creative to attain comparable recognition,” because those universities are still building their national reputations.
At the School of Oriental and African Studies, McGinnity will deepen her investigation of foreign policy and security and how they are intertwined with human trafficking, and will continue her study of Modern Arabic. She began learning Arabic last summer in Cairo, where she worked with the Arab Foundation for Immigration Studies.
McGinnity’s program at SOAS will yield a master of science degree in Middle East Politics after one year. In her second year of studies under the auspices of the Marshall Scholarship, she intends to pursue another master’s degree, in intelligence and international security, at King’s College, also at the University of London.
In addition to the Marshall Scholarship, McGinnity was also a finalist for the Rhodes Scholarship, but withdrew from that competition because the Marshall fits her interests so well. She is the third Flinn Scholar to win the Marshall in as many years, following 2003 Flinn Scholar Matt Stone and 2001 Scholar Ajit Divakaruni, who both attended the University of Arizona.
Around 40 Marshall Scholars are named each year; each receives two years of comprehensive funding at any university in the United Kingdom. The Marshall Scholarships were established in 1953 by an Act of Parliament as a way of conveying Britain’s gratitude for the post-World War II reconstruction efforts led by General George C. Marshall of the United States, known as the Marshall Plan.
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