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20th Class of George J. Mitchell Scholars Announced

17th November 2018

The US-Ireland Alliance celebrates the 20th anniversary of its George J. Mitchell Scholarship program with the selection of the 12 members of the class of 2020 following interviews held in Washington, D.C. today.

The Scholarship program, which sends future American leaders to the island of Ireland for a year of graduate study, was created by the founder and president of the US-Ireland Alliance, Trina Vargo, and is named in honour of Senator George Mitchell’s contributions to the Northern Ireland peace process.

Ireland’s Ambassador to the United States, Daniel Mulhall, hosted a reception for finalists and alumni at his residence on Friday evening. Carolina Chavez, the Director of the Mitchell Scholarship Program, spoke of how the popularity of one of the most prestigious scholarships in the US continues to grow. A record number of 370 people applied for the 12 scholarships -- a nearly 14% increase over the previous year and a 29% increase over 5 years. More than 200 Congressional districts and an equal number of colleges and universities are represented in this year’s applicant pool. Recipients are chosen on the basis of academic distinction, leadership, and service.

Members of the 2020 class include three students who will be studying at Trinity College Dublin.

Mitchell Polonsky is an English and Theatre, Dance, and Media double major at Harvard University, where he has directed 18 plays in addition to assisting professional directors on major stages around the world. A believer that performance can be a social service, Mitchell has directed productions in uncommon places. He directed a free double-bill of Brecht’s Life of Galileo and Buchner's Woyzeck in the central courtyard of the Fogg Art Museum and directed a production of Sophocles’’ Antigone at Harvard Stadium, attracting over 6,000 community members. Earlier this year, he was awarded a fellowship to direct a Tennessee Williams’ production at the Bunker Theatre in London. When his rehearsal schedule provides a break, Mitchell works at the Harvard Square Homeless Shelter, distributing necessities to those who cannot be accommodated by the shelter. A Cincinnati native, Mitchell will study Theatre Directing at The Lir, Trinity College Dublin.

A New York native, Kara Schechtman is a double major in English and Computer Science at Columbia University. Interested in the philosophical implications of artificial intelligence, Kara completed summer internships at Google and, most recently, at YouTube, where she worked on a project to improve the quality of Mixes, which are infinite auto-generated music playlists.  On campus, Kara was Co-President of the Columbia chapter of Lean In, where she quintupled its membership and oversaw the creation of a mentor program that partners 70 Columbia women with women professionals in NYC.  She received Columbia's King’s Crown Award in Principled Action for her Lean In work.  Kara was also the Features editor for the weekly magazine of the Columbia Spectator, Columbia's newspaper of record, and created the first podcast of the publication.  She will study Philosophy at Trinity College Dublin.

Matthew Wigler is a Political Science major a Stanford University and is interested in both national and international politics.  During his internship with the State Department in 2017, Matt worked with diplomats at the US Mission to the United Nations to expand the sanctions regime targeting North Korea.  He also served Ambassador Nikki Haley in her executive office, working to help coordinate the 2017 UN General Assembly.  Last summer, Matt was awarded a Stanford grant for the Purple America Project.  With the goal of understanding and combating political polarization in the United States, Matt travelled with the leader of the UC Davis College Republicans to 14 split-ticket Congressional districts to engage swing voters.  His blog, Swing District, documented his travels and conversations. Matt serves as an undergraduate student senator at Stanford and as Vice President of the College Democrats on campus.  A Long Island native, he will study International Politics at Trinity College Dublin.

Candidate interviews were held at the Doyle Collection’s Dupont Circle Hotel in Washington, D.C. In addition to Ambassador Mulhall, members of the selection committee included Melissa Boteach, Senior VP of the Poverty to Prosperity Program at the Centre for American Progress and Mitchell Scholar, Class of 2006; George C. Heslin, Founding Artistic Director of the Origin Theatre Company in New York City; Justin McCarthy, Senior Vice President at the Patient & Health Impact group at Pfizer; Dr. Bob Mauro, Executive Director of the Irish Institute and founding Director of the Global Leadership Institute at Boston College; Dr. Marc O Griofa, Chief Medical/Technology Officer at Non-invasive Medical Technologies; and Kathleen Romig, Senior Policy Analyst at the Centre on Budget and Policy Priorities and Mitchell Scholar, Class of 2002.

Sponsors of the Mitchell Scholarship program include Ireland’s Department of Education and Skills, Morgan Stanley, Pfizer, and the American Ireland Fund. The Scholars will begin their studies in Ireland in September 2019.