July 2015

A quick round up of the Spring semester



The Scholars Program has come a long way in the last twelve months. The program was envisaged as a partnership of students, alumni, faculty and the administration. The results have been very pleasing due not only to the accomplishments of our Scholars but also the tremendous generosity of dozens of alumni and faculty. Alumni (like Peggy Radelet, left) have donated their time serving as mentors and helping our students think about careers. Currently we have twelve community mentors who are providing our students with professional guidance and social support. Thank you for your commitment! Several alumni also participated in seminars during the spring semester. It was a delight to meet Burton Gerber, an MSU alumnus who served in the Central Intelligence Agency for 39 years as a case officer and Chief of Station primarily responsible for operations concerning the former Soviet Union and the former Warsaw Pact countries. Over a lunch and a breakfast, Mr. Gerber talked about his own fascinating career and offered the Scholars advice on preparing for internships and life after graduation. We were also fortunate to have three college alumni who are experts on health policy help lead seminars in the spring semester: Professor Theda Skocpol, Victor S. Thomas Professor of Government and Sociology at Harvard University and the co-author of the superb Health Care Reform and American Politics (as well as many other books); Dr. Roger Jansen, senior vice president and chief human resource officer of the Spectrum Health System; and Margaret Dimond, president of the Karmanos Cancer Hospital. It is such a thrill being able to draw on so much ability and expertise for the benefit of the Scholars. And the students have responded extremely well to the opportunity to meet accomplished individuals with a wide range of scholarly and professional experience. 

Faculty have been no less eager to assist: Since fall 2014, 18 MSU faculty members have led seminars and additional experts have skyped in from universities in Massachusetts, Florida, Illinois, and London. In addition, 12 MSU academics are mentoring Scholars as they undertake research, supervising projects on topics as diverse as the ethics of healthcare rationing to the funding of clinical trials and the effects of stigmatizing mental illness. We’ve also been overwhelmed by the willingness of a variety of authors and public figures to come to campus or Skype in from thousands of miles away. Everyone in the class has favorites from the last semester. Mine were Dr. Renfrew Christie, an ex-spy for the ANC in South Africa and now a highly-accomplished university administrator, and Pete Earley, a talented writer of fiction and non-fiction, an ex-Washington Postjournalist, and the author of a profoundly important account, entitled Crazy, which describes the tragic difficulty that he had in securing adequate care and treatment for his son who developed a mental illness and found himself in the criminal justice system. We are very grateful to all of those who have participated or helped in other ways to provide a rich learning environment in the College of Social Science for our able and dedicated Scholars.


The year ahead



After a very successful first year, we’re looking ahead – and forward – to several exciting prospects. The inaugural cohort studied in England, the next cohort will be arriving soon, and we will shortly be embarking on our first “year two” of the program.

The UK study abroad experience

In late June, the inaugural cohort of Scholars converged on the railway station of the beautiful, historic city of Cambridge and then walked to Selwyn College, where they spent their first week in the UK. They then went to Regent’s College in London where they studied for the final 3 weeks of the Scholars Study Abroad Program. The program for the Scholars was packed, involving a wide range of intellectual activities: a day of seminars at Whitehall, the center of British government, on UK health policy; attending a talk by Dr. John Ioannidis, one of the world’s foremost authorities on how scientific research should be conducted; a seminar organized by the UK’s leading healthcare think tank, the King’s Fund; meetings with several of the country’s leading scholars of health care and health policy; and an afternoon in the ancient city of York with the brilliant epidemiologist Dr. Richard Wilkinson (He carried out a famous study among the staff of Whitehall on the relationship between social hierarchy and well-being. The students read his book, The Spirit Level, in the fall). There were also cultural activities: punting on the River Cam; discussing English literature in the village of Grantchester (a favourite haunt of Edwardian literary figures); watching a Chekhov play in the open air theater of Regent’s Park; and seeing Shakespeare’s Richard II at The Globe theater. The Scholars worked very hard when in the UK, but they also had time to experience this beautiful island. 

The next cohort

We’re thrilled by the incoming cohort of 18 freshmen Scholars who were accepted after a rigorous application and interview process. We have Scholars coming from a variety of places: two from the Upper Peninsula, one from Missouri, one from Maryland, two from Ohio, and the rest from Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. Their average high school GPA is 4.3 and their average composite ACT score is 32. The students are already getting to know one another on their Facebook group and we’re excited about getting to know them better in the fall. These new freshmen Scholars will be studying humans and the environment, covering everything from the social environment, how it has changed, how it shapes us, and how it functions, to the natural environment, its effects on human history and the threats we face in the future. We’ve already lined up skype sessions with leading researchers, from Dr. Brendan Nyhan of Dartmouth College on the persistence of false beliefs and NASA’s Erik Conway on the ecological future of the planet to Dr. Joe Darden, one of MSU’s experts on the history of Detroit and Dr. Laurent Dubois of Duke University, a premier historian of Haiti. We couldn’t be happier with the caliber of our incoming students and their enthusiasm to learn.

The sophomore Scholars

Sophomore ScholarsOn their return from the UK, the first cohort will have several weeks to complete their research projects before arriving back on campus for their sophomore seminar. We feel that it is important that our Scholars graduate with an in-depth knowledge of some of the most important conflicts and movements of the past and present. Hence, we drew up a lengthy list and then allowed the Scholars to select the topics about which they would most like to learn. And so, over the course of the fall and spring, the Scholars will be studying the emergence of women’s movements, the Chinese Communist Revolution, the Holocaust, Apartheid in South Africa, the Israel-Palestine conflict and the War on Drugs. During the spring, they’ll divide into small groups and create short documentary films with the assistance of the staff of LEADR, an innovative workshop in the MSU Department of History. Sophomore Scholars will also begin to focus on  finding rewarding internship opportunities with the assistance of program staff and our alumni friends.

Student highlights


Madge MacLean, Andy Martin and Samantha Perry

In each newsletter,  we enjoy highlighting the achievements of a few of our Scholars. This time it’s Madge MacLean, Andy Martin and Samantha Perry.

In week two of the fall semester, Madge MacLean and Andy Martin started work on a research project suggested by our first guest speaker, Dr. April Zeoli of the MSU School of Criminal Justice. The project involved trying to work out why some fatal shooting incidents are reported in the press while others are largely ignored. This required them to spend hundreds of hours collecting digitized news reports and calculating the number of words devoted to each incident. They then ran statistical analyses under Dr. Zeoli’s guidance to see if there were any common features to the incidents that received substantial media attention. There were: it turns out that the media disproportionately reports on mass shootings that occur in public places in spite of the fact that a higher number of incidents take place in the home and are directed towards intimate partners. Madge and Andy completed their research just in time to prepare a poster for MSU’s University Undergraduate Research and Arts Forum. The result? They won first place in the ‘general social science’ category! That’s an amazing accomplishment for two freshmen and speaks to both their hard work and intelligence and the excellent supervision provided by Dr. Zeoli. Congratulations to Andy and Madge, and thank you Dr. Zeoli!

Congratulations also to Samantha Perry who has drawn the highest praise from her faculty mentor, Dr. Amy Bonomi, Chair of the Department of Human Development and Family Studies. Samantha contacted Dr. Bonomi after a Scholar’s seminar that focused on Dr. Bonomi’s research on the representation of women in popular fiction. Dr. Bonomi then invited Samantha to participate in her research project that involved collecting data from focus groups of female students who had just seen the movie version of Fifty Shades of Gray. Samantha was the only undergraduate student on the research committee but flourished in the role. During a public panel about the research, in which she participated early in the spring, Samantha was exceptionally well-informed and articulate. Her name now appears as an author on a poster presentation about the research and an article that has been submitted to a professional journal. Congratulations to Samantha, and thank you to Dr. Bonomi!


Thank you!


This program depends on the willingness of alumni, faculty, students and administrators to work together and we are very grateful indeed for your support. Please do get in contact with us if you: 

  • Would like to become more involved
  • Have suggestions for internship opportunities for the Scholars,
  • Would like to visit the Scholars Program offices, or
  • Have ideas from which the program could benefit. 

You may contact program director John Waller at wallerj1@msu.edu or advisor Jenn Arbogast at jennarbo@msu.edu with any questions or suggestions for the program, or contact development director Nick McLaren at mclarenn@msu.edu if you’d like to make a financial contribution in support of the Schoalrs.  For now, have a wonderful summer and we hope to see you in the near future!