This fall, Senior Gill West became the first Hillsdale student to qualify as a finalist for the British Marshall Scholarship, which CBS News calls the most prestigious graduate scholarship in America.
The Marshall Scholarships help students from the United States attend any university in the U.K. in memory of the Marshall Plan’s assistance in rebuilding and revitalizing post-war Europe.
The Marshall was founded by an Act of the British Parliament in 1953, and is primarily funded by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. It was named after General George Marshall, who served as U.S. Secretary of Defense under President Harry Truman and won the Nobel Peace Prize for his work on the Marshall Plan.
“As future leaders, with a lasting understanding of British society, Marshall Scholars will strengthen the enduring relationship between the British and American peoples, their governments and their institutions,” the scholarship’s mission statement reads.
Past Marshall scholars include two Associate Justices of the U.S. Supreme Court, Pulitzer-prize winning authors, several deans of Ivy League colleges, and NASA’s youngest astronaut.
“I didn’t expect to get it, but I wanted to give it a shot for Hillsdale more than anything,” West said. “I think that Hillsdale is amazing, and the students who come out of here are just as equipped to do these kinds of things as people at the Ivys. But we just don’t have any recognition for it.”
Up to 40 Marshall Scholarships are awarded annually to candidates from eight regions of the United States, who receive the endorsement of their educational institution. Roughly 1,000 candidates apply each year, but only 4 percent are usually accepted. Hillsdale’s faculty includes Marshall scholars, but no student in recent college history has made it into the finals.
“This is a breakthrough. I’ve been involved with this now for 11 years, and we haven’t had any breakthroughs. It’s been disheartening,” Professor of History Paul Rahe said. “This is a good sign. If you can get one into the finals, there’s no reason you can’t get another one to the finals. Gill may be the one who pioneers this [for Hillsdale].”
West wanted to use the scholarship to study the philosophy of mathematics at Oxford University.
“I wanted to go and study philosophy of math so I could prove to myself that mathematics is really grounded in physical reality,” West said. “The reason I wanted to study this is that I don’t know if it can hold up in modern math. But if math isn’t about anything, it would cease to be beautiful to me, which is why I want to show that it is about something outside of just mental constructions.”
West first heard of the scholarship opportunity through Rahe.
“Gill was a bit different because there was something about him that suggested that he wasn’t just a good student,” Rahe said. “They are looking for people who are going to make a big difference, who have distinguished themselves in some way.”
West interviewed for the scholarship at the British consulate general in Chicago, where seven panellists grilled him for 30 minutes.
“The interview was pretty intensive,” West said. “But Hillsdale just came around me and showed what Hillsdale is, which is an amazing community of people who love to learn and who care about you.”
In most interviews, the chair of the committee asks introductory questions, and then a specialist in the applicants’ field of study takes over. In West’s case, the specialist was a lawyer, but West had prepared for questions about the philosophy of math, West said.
Nevertheless, Assistant Professor of Theology Jordan Wales said Hillsdale is proud of West for qualifying as a finalist.
“I’m really proud of Gill and what he did, and I think whether or not one wins these scholarships, the skills and kind of mind that got him into the finals don’t go away,” Wales said.
West is planning on eventually attending law school and is considering joining the Marines after graduating.