A Rotary scholar and humanitarian goes abroad
Mary Ta at Jackson Hall, where many of her classes are held.
Happy tears stream down Mary Ta’s face as she listens to the voice mail delivering news of receiving a prestigious Rotary scholarship. “I was so excited, they left me a voice mail at night telling me I got it after having my interview that same morning – I was shocked,” she says.
News of receiving $27,000 from the Skelton Endowed Ambassadorial Scholarship from Rotary District 7570 was not the only thing Ta was ecstatic about. The scholarship also includes a yearlong stay in South Africa, where she plans to work toward completing her master’s degree in conflict resolution.
Ta, a senior honors student at James Madison University double majoring in history and justice studies, with a minor in African studies, was immediately intrigued with the program after hearing about it from one of her professors. Since high school, Ta has sought volunteer opportunities to add purpose to her life. She is active in numerous campus organizations, including the Vietnamese Student Association, Circle K International Club and Refugee Office in Harrisonburg.
Ta, yearning for the chance to study in South Africa, was one of many hopeful students applying for the Rotary scholarship. Rotary International is a worldwide organization that is committed to service above self in the community, workplace and around the globe. After submitting an application, Ta described the intense process of selection to be quite daunting “I had a phone interview to be nominated at the local level and then move on to the district level. Approximately 10 finalists and I went to Roanoke, Virginia, for the final portion of selection where we were individually interviewed by a board of Rotarians all day.”
After a grueling process, Ta and one other James Madison University graduate, Kathleen Sensabaugh, became recipients of the award this past August. They plan to leave for South Africa in February 2014. While overseas, Ta will serve as an ambassador of the Rotary Club, upholding the Rotary mission statement of serving others, promoting integrity and advancing world understanding and peace. For Ta, this is something she will excel in as she describes how her love for giving back evolved over time. “I became passionate in humanitarian issues in Africa as I learned more and more about global issues and gained knowledge through classes, books, and of course, the amazing professors at JMU.”
This is not the first time Ta plans to study outside the United States. She completed a JMU study abroad program in Ghana this past summer. While she was there, Ta attended lecture-style classes in the morning and volunteered at local schools, where she worked with children in the afternoon. “My trip to Ghana was life-changing. I tutored a 12-year-old girl named Elizabeth and loved watching her face light up when she learned how to spell certain words she was struggling with. It was amazing."
Although she is deciding between attending the University of Capetown or the University of Stelleneoch, Ta is certain her time in South Africa will extend past her yearlong scholarship as she plans to complete her degree at the university and is willing to stay an extra six months to a year if needed.
Not only is Ta eager to expand her knowledge and to prepare for her desire to one day work for a nonprofit organization, but she is even more thrilled to welcome once-in-a-lifetime opportunities in a foreign country. “Experiencing an academic program as an international student and meeting new, diverse people is something I will never forget, I have no doubt about that.”
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By Stephanie Strickland ('13), JMU Public Affairs
Oct. 18, 2012