'Intense calm' leads to Marshall Scholarship

First University student to receive prestigious scholarship

12/5/2011 - By: Claudene Wharton
Max Alderman Max Alderman, University of Nevada, Reno December 2011 graduate, was one of 36 students in the country awarded the prestigious Marshall Scholarship to study in the United Kingdom for two years. Photo courtesy of Theresa Danna-Douglas.

The Marshall Scholarship is one of the most prestigious scholarships awarded to undergraduates seeking to pursue postgraduate degrees. For the first time in the scholarship's 58-year history, a University of Nevada, Reno student, Max Alderman, has been chosen as a Marshall Scholar.

Similar to the Rhodes Scholarship, only 40 or fewer Marshall Scholars are named each year, and with the distinction comes a full-ride, two-year scholarship at any United Kingdom university. Former Marshall Scholars have included Pulitzer Prize winners, ambassadors, governors, congressmen, attorney generals, supreme court justices, university presidents, top scientists and others. Reid Hoffman, founder of the popular business social network, LinkedIn, was also a Marshall Scholar. Any University of Nevada, Reno student wanting to apply for a Marshall Scholarship must go through the University's Office of Undergraduate Fellowships and be nominated by the University.

The 2012 Marshall Scholars include Alderman and 35 other top national scholars, including several graduates from Ivy League schools such as Princeton, Harvard and Yale. Alderman, who will graduate with his bachelor's degree in philosophy and political science from the University's College of Liberal Arts Dec. 10, is no stranger to the national spotlight. He earned the title of the top collegiate debater in the country in March when he was named the Top Individual Speaker at the National Parliamentary Debate Association's Championship Tournament, beating out 306 other top collegiate debaters.

One might expect such an overachiever with a 3.93 grade-point average to be all business, with no time for pleasantries or light-hearted conversation. But, Alderman, who his debate coach Phil Sharp dubbed "the Lady Gaga" of debate, seems to be just the opposite. He casually shows up wherever and whenever requested, backpack in tow, with a carefree attitude and unassuming grin.

"Max's friendly nature and concern for the silenced in our world has endeared him to many, while his humor and personality have won over even the most cynical of people," Sharp said.

But, those who know Alderman know that despite his friendly approachability, he is also a force to be reckoned with when it comes to stating his case.

"Max has an intense calm," said Vipin Gupta, an adjunct faculty member in the University's Honors Program and one of Alderman's mentors. "He always seems very relaxed, but when you start talking to him about an issue, you see the intensity behind his views."

Gupta was also a Marshall Scholar, and when he was bestowed the honor, he promised his mentor that he would mentor other students who wanted to pursue top scholarships, such as the Rhodes, Marshall and Gates. Tamara Valentine, the University's Honors Program director, also was working to get help for honors students who wanted to pursue top scholarships. So, the two collaborated, and Gupta taught a course to a select group of honors students last spring, giving them tips on applying for the scholarships. After the course ended, he continued to work with Alderman.

"He really put his mind and heart into the course," Gupta said. "He made some mistakes, but he learned from them. I could see how serious he was about pursuing it and the effort he was willing to put into it, so I offered to continue to work with him."

Alderman continued to work on the application through the summer. He completed three essays required for the application process - a personal statement, an academic statement and a statement about why he would like to live in the United Kingdom and what he could bring to the experience. He was also required to submit four letters of recommendation.

After completing the initial application process, Alderman spent the next month preparing for a potential interview, with the help of Gupta and other faculty from across campus, in case he made it that far in the selection process. The preparation paid off when Alderman was selected to be interviewed in San Francisco, Nov. 8-9. On Nov. 10, he learned he would be among those announced in December as a 2012 Marshall Scholar, and would be pursuing his master's in philosophy at the University of Warwick in Coventry, about an hour northwest of London. Alderman said he chose Warwick because it has one of the best philosophy programs in the world.

"I'm really excited," Alderman said. "I studied in London in fall 2009, through USAC [University Studies Abroad Consortium], and loved it. It was one of the best experiences of my life, and was really a defining experience for me. I found out what I wanted to do and I really wanted to go back there and study again."

Alderman said he especially liked the approach to study in the United Kingdom, which usually involves assigned readings, some one-on-one discussions with your professor, and then a couple of major writing assignments.

"You get to explore bigger ideas with less busy work," he explained. "But you have to be a pretty self-motivated person, or it's not going to work. It's worked really well for me though."

Gupta agrees that self-motivation isn't a problem for Alderman, commenting, "Max puts his mind and his heart into a few key areas he loves. He is also an exceptional listener. He can play back what he hears and he absorbs it. That skill demonstrates true leadership ability."

Alderman is already making plans for after he completes his two years of study at Warwick. He is applying at top law schools and has already been accepted by Georgetown and Cornell. His success doesn't surprise his advisor in the philosophy department, Deborah Achtenberg, the department chair.

"Max is a brilliant student with a rare combination of brilliance and humility," she said. "He has a genuine concern for others. He has a liveliness and sense of play that are very engaging. It's exciting for us that he is the University's first Marshall Scholar - we are very happy for him."

Robert Ostergard, associate professor and Alderman's advisor in the political science department, agrees.

"Max's academic accomplishments and personal character are why I think he is the best all-around student I have had the privilege of knowing and the pleasure of having study under me," he said. "He volunteered countless hours mentoring debate students at local high schools, and I think his leadership and volunteer work in debate was, for him, just part of who he is - someone who sees good things in himself, but sees great potential in others."

Alderman was a 2007 Reno High School graduate and a National Merit Scholar. He was also awarded a Critical Language Scholarship from the U.S. State Department in a highly competitive process similar to the Fulbright Scholarship Program, which earned him the opportunity to spend two months in Korea last summer in an intense program to learn the language. He will begin his study at Warwick next October and plans to get a job and spend time in San Francisco until then, after the Commencement Ceremony at Nevada.

"I thought it would be good for me to move somewhere else, a little farther away from home, before going off to England for two years," he said. "I really like San Francisco. It is a lot like London, with so many museums, and the arts and culture."


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