University student awarded national Luce Scholarship

Joseph Walla is one of 18 students nationwide to be named a Luce Scholar.

Kevin McCahill

He spent his college career studying international conflict, and now political science senior Joseph Walla has won a scholarship that will help him study his interest firsthand in Asia.

Walla has been named a Luce Scholar. The program gives 18 students nationwide the opportunity to travel to Asia and receive a yearlong internship in an area of their choice.

The goal of the scholarship is to increase Asian awareness in American students, according to the Henry Luce Foundation.

Walla said he applied to the program to get a wider view of international affairs.

He has been studying conflict resolution, Walla said, in the conflicts of the Middle East.

“I realized I could learn from conflicts in other regions and how they were resolved,” he said. “I thought this would be an extraordinary opportunity to get funding and study their conflicts.”

The only requirement was that applicants not have any travel language experience of Asian cultures.

“This is for the nonspecialist,” said Alison Skoberg, associate director of the Graduate School fellowship program. “This will give an opportunity to a person who wouldn’t normally have the opportunity to travel to Asia.”

Students are chosen on their academics, leadership skills and career goals, she said.

Walla said he didn’t think too much about winning the award, but is happy he did.

“It feels awesome,” he said. “I’m humbled and super-excited.”

Michelle Douenias, program assistant for the Luce Scholars Program, said students from a variety of backgrounds have been accepted to the program.

Former scholarship winners have gone on to become attorneys general, members of the National Security Council as well as other national leaders.

“We pick the cream of the crop, always,” she said.

Walla is still in discussion with the Luce Foundation as to what his yearlong internship will be, but he said he hopes to study human trafficking or conflict-resolution in Thailand.

This summer Walla will participate in two months of intensive language training before he leaves for his internship. He will receive $22,000 to pay for his trip.

“I’m extraordinarily appreciative,” Walla said. “I wouldn’t have had money to afford this.”

Five students applied and three were chosen by the University to go to regional interviews in St. Paul. Walla was the only University student to make it past that point. He then went in early March to a national interview in San Francisco.

There are 70 universities that can nominate students for the scholarship, Skoberg said.

The Luce organization will then set up an internship specifically for Walla’s career goals.

Since 1998 there have been three University students selected for the scholarship. There was another student selected in the early 1990s.

“This is extremely prestigious,” Skoberg said. “It’s a real credit to him and the University.”

Joseph Allen, Asian literature and language department chairman, said there is a growing need for students to understand Asian cultures.

“Asia isn’t so far away anymore,” he said. “Now it’s on your laptop.”

Allen said there are 150 majors and minors in the department, and more than 1,300 students are studying Asian languages.

“There has been a phenomenal growth of undergraduates who see Asia as part of the future,” he said.

Walla said University staff members have helped him reach his goals.

“There are so many opportunities and so many support mechanisms (at the University),” he said. “If you look for it, it’s right there.”