Marguerite “Maggie” Wedeman found out she was selected for a prestigious graduate scholarship the day before Thanksgiving, surrounded by her family.
“I knew the odds of getting it were very slim, and I didn’t want to tempt fate,” Wedeman, a senior double-majoring in international affairs and Chinese, said. “We were all together, jumping up and down. We were so excited.”
The Schwarzman scholarship, which funds a year-long master’s program at Tsinghua University in Beijing for graduate students with geopolitical interests, accepted just 111 students, or 3.7 percent of 3,000 applicants, for its inaugural class this year.
About 44 percent of the group are American students. More than half are Chinese students or students from other international backgrounds.
The program’s classes will be taught in English, and students will be able to narrow their degree to public policy, economics and business, or international studies. Wedeman said she will enter the program studying the latter, working toward a career in security with a focus on Chinese policy.
While traveling to another country for a year may push some students out of their comfort zones, Wedeman said she feels right at home returning to the country that has had a substantial impact on her life.
“China has always been part of my life,” Wedeman said. “Some young people react like, ‘I’m not going to do what my parents want me to do,’ but it’s what I grew up with, so it’s what I’m interested in.”
Wedeman said her parents, who together have five degrees from GW collectively, have been key factors in shaping her interests over the years. She attended an international middle school in Nanjing, China while her parents were visiting faculty at the Hopkins-Nanjing Center. Her father is now a political science professor at Georgia State University with an expertise in China, and her mother is the chief academic officer at the Washington Center for Internships and Academic Seminars in D.C.
“I think it’s very unique. A lot of students don’t have the kind of support I do, and I feel very, very lucky. My mom is an academic, and she’s helped students apply for Fulbright and Rhodes [scholarships], so having her mentorship is very special,” she said.
She also pointed to the University Honors Program, GW’s Chinese program and several mentors at GW who have helped her during her years as an undergraduate, including Stephen Biddle, a professor of political science and international affairs.
“It was always clear that she’s going to make a real difference in the world, but the Schwarzman scholarship will give her a big head start in the process,” Biddle said in an email. “It’s an exciting program, and she’s going to get a chance to mix it up with some of the brightest minds of her generation in an incredibly stimulating setting.”
David Shambaugh, a professor of political science and international affairs, and the director of GW’s China Policy Program, was another faculty member who played a large role in Wedeman’s academic career. He said that Wedeman’s devoted interest to Chinese and international affairs is what makes her stand out as a Schwarzman scholar.
“Maggie has been one of our star undergraduates in international affairs and Chinese studies, one of the very best I have taught and mentored in thirty years of teaching,” Shambaugh said. “All of GW should be very proud of her selection for this prestigious program.”
More than anything, Wedeman said she is excited to interact with people who have the same passions and interests she does.
“This program is people that are very serious about what they’re learning, and creating a cohort of academically curious people is something I think the Schwarzman people have really worked to put together through interviews,” Wedeman said. “They’ve really been able to find people with diverse interests.”
Robert Garris, the global director of admissions for Schwarzman Scholars, said that the program will act as a nexus for students with similar interests who hope to forge connections for the future.
“We intend for alumni to become a global network, eventually as many as 10,000 Schwarzman Scholars, who through links between peers inside and outside China, help strengthen understanding, peace and prosperity on a global level,” Garris said in an email.
He said the first class of scholars possess “determination” and “grit,” characteristics that will help shape the program as it begins to take on its own identity.
“We hope that the inaugural year sets a high bar for the future of the program,” Garris said. “They are a remarkably high-caliber group, exemplified by students like Marguerite Wedeman at GW.”