|Smith Scholarship Winner Will Apply Funds to Graduate Studies in Peace Building
February 20, 2009
Contact: Bill Giduz
Senior Marshall Worsham has enjoyed an impressive variety of student experiences, from backpacking in Nepal to publishing in professional journals. Davidson’s W. Thomas Smith Scholarship will now provide him with the opportunity to apply those skills toward his aspirations in international conflict resolution.
|Worsham on a ridge top in Rajasthan, India, in November 2007.|
Named in honor of the Class of ’48 alumnus who created it, the Smith Scholarship is awarded annually to one outstanding senior for two consecutive semesters of study at a major university outside the United States.
As this year’s winner, Worsham is applying for a master’s degree program at Oxford University in England. He believes Oxford offers an attractive breadth of political ideas, and would accommodate his interest in studying “social choice theory.” That field concerns motives such as trust, cultural values, and informal power systems that drive individual and collective political action, even though they may not reflect an individual’s immediate self-interest.
Worsham, a Belk Scholar and political science major from Savannah, Ga., traces this interest to activities in high school. He created an organization of volunteer Spanish interpreters to serve in hospitals and clinics, and inadvertently found himself at the center of an intense public debate about the ethics of providing medical care to illegal immigrants. “I was amazed at the ardor with which people on either side organized and fought to make their point,” he said. “It made me question the motivation of people to take political action, because people on both sides of the debate had little immediate personal stake in the outcome.”
The pursuit of that question has guided his undergraduate career. Early on Worsham seized the opportunity to work with one of his political science teachers, Associate Professor Russell Crandall, on a publication project about U.S. relations with Latin American countries. “Marshall came to Davidson with an innate writing talent, and he has become a tremendous researcher with keen analytical skills,” said Crandall. Worsham added, “I’ve been writing since I was very young. The process has a deep personal resonance, and helps me process experiences and issues.”
Worsham ended up contributing to several of Crandall’s publications. He wrote chapters on the politics of Cuba, Haiti, and Nicaragua that were published in the annual strategic survey of the International Institute for Strategic Studies. He also assisted the manuscript preparation for and co-authored several chapters in Crandall’s just-published book, The United States and Latin America after the Cold War (Cambridge, 2008).
“The number of papers and chapters he’s coauthored is almost unheard of for an undergraduate in the social sciences,” said Crandall. “I’ve been very lucky to have worked with him.”
When Crandall agreed to teach an Alumni College course on global insurgencies in summer 2007, Worsham wrote a chronology of action based on primary documents for a day trip to the site of the Kings Mountain battlefield, where American patriots conducted brutal guerrilla warfare against their Redcoat and “loyalist” foes in the Revolutionary War. Relying almost exclusively on primary sources, Worsham wrote dialogues for two dozen fighters representing both sides of the conflict, explaining from their points of view how the battle unfolded. Alumni College participants assumed the roles of the various characters, reading the accounts as they walked the two-mile trail around the site, gaining a thorough understanding of both the geographical and human context of the pivotal encounter. Crandall later used Worsham’s “staff ride” manual in his Davidson seminar on “Insurgencies and Counter-Insurgencies” that also visited Kings Mountain last September.
Worsham has supplemented his research with experiential education domestically and abroad. In the summer of 2007 he and two Davidson friends obtained research internships with Grameen Bank in Bangladesh, studying the effect of “social collateral” on the repayment rates for women who obtained micro loans from the bank. Worsham wrote a report for the bank arguing that this “soft” community pressure intensifies women’s participation in local economic and political activities.
|(l-r) Classmates Alex Gregor, Marshall Worsham and Drew Patterson pictured with 2006 Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammed Yunus during their internship with his Grameen Bank.|
Worsham returned to Southeast Asia that fall semester to work with a development organization in Rajastan, India. For six weeks he lived as the only Westerner in a rural village of 100 families, helping the organization mediate a conflict over caste land rights. “I never felt like I was part of the community, but I became an accepted outsider,” Worsham said. “My experiences abroad led me to investigate further the role of informal social structures in peacebuilding and democratization.”
He spent his recent winter break in Argentina conducting research for his political science honors thesis. He interviewed artists, writers, NGO officials, human rights advocates and other political outsiders who were targeted by the former Argentine dictatorship to see the ways in which their work after the 1983 collapse of the dictatorship has both supported and impeded the nation’s democratization.
Worsham keeps journals when traveling, took a creative writing class at Davidson, and won first prize in the Dean Rusk International Studies Program creative writing competition in 2008 for an account of his trans-Indian train journey. Last summer he used his Belk Scholarship summer stipend to attend a creative writing conference at Colgate University. He concluded the conference with a month-long car trip around central Appalachia, conducting oral histories with his widespread family members living there. He reconnected with relatives he hadn’t seen in years, interviewed the first man his grandmother ever dated, and discovered mementoes of his late great-grandfather at a folk school where he had taught woodworking.
Worsham’s other great passion at Davidson has been the Davidson Outdoors (DO) adventure program. He began as a participant in its Odyssey program for entering first-year students, and last year served as DO president. He has led Odyssey trips and backpacking trips, and initiated what’s now an annual sea kayaking trip. Most impressive to DO Assistant Director Mike Goode, Worsham stepped up with friends to teach the group’s wilderness leadership skills course one semester when the professional staffers couldn’t offer it. Goode said, “It was the first time students had been in charge of the program, and they did a ton of work and documentation that has turned out to be hugely valuable. It was cool for us to see Marshall and other students move into a new level of DO leadership.”
Worsham said DO offers the best leadership development experience on campus. “They teach that conflict isn’t inherently bad, but can be a way for people to grow,” he said. “They teach strategies for managing fights and arguments in positive ways.”
That’s certainly a valuable lesson for someone planning a career in conflict resolution. Crandall said that Worsham’s sensitivity for other cultures and ability to process conflicting information and bring people together are among other traits that will help him succeed.
|Worsham with a friend during his work with a development organization in Rajasthan, India. |
Worsham ultimately hopes to work with the United Nations or a non-governmental organization involved in quelling “complex emergencies” — the dirty wars around the globe that combine state failure, civil strife, natural disasters, and humanitarian crisis. He believes his studies of social choice theory can help warring parties find common ground, and he also sees an important role for literature. He believes that putting stories on paper helps people work out their differences with more success than just talking about them, and hopes to show that literacy programs can help defuse conflicts. “Empowering people to tell their stories can help them recover their capability to make and enforce choices about their lives,” he said.
It’s hard to imagine a more difficult, dangerous line of work. But it’s also hard to imagine a profession where success is more consequential and necessary. As the Smith Scholarship propels him toward further preparation for his aspirations, Worsham feels prepared and grateful. “I’m going to miss Davidson incredibly,” he said. “I can’t think of a better place to leave — in a positive way. I attribute most of my personal growth and self-understanding to my time here at Davidson.”
Davidson is a highly selective independent liberal arts college for 1,700 students located 20 minutes north of Charlotte in Davidson, N.C. Since its establishment in 1837 by Presbyterians, the college has graduated 23 Rhodes Scholars and is consistently regarded as one of the top liberal arts colleges in the country. Through The Davidson Trust, the college became the first liberal arts institution in the nation to replace loans with grants in all financial aid packages, giving all students the opportunity to graduate debt-free. Davidson competes in NCAA athletics at the Division I level, and a longstanding Honor Code is central to student life at the college.
Posted By: Bill Giduz