Published: Dec. 1, 2011

From First Lady intern to British scholar

Contact(s): Kristen Parker Media Communications office: (517) 353-8942 cell: (517) 980-0709

EAST LANSING, Mich. — A Michigan State University senior, who once served as an intern for First Lady Michelle Obama, will take her passion for environmental justice to the United Kingdom next year as one of two students from Michigan to be named a 2012 Marshall Scholar.

Rebecca Farnum, of Mt. Pleasant, earned one of 36 coveted Marshall Scholarships. She is MSU’s 13th Marshall Scholar.

A member of both James Madison College and Honors College, Farnum has been engaged in undergraduate research her entire academic career. Currently, she’s using mathematic methodology to predict how – and if – people, organizations and governments will work together to improve food and water shortages in the Middle East and North Africa.

“Feeding people can feed peace,” Farnum said. “Helping to ensure equality, through mechanisms such as access to food and water, can help make societies more stable and productive. But do nations need to cooperate around issues of food and water, or can focusing within the state allow for everyone to have sufficient access?”

Farnum is majoring in interdisciplinary humanities in the College of Arts and Letters; international relations in James Madison College; and anthropology, and global and area studies in the College of Social Science.

Building on a strong global relations foundation, Farnum will pursue a master’s degree in water policy and international development at University of East Anglia in Norwich. The following year, she will study nature, society and environmental policy at University of Oxford in Oxford.

Marshall Scholars conduct postgraduate studies in the United Kingdom, financed by the U.K.’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office, to strengthen relationships between the British and American peoples, their governments and their institutions. The program was started by a 1953 Act of Parliament and is overseen by the Marshall Commission.

Farnum has an impressive resume, said Cynthia Jackson-Elmoore, dean of the Honors College.

Last year, because of her environmental activism and academic work, Farnum earned the title of Udall Scholar. Passionate about equality and diversity, she co-founded Campus Interfaith Council.

“Becca is an extraordinary and accomplished individual who is determined to use her talents to address issues of food and water security in the Middle East and Northern Africa as a Marshall Scholar and beyond,” Jackson-Elmoore said. “I applaud her drive, intellect, passion and compassion; she will enjoy a brilliant career in academia.”

Farnum was a key player in starting The Center for Gender in Global Context’s first undergraduate research showcase, said Julia Grant, professor of social relations and policy at James Madison College.

In addition, she worked with Grant to design MSU’s first study abroad program examining global lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues. The program will kick off this summer in The Netherlands.

“Marshall Scholars are chosen based on academic merit, leadership potential and ambassadorial potential,” Farnum said. “The selection committee was impressed with my strong interdisciplinary background and clear focus on the issue of food and water security. At MSU, I enjoy networking and building bridges between different groups of people.”

Michigan State University has been working to advance the common good in uncommon ways for more than 150 years. One of the top research universities in the world, MSU focuses its vast resources on creating solutions to some of the world’s most pressing challenges, while providing life-changing opportunities to a diverse and inclusive academic community through more than 200 programs of study in 17 degree-granting colleges.


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