Recent Grad Receives Mitchell Scholarship
Issue   |   Wed, 11/30/2011 - 02:04
Cole Morgan ’13
Bessie Young ’11 talks at the 2011 Amherst College Senior Assembly. Young is the first Amherst student to win the Mitchell Scholarship.

Amherst alumna, Bessie Young ’11, was recently named a Mitchell Scholar by the US-Ireland Alliance. Chosen from a pool of 300 applicants, Young is one of 12 Mitchell Scholars from the United States and the first in Amherst history.

The Mitchell Scholarship was established in 2001 by the U.S.-Ireland Alliance. The goal is to strengthen ties between these countries by allowing future American leaders to experience Ireland. The Mitchell Scholarship is named in honor of U.S. Senator George J. Mitchell, who played a pivotal role in the peace negotiations in Northern Ireland. Under Senator Mitchell’s leadership, a historic accord was agreed upon that ended decades of conflict between Ireland and the United Kingdom. A Mitchell Scholarship allows recipients to pursue a year of post-graduate study at universities in Ireland. Scholars are chosen on the basis of scholarship, leadership and a demonstration of a sustained commitment to community and public service. As a Mitchell Scholar, Young will spend a year studying for a Masters of Fine Arts in Photography at the Univ. of Ulster.

Young has displayed her leadership and commitment to public service through her combined interest in photography and gerontology. Young says that at some point in her college career she “became that girl who likes old people.” She developed her interest gerontology, the study of the psychological, social and biological aspects of aging, after taking the Psychology of Aging course in her freshman year. She pursued this interest by volunteering at the Amherst Senior Center and founding Ageless, a program to bring Amherst students and local senior citizens together. In addition to her interest in gerontology, Young also has a passion for photography and the social value of art. From photographing the elderly in their living environments, Young says she “became aware of how potent our daily environment can be in determining our quality of life: where we age matters”.

Since graduating in May, Young has been pursuing her interest in cross-cultural aging in Japan through the Luce Scholarship. She is a gerontology research assistant for two professors at Kwansei Gakuin Univ. who she describes as, “two really inspiring women as into aging as [she is].” She also works at a senior citizen day care center in Ashiya, taking photographs of the living facilities for the elderly. Young says that her desire to connect with the elderly motivates her to continue to improve her study of Japanese, a language she had never studied prior to winning the Luce.

“I knew my next step was a degree. I wanted to apply for something that would allow me to go to school,” Young said. “Because I am interested in cross-cultural aging, I knew I wanted to learn in another country.”
Denise Gagnon, Fellowships Coordinator at the College, advised Young during her application process for the Mitchell Scholarship, as Amherst must endorse applicants.

“One of Bessie’s Mitchell interviewers said that she was courageous, and he was right,” Gagnon said. “Not many young people choose to be advocates for the elderly. Bessie is just the kind of young person we want representing Amherst and the Mitchell Scholarships.”

As a Mitchell Scholar, Young hopes the program at the Univ. of Ulster will help her improve her technique in photography and give her “freedom to look at aging in Ireland in depth through the lens of my camera”.

“I believe that true leadership inspires others not only to think but also to feel a certain way about the world, and that is exactly what I hope to do with these photographs,” she said.

According to her, it has only been a short time since her graduation, but she has already learned some lessons.

“I realize now how important the relationships I formed at Amherst are, how those bonds are strong and become stronger when you are out there on your own.”