Amherst Student and Recent Alumni Admitted to Inaugural Class of Schwarzman Scholars
Issue   |   Wed, 02/03/2016 - 01:23

Three Amherst College students and graduates have been accepted to the the inaugural class of the Schwarzman Scholars program at China’s Tsinghua University. Servet Bayimli ’16, Richard Altieri ’15 and Carlos Adolfo Gonzalez Sierra ’14 were informed of their acceptance in January and will be among the first members of this program.

The program awards scholarships to applicants interested in pursuing a master’s degree in public policy, economics and business or international studies from Tsinghua, a prestigious university whose alumni include Chinese President Xi Jinping and former president Hu Jintao.

The selection process is highly selective, with 3,000 applicants from around the world vying for 111 positions for an acceptance rate of 3.7 percent. According to a Jan. 11 press release by the Schwarzman program, Schwarzman Scholars will live and study at the newly-built Schwarzman College on campus.

Bayimli, who is studying law, jurisprudence and social thought, applied for the scholarship partially because of its connection to his work on child welfare.

“I realized I had no experience in China, but I had done some work with China in that I do a lot of work with child welfare and juvenile justice and children in foster care,” Bayimli said in an interview. “Since China finalizes [more] adoptions with the United States than any other country, it seemed like a cool opportunity.”

Last year, Bayimli addressed the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child in Leiden, the Netherlands. He was invited to speak along with an attorney he worked with at the Children’s Law Center in New York.

“We particularly talked about the multidisciplinary nature of child advocacy,” he said. “When you’re an attorney for a child, you also have to be that child’s psychologist, you have to be their doctor, you have to assess different kinds of abuse.”

After the Schwarzman program, Bayimli plans to stop attending school and begin working.

“I would like to work with something involving juvenile justice and child welfare at the international level, either at the UN or at an international organization that does that kind of human rights work,” Bayimli said.

For Altieri, a philosophy major, academics at Amherst laid the groundwork for future study in China.

“I’ve had an interest in China and cross-cultural exchange since high school, and that interest grew at Amherst,” Altieri said in an email. “I studied Chinese at Amherst with Shen Tong, who is an extraordinary professor. His classes sharpened my interest in Chinese history, literature and politics.”

While attending Amherst, Altieri went abroad to teach English in China. Upon graduating in 2015, he began studying humor around the world as a recipient of the Thomas J. Watson Fellowship. The grant is awarded to recent college graduates, who are nominated by one of 40 prestigious colleges, and encourages students to engage in a year-long independent study outside the U.S.

“In seven months, I’ve performed comedy in seven countries,” Altieri said. “I’ve done sets in English and Mandarin — and will soon do some in Spanish — and even managed to tell some jokes using Romanian, Taiwanese Hokkien and Afrikaans.”

Altieri intends to pursue either the international studies or public policy degrees. He is interested in working in an area related to his cross-cultural studies after the Schwarzman program.

“How can we improve the way American students learn about China, and how can we improve the way Chinese students study the United States?” Altieri said. “These questions will take on greater importance as China plays an increasingly important role in global affairs.”

Gonzalez Sierra majored in political science and interdisciplinary Latino studies while at Amherst, and went on to earn a master’s degree in Latin American studies from the University of Cambridge. He hopes to study business and economics at Tsinghua.

“Economic and diplomatic ties between China and Latin American nations will only get stronger in the foreseeable future,” Gonzalez Sierra wrote in an email interview. “China’s growing presence in the region presents both unprecedented opportunities and challenges. Following the program, I plan to work for an organization dedicated to promoting Sino-Latin American economic relations and cultural exchange.”

Gonzalez Sierra has followed his passion for public service while at Amherst and after graduation. For example, resources at the Center for Community Engagement allowed him to pursue impactful service internships, including working in Brighton Park, a racially segregated community in Chicago afflicted by gang violence. He credits his time at Amherst for helping lay the groundwork for his involvement in the Schwarzman Scholars program.

“The courses I took and extracurricular activities I participated in as a student at Amherst expanded my intellectual and personal boundaries,” Gonzalez Sierra said. “It is difficult to say where fate would had led me, but most likely I would not be going to China as a Schwarzman scholar had Amherst closed its doors to me.”