A Marshall Scholar Destined for Greatness
Issue   |   Fri, 05/18/2018 - 10:57
Photo courtesy of Dakota Foster '18
Foster will spend the next two years in England pursuing two master’s degrees in international relations and war studies.

Many members of the class of 2018 will proudly boast of how they made the most of their time in Western Massachusetts; how many clubs they joined, sports they played or majors they completed. Some of them may even be right. However, most of these accomplishments pale in comparison to those of Dakota Foster, who in her brief four years as a member of the Amherst community, has truly seized the opportunities afforded to her.

A Lifelong New Englander
While arriving at Amherst can be a culture shock for students unaccustomed to small-town Massachusetts, Foster wasn’t phased at all. Having grown up in Brunswick, Maine with both parents working at Bowdoin, the young New Englander knew a liberal arts education had always been in her cards. With her house located a few dozen feet from the Bowdoin dining hall, she saw firsthand the close interactions between members of the college community and the incredible opportunities provided by schools of Bowdoin and Amherst’s ilk. Especially key were the conversations, with students at weekly dinners hosted by her parents and in her day-to-day interactions, which reinforced her impression that for liberal arts students, the opportunity of “being in such a small campus really gave them this ability to be leaders in a bunch of different ways.”

Foster became so enamored by the palpable rigor and community of the Bowdoin campus that she made the choice after her junior year of high school to leave behind the snowy, lobster-ridden confines of Maine for the only slightly-less-snowy climate of Concord, Massachusetts, where she finished high school at Middlesex School, which boasted an atmosphere more similar to elite liberal arts colleges than her local public high school.

Apart from the time spent soaking up the virtues of a liberal arts education in Brunswick and Concord, Foster spent much of her youth on athletic fields of various dimensions. Playing soccer and basketball until her arrival at Amherst and indulging in America’s pastime for a few years, she boasted quite the athletic repertoire, but ironically never touched a lacrosse stick until her first year at Brunswick High School. Although Foster started playing nearly a decade after most of her current teammates at Amherst, she quickly picked up the sport — so much so that she attracted the attention of Amherst coach Chris Paradis, who was just coming off a NCAA tournament semifinal appearance. She saw something in the young Maine native and soon offered her a spot on the team.

Paradis’ offer, combined with the community and location of Amherst, both of which she noted were much superior to those of that other school to the West, made it a no-brainer. And so, after a decade of focusing on the liberal arts, Foster arrived at Amherst in the fall of 2014.

Feasting on Foreign Policy
Once settled in, Foster quickly set about making a name for herself in all aspects of campus life, perhaps nowhere more so than in the political science department. Having known since eighth grade that she wanted to major in political science and ultimately pursue international relations, she raced through the major, racking up plenty more than the required 10 classes. Knowing she needed to zero in on a single area of study, Foster turned her full attention to the Middle East, due in large part to Brunswick’s status as an army town and the wars n Iraq and Afghanistan during her formative years.

Since knowledge of foreign languages is essential to any career in international affairs, Foster started taking Arabic upon her arrival on campus, a path that resulted in her unexpectedly double-majoring in Asian Languages and Civilization. She even took the step of studying abroad in Jordan in a Middlebury-sponsored program at the University of Jordan, which meant she could not speak English for five months. Rather than complaining, however, Foster spoke to the rewarding nature of being able to develop friendships in a completely foreign situation.

The willingness to take on such a challenge carried over into Foster’s three summers as a college student, each of which she dedicated to furthering her career pursuits. Her first two internships, at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and then on Capitol Hill with the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, provided excellent opportunities to participate in both the think tank and political aspects of foreign policy. Ultimately, she came to favor the former, choosing to spend the summer between her junior and senior years interning for the U.S. Army’s Combating Terrorism Center at the Military Academy in West Point, New York, working with a group of people whom Foster fondly describes as “the army nerds with army Ph.D.s.” Foster plans on returning to Washington D.C. next summer to spend more time at one of these think tanks because of how much she enjoyed the experience.

These summer internships, combined with her intense semester in Jordan, set Foster up well for the culmination of her academic research — her senior thesis about the impact of two religious and governance doctrines (Wahhabism and Wilayat Al-Faqih) on forms of terrorism in Saudi Arabia and Iran. Foster especially cited the role of Professor of Political Science Eleonora Mattiacci in the thesis-writing process, describing the importance of her position as a woman in the male-dominated field of international relations.

Mattiacci, Foster’s thesis advisor and professor for two other classes, was effusive in her praise for all aspects of her advisee, singling out the way in which Foster’s “intellectual curiosity motivates her greatly to pursue original research.” Nor was Mattiacci alone in bringing up this defining trait of Foster’s academic pursuits. Professor of Law, Jurisprudence and Social Thought Austin Sarat went even further in his praise, saying “she is, in a word, extraordinary. Smart doesn’t adequately describe Dakota’s formidable intelligence. And in every conversation … she showed herself to be unusually thoughtful and insightful.”

Leadership On and Off the Field
This extraordinary nature was not contained to the classroom or summers — Foster’s passion and insight found their way into every one of the many activities she participated in and often led. Foremost was the women’s lacrosse team, which Foster played on for four years, during the last of which she served as captain. Although by her own admission, she wasn’t the flashiest of players, Foster was a reliable presence for Paradis in the midfield, delivering workmanlike shifts whenever called upon. Her time as a Mammoth has culminated this season, the best of her four years in Western Massachusetts. Foster showered loads of praise upon the Mammoths’ talented first-year class, exalting both their skill and character.

Paradis, however, made sure to single out Foster herself for praise, especially for her role as captain. “Her leadership this year as a senior captain has been impeccable — setting the bar high as far as expectations of others and vocally leading our young team to a successful season,” Paradis said.

Foster’s coach went on, praising about how Foster “dedicated her four years to serving others, leading others [and] strategizing about how to make our community and the world a better place, all the while taking care of her people and doing the daily grind with a presence that I have rarely witnessed in my 24 years as a head coach.”

Apart from her time on Gooding Field, Foster dedicated countless hours to the Amherst Political Union (APU), of which she served as president during her senior year. Again, Foster is quick to give credit to others in the years above her who served as mentors.

Even besides APU and women’s lacrosse, Foster was a fixture in other groups on the campus, including the Multicultural Resource Center, at which she worked as a staff member during her first year, the resident counselor group, which she was a part of for two years, and several committees. This depth and breadth of activity underscore Foster’s deep appreciation for and love of the people at Amherst, a sentiment that has been reciprocated by many of those who come into contact with her. Close friend Craig Nelson ’18 heaped praise on Foster, saying that “the perspective that she brings to the classroom, the field, and to our friendship is priceless. When I look back at my own time at Amherst, one of my cherished memories will be having Dakota as my friend.”

Olivia Rosenfeld ’18, another of Foster’s friends, similarly spoke of her incredible friendship, saying, “What I have valued the most in our friendship is not her academic success, but her kindness, loyalty, and honesty.”

While she is incredibly appreciative of the academic and professional opportunities an Amherst education affords, ultimately the personal bonds developed within the community have meant the most to Foster.

Fellowships and Beyond
Foster’s incredible track record at the college has not gone unnoticed by those outside Amherst either. While most students would kill for either the Truman or the Marshall scholarship (the former subsidizes graduate school in the United States, while the latter provides for two years of education in the United Kingdom), Foster managed to win both awards over the course of her junior and senior years. She additionally earned the Schwarzman scholarship but turned it down in favor of the Marshall.

One of just 43 Marshall scholars from an application pool of over 1,000 and one of 62 Truman scholars from a field of over 750, Foster hopes to use these incredible opportunities to achieve her dream of a career in foreign service. She’ll spend the first year of her Marshall at King’s College in London working towards a master’s degree in war studies, before moving to either Cambridge or the London School of Economics to receive a master’s degree in international relations.

Though Foster is unsure of her specific plan further down the road — she’s weighing getting a Ph.D. — she does want to spend some time in the government before moving into her preferred path of academia further down the road. If her time at Amherst proves anywhere near representative of her future, though, this won’t be the last time Foster’s name appears in newsprint. Even with this bright future ahead of her, Professor Sarat’s words seem most fitting to close with given the impact Foster has had in four short years; “Amherst will miss her. So will I.”