Ten UM Freshmen Named 2017 Stamps Scholars

Students exemplify best of scholarship, community service and leadership

The university’s freshman Stamps scholars for 2017 are (from left) Tyler Yarbrough, Madeline Cook, Robert Wasson, Tori Gallegos, Eleanor Schmid, Matthew Travers, J.R. Riojas, Kennedy Cohn, Harrison McKinnis and Chinwe Udemgba. Photo by Bill Dabney/UM Foundation

OXFORD, Miss. – Ten members of the 2017 freshman class at the University of Mississippi’s Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College have the distinction of being Stamps Scholarship recipients.

This year’s cohort consists of Kennedy Cohn of Incline Village, Nevada, Madeline Cook of Flowood, Victoria “Tori” Gallegos of Chicago, Harrison McKinnis of Madison, J.R. Riojas of the Wool Market community of Harrison County, Eleanor Schmid of Cincinnati, Matthew Travers of St. Louis, Chinwe Udemgba of Natchez, Robert Wasson of Jackson and Tyler Yarbrough of Clarksdale.

For a second straight year, UM was among only four universities to award 10 or more Stamps Scholarships to incoming students. The Stamps Scholarships at Ole Miss have become the most comprehensive, full scholarship packages for in-state and out-of-state students.

“We are so pleased to be welcoming another tremendously gifted cohort of Stamps Scholars to the University of Mississippi,” Chancellor Jeffrey S. Vitter said. “Through our partnership with the Stamps Family Charitable Foundation, we are able to attract truly remarkable students from Mississippi and all over the country.

“We look for great things from our Stamps Scholars as they pursue unique and exciting educational opportunities and contribute to the academic excellence on our campus.”

With its partner universities, the Stamps Foundation seeks students who demonstrate academic merit, strong leadership potential and exceptional character. Through the foundation, students have access to funding to engage in internships, undergraduate research or other professional development activities.

Potential Stamps Scholars are invited to campus for a special weekend visit to get an in-depth look at the university’s academic programs, as well as opportunities to interact with campus administrators and students.

“As a Stamps Scholar, I felt like I would have the ability to fully take advantage of my education by pursuing educational opportunities outside of the classroom,” said Cohn, a double major in international studies and Spanish who also is working on pre-med requirements. She is also a member of Global Brigades, Freshman Council and the Chancellor’s Leadership Class.

“I think that one of the best ways to learn is through travel because it’s such an immersive, hands-on learning experience,” she said. “With the Stamps Scholarship, I would love to study abroad and possibly do an internship overseas.”

Cohn’s focus on global health through the Croft Institute gives her a better understanding of how health care works in other countries.

“I would love to use part of my enrichment fund to shadow a doctor in another country,” Cohn said. “I am hoping to apply to medical school after I graduate and eventually work with an organization like Doctors without Borders.”

Stamps Scholars are ambitious and goal-oriented, with leadership skills and hefty visions, but who, above all, love learning and doing extraordinary things with confidence, Cook said.

“I love being in a community of confident, incredibly capable and smart students, who all have big plans and small egos,” said the international studies, sociology and Spanish major who has concentrations in global health and Latin America. Cook also is a member of Mississippi Votes, College Democrats, Global Ambassadors and Rebels Against Sexual Assault, and is an announcer for Rebel Radio.

Her goals are to complete a language immersion program in Spain and volunteer with the Mississippi Immigrants’ Rights Alliance in Jackson.

The 2017 freshman class of UM Stamps Scholars explore a river during their ‘bonding excursion’ last summer in Ecuador. The group includes (front, from left) Tyler Yarbrough, Chinwe Udemgba, Tori Gallegos and Kennedy Cohn; (middle) Matthew Travers, Harrison McKinnis and J.R. Riojas; and (back) Eleanor Schmid and Robert Wasson. Submitted photo

“I’m extremely interested in the intersection of human and labor rights and public health, and in the future, I’d like to do work with NGOs in Chile, Bolivia or Argentina doing research on indigenous rights-justice movements and access to health care,” Cook said. “I can see myself working full-time for some kind of social rights and justice-oriented nonprofit or policy coalition, or an analyst for the State Department or even (as) a Foreign Service officer in Latin America.”

The Stamps Scholarship is an amazing opportunity, said Gallegos, who is majoring in international studies with a Russian minor. She is a member of the Associated Student Body Freshman Forum, Delta Gamma sorority and Russian Club.

“Everyone is unique and has a story to tell,” she said. “The additional enrichment funds allow me to pursue research and travel outside the classroom without adding financial burdens.”

Gallegos said she plans to study in Russia multiple times, as well as in France and Latin America.

A chemical engineering major, McKinnis is a member of the Chancellor’s Leadership Class. He also participates in the Haley Barbour Center for Manufacturing Excellence.

McKinnis said he was grateful to be considered for the scholarship.

“I felt that every candidate was worthy of the scholarship, and I was shocked to find out I was chosen,” he said. “At that point, my college decision process ended, and I knew that I had found my new home, one that wants to support me just as I want to support it.”

McKinnis hopes to participate in a co-op or internship with an engineering firm at some point in his undergraduate education to gain experience and knowledge to become a professional engineer.

Riojas said he sees the Stamps Scholarship at Ole Miss as the perfect balance between a fantastic, focused education and a big public school experience.

“The most important part of being a Stamps Scholar is the community I am surrounded with,” said the public policy major who is a member of the debate team, ASB Freshman Council and the mock trial team. “I am surrounded by the best of the best, and this pushes me to be the best that I can be.”

Riojas’ goals are to learn the policies of the world, graduate from law school and become an international lawyer.

“Stamps will help me because the scholarship helps fund trips all around the world, allowing me to study the judicial systems of foreign countries,” he said. “It will also connect me with people who can help me in the future.”

An international studies major who is minoring in Russian, Schmid is a member of the university’s debate team and a sorority, as well as the Associated Student Body’s freshman forum. Her goals include studying abroad at least twice in Russia, France and Spain.

Following either graduate or law school, she hopes to serve her country by working in the Department of State or another governmental agency.

“Being offered the Stamps Scholarship signaled to me that Ole Miss saw potential in me, and wanted to invest in my education to the greatest extent,” Schmid said. “Furthermore, being a Stamps Scholar brings me an amazing community of peers who also have great aspirations to change the world.”

Travers, pursuing a double major in international studies and Chinese, is a student of the Croft Institute for International Studies and the Chinese Language Flagship Program. He also is on the Diversity Recruitment Committee for RebelTHON, a peer educator for Rebels Against Sexual Assault, a UM Flagship Ambassador, a Chinese tutor and member of the Black Student Union and the Swahili Club.

Eleanor Schmid (left) and Tyler Yarbrough, both members of the 2017 freshman class of Stamps Scholars at the University of Mississippi, prepare to try zip lining during a ‘bonding excursion’ in Ecuador before beginning the fall semester of college. Submitted photo

“To me, being a Stamps Scholar means looking toward the future like a blank canvas, brush in hand, and with all the colors waiting at my fingertips,” Travers said. “The Stamps Scholarship gives me the incredible opportunity to learn for the sake of learning, to study what piques my interest, not what will necessarily secure a good job.

“With all the opportunities and attention given to me, I can’t help but feel like one of the most fortunate students on campus.”

Travers plans to return to China to study next summer. After that, he hopes to travel to Tanzania or another African country on a mission trip and practice the Swahili he is learning in the classroom.

A chemical engineering major, Wasson also was excited to learn that he had been awarded a Stamps Scholarship and ready to take advantage of the unique opportunities it offers.

“When I learned of my selection as a Stamps Scholar, I was deeply humbled and honored to be chosen out of such a competitive field full of great applicants,” he said. “I then realized the tremendous charge I had been given to do great things with such an amazing opportunity.”

Wasson hopes to take full advantage of the opportunities available via the scholarship and plans to attend medical school after graduation.

Udemgba is a graduate of the Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science. Her major is chemistry with an emphasis in biochemistry. She is part of IMAGE, Student Members of the American Chemical Society, Minority Association of Pre-Med Students and Campus Catholic Ministries.

“Being a Stamps Scholar makes me feel as if I should take advantage of the opportunities given to me,” Udemgba said. “I have no excuse to be anything but an exceptional student with exciting experiences.

“Being a Stamps Scholar opens me up to so many connections to people in different colleges across the nation. Stamps is more than just a full ride to college; it is a community of students with the common goal of succeeding and pushing each other forward.”

Udemgba’s short-term plans include study abroad, conducting research and pursuing other opportunities presented. Her long-term plan involves graduating from higher education and working in a lab.

A public policy leadership major, Yarbrough is a member of the Debate Team, ASB Freshman Forum and Mississippi Votes. He’s also an advocate with the Mississippi Youth Council, an organization advocating for comprehensive sex education in public schools.

“I had great interest in Ole Miss after attending the Trent Lott Institute for High School Students summer program,” he said. “The Stamps Scholarship’s enrichment fund ultimately led me to attend Ole Miss.

“The generous scholarship package will allow me to pursue internships and travel, which will enhance my learning experience while at the university.”

Yarbrough’s plans include getting students registered to vote in Oxford, bringing a voting precinct to campus and engaging students in the push for comprehensive sex education in public schools.

Launched in 2006 by Georgia native Roe Stamps and his wife, Penny, the program has grown to include nearly 40 partner schools throughout the country with more than 1,600 current and alumni scholars.

To learn more about the Stamps Foundation, visit http://www.stampsfoundation.org/.