During a time when nothing seems to go as planned, it’s nice to know that some formulas still work: a talented student combined with supportive faculty and outstanding opportunities is able to realize the global mission and goals of a charitable organization. Coastal Carolina University graduate Maddy Scholar ’18 is exactly that student, and Rotary International is the generous and appreciative patron.
Scholar,who earned a bachelor’s degree in intelligence and national security studies, was awarded a $50,000 Rotary Global Grant in August 2018 to study in the United Kingdom for the 2019-20 academic year. Scholar enrolled in a master’s program in Peace and Conflict Resolution at the University of Manchester, and while the COVID-19 pandemic interrupted her plans, it didn’t stop her progress. After returning home in July 2020, she finished her degree online, and when she learned that Manchester had cancelled commencement exercises, Rotary stepped right in and hosted a mutually meaningful graduation ceremony for Scholar and her family, CCU guests, and Rotary members.
“I am here today, with a master’s degree from the University of Manchester, because of the generosity and support of Rotary District 7770,” said Scholar at the January 2020 luncheon, held in Myrtle Beach.
Rotary District 7770 Governor Pauline Levesque articulated the group’s core principle, entrusted to Scholar.
“A mission of the Rotary Foundation and Rotary International is to enable Rotarians to advance world understanding, goodwill, and peace through the improvement of health, the support of education, and the alleviation of poverty,” said Levesque. “We are very honored to have been able to present this scholarship to Maddy.” Of course, as Joseph Fitsanakis, Scholar's faculty mentor and associate professor in the Department of Politics, points out:
“Nobody’s going to give you $50,000 just because they like you.”
Scholar's road to the scholarship spanned 18 months of applications and interviews, and her CCU support community included Fitsanakis, who initially approached her with the opportunity, as well as Darla Domke-Damonte, herself a Rotarian and CCU associate provost for global initiatives.
“Maddy is one of those people that’s like ‘Ok, bring it. Bring the challenge.’”
“This is the Cadillac of scholarships for undergraduate students,” said Fitsanakis. “A lot of students would not take the challenge because they think it’s a lot of work, or they’re afraid to venture out there to a foreign country. But Maddy is not that kind of person. She’s one of those people that’s like “OK, bring it. Bring the challenge.”
Domke-Damonte, who performed the master’s hooding ceremony at the Rotary luncheon, noted Scholar's determination and resilience, partially a result of her joining the Coast Guard at the age of 18.
“The process of competing this degree was not without barriers, and each of those Maddy has approached with resolve, dedication, moral conscience, and commitment to Semper paratus: always ready,” said Domke-Damonte.
Scholar was no stranger to accolades during her undergraduate years. Academic and leadership roles crowd her resume: Dyer Fellow; Chanticleer Intelligence Brief (CIB) analyst and Chief of Operations; European Union panelist; participant in the 2019 International Student Festival in Trondheim (ISFIT). Scholar’s time at CCU had her researching, writing, presenting, and debating in locales including New York City; Washington, D.C.; Brussels, Belgium; and Trondheim, Norway.
“Most items on my resume are from Coastal because they kept giving me opportunities,” said Scholar. “Not too many people get to go to D.C. and present legitimate research to government agencies, and not too many people get to go to Norway for free for two weeks. Coastal just kept giving me funding to go learn. If I didn’t have that, I wouldn’t have half the experience I did,” said Scholar.
Scholar’s 11-month period of graduate studies in England included travel to 13 other countries; research involving topics such as climate change terrorism and journalism in the Balkan Peninsula; involvement in the Manchester Rotary, including coordination of a rehabilitation program in the British penal system; and interaction with students from around the world. Then, the pandemic hit, and Scholar was restricted to her one-room apartment.
What did she do?
“I registered with the British National Health Service as a COVID-19 response volunteer, where I delivered food and supplies to vulnerable members of the community,” said Scholar. She also became the UK correspondent for CCU’s COVID 19 Intelligence podcast, providing analysis of the UK’s response to the pandemic
That’s just who Scholar is, said Fitsanakis.
“She used that internship to keep active, keep thinking, keep researching,” said Fitsanakis. “OK, you were there, this happened. The question is, what are you going to do? What’s your place in it, what’s your role in it? That’s what Maddy is all about.”
Scholar plans to begin her career in her native Atlanta, but she’ll always stay connected to CCU, since “Coastal has basically set me up for life.” She also expressed hopes that other students take opportunities available to them.
“I think a lot of people don’t realize they are perfectly capable of doing the work,” said Scholar. “Coastal prepares you very well.”
Fitsanakis also noted that Scholar continues a legacy of CCU students who take bold chances and discover their potential.
“That’s Coastal’s niche,” said Fitsanakis. “It’s students who come here and prove themselves so they can go and compete with students from Ivy League schools. If you were to look at all the people who received this Rotary scholarship, Coastal would be the smallest university there in terms of status. But when you see what these students do once they are given these opportunities, they leave nothing to be desired in comparison to students from more prestigious schools. If you look at Coastal students who take advantage of these opportunities, this is exactly what they show: that we have to be daring. Every time we have an opportunity like that, we have to put our cards on the table and join the game. Maddy’s exactly that kind of person. She says, ‘How far can I go? I don’t care if it’s Coastal versus Yale or Columbia; I’m going to put my hat in the ring and see what happens.’ And sure enough, look what happened.”
At the graduation ceremony, Scholar listed numerous lessons she’d learned through her Rotary Global experience, but one in particular seemed to encapsulate her professional and personal promise.
“It taught me to press on,” said Scholar, “because the next generation of peace builders will be leaders, motivators, and doers. That’s something I strive to be a part of.”