By Annie Chang
On Nov. 17, the US-Ireland Alliance announced its Mitchell Scholars Class of 2020, including Ella Bunnell ’19 and Matthew Wigler ’19. The Mitchell Scholarship is a year-long, fully funded fellowship for postgraduate studies at universities in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.
Bunnell and Wigler were selected as two of 12 fellows from a record-number pool of 370 applicants. According to the US-Ireland Alliance, scholars are selected on the basis of their academic distinction, leadership and service.
Mitchell Scholars pursue studies in a range of disciplines, ranging from philosophy and literature to immunology and global health to theater directing. Members of the Class of 2020 include a researcher on the gut microbiome, a reproductive rights activist and a journalist working on a Netflix documentary series on the 14th Amendment.
The Daily spoke with Bunnell and Wigler regarding their backgrounds, the Mitchell Scholarship and their plans for the future.
Bunnell, an American studies major, will use her scholarship to pursue a master’s degree in Conflict Transformation and Social Justice at Queen’s University Belfast in Northern Ireland. Bunnell said she applied for a Mitchell Scholarship because her studies have all taken place at American institutions, with the exception of a quarter abroad in Oxford.
“I’ve developed an American-centric understanding of how the political process works,” Bunnell said. “I decided that, in order to expand my understanding, I should pursue graduate study abroad.”
After obtaining her master’s, Bunnell plans to attend law school and work in public service.
“I hope to continue to contribute to social justice work and criminal justice reform efforts throughout my career,” she said.
According to Bunnell, community involvement has played a pivotal role in shaping her worldview. Growing up in Massachusetts, Bunnell performed community service with her Jewish community at Temple Israel Boston.
“These experiences were formative for me in relation to my perception of the world and the impact I hope to have,” she said.
As a freshman in high school, Bunnell began tutoring single mothers to prepare them for a high school equivalency test in homeless shelters throughout Boston.
“Meeting and learning from [these] women… prompted me to become more educated about the immense number of ways discrimination can manifest itself, and the implications it has for marginalized communities and our society as a whole,” she said.
Around the same time, she visited a prison in Western Massachusetts and spoke with people involved in restorative justice efforts.
“This experience humanized the impact of the criminal justice system for me,” Bunnell said. She traces her passion for civil rights, educational equity, and criminal justice reform to these experiences in high school.
While at Stanford, Bunnell has actively pursued her interests in political and social change. She has worked as a research assistant to Susan Olzak, studying civilian oversight of police violence.
Bunnell has interned for U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren through Stanford in Washington. She had previously interned with U.S. Representative Joseph Kennedy. Last summer she worked in the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division and with the American Civil Liberties Union.
She described the Mitchell Scholars application process as valuable in prompting her to think intentionally about her goals over the next few years. The first-round interview, conducted via video, required that she answer complex questions about current events and ethics. During the final interviews in Washington, D.C., Bunnell attended a reception with the Irish Ambassador and some alumni of the Mitchell Scholarship before talking with the other finalists at an Irish pub.
Wigler, a political science major and history minor, will use his fellowship to pursue a master’s degree in International Politics at Trinity College Dublin. Wigler said he applied for the Marshall Scholarship because of his interest in postgraduate work in international relations and because of his desire to study abroad, especially since he never found the time to study abroad during his time at Stanford. The Mitchell Scholarship, he said, offered the perfect circumstances for him, given its political relevance and location in Ireland.
Similarly to Bunnell, Wigler highlighted how studying in Ireland will provide exposure to politics outside of the United States. He said he hopes to understand what has enabled Irish society to thrive and bring this knowledge back to the United States.
“While we see rampant political polarization in the United States, some research has suggested that Ireland may, in contrast, be experiencing an opposite phenomenon of depolarization,” Wigler said. “Ireland has struggled with a history of deep division but has overcome its fractures with remarkable success to become a cornerstone of the European Union and the Celtic Tiger.”
Also similarly to Bunnell, Wigler said his academic interests and intellectual passions were shaped by lifelong involvement and exposure. By age 10, he was volunteering with the Democratic party for the 2008 Obama campaign, and he continued to work with the Democrats for each of the next campaign cycles before enrolling at Stanford.
As an undergraduate, Wigler served a Stanford in Government fellowship at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations in New York. Wigler, who worked with diplomats from around the world during the internship, called it one of his “most memorable experiences as a Stanford student.”
“While I was at the UN, [there] was the escalating crisis on the Korean Peninsula,” Wigler said. “I spent much of my internship working on a successful Security Council resolution to expand the sanctions regime against the Kim regime.”
In September 2017, Wigler interned in the office of U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley. Last summer, he embarked on a road trip to America’s swing districts to understand and combat political polarization. Wigler serves as an undergraduate senator for the ASSU, the vice president of the Stanford Democrats, and is a member of Stanford’s Model UN team and Stanford’s Jewish fraternity Alpha Epsilon Pi.
After completing his one-year fellowship, Wigler hopes to attend law school and get involved in foreign policy. He said that taking “Challenges and Dilemmas in American Foreign Policy,” a course taught by former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, helped confirm his interest in further pursuing international relations.
Wigler advises new Stanford students to “indulge” in their interests, but also to branch out — even if it means following multiple paths.
“You can always bounce back when you stumble, so never count yourself out,” Wigler said. “You’ll end up where you are meant to be. The person you are at NSO will be different from the person walking across the stage at graduation, often in ways you might not have expected. That’s a good thing.”
Contact Annie Chang at annette.chang ‘at’ stanford.edu.