College of Liberal Arts

University of Mississippi

Public Policy Leadership Senior Chelsea Caveny is UM’s First Mitchell Scholarship Recipient

A senior majoring in public policy leadership is the University of Mississippi’s first recipient of the  George J. Mitchell Scholarship.

Chelsea Caveny of Hattiesburg traveled to Washington, D.C., Nov. 20 for a final interview for the award, which funds one year of graduate study at any university in Ireland or Northern Ireland. The nominee hopes to earn a master’s degree in community education, equality and social activism at National University of Ireland in Maynooth, or a master’s in social and community development at Queen’s University in Belfast.

“I am really excited to be the first UM student to have the honor to interview for the Mitchell, but I know that I will not be the last,” said Caveny, a 2010 Truman Scholar (the university’s 14th) who is scheduled to earn her bachelor’s degree in May 2011. “At the end of the day, I don’t think too much about what it all means. I really just want to go to Ireland.”

A total of fifteen college students from across the country were interviewed in the final round, and 12 were selected. Other schools with winners include Princeton University, Stanford University, the University of Georgia, West Virginia Wesleyan College, Johns Hopkins University, Yale University, Villanova University, Georgetown University, Swarthmore College, Dartmouth College and Centre College.

Going in, Caveny had great expectations for her interview.

“From everything that I have heard, it is a really friendly interview where the panel tries to learn as much about you as possible in a short time,” Caveny said. “To prepare, I am keeping up with different newspapers in Ireland and for the most part talking to as many people as I can to practice articulating why I want to spend a year in Ireland.”

A member of both the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College and the Trent Lott Leadership Institute, Caveny has been deeply involved in the Sunflower County Freedom Project for her entire undergraduate career. Beginning as a weekend volunteer, she began urging friends to join her in that experience. Eventually, Caveny lobbied the Lott Institute to establish a summer internship with SCFP, which she held during its first year.

“I met Chelsea as an intern in 2009 and she was absolutely indispensable,” said Sarah Hoftiezer, SCFP executive director. “Her dedication to students here and to the Mississippi Delta region as a whole is something not found often in college students. She’s been an excellent resource for our organization.”

Caveny has addressed the Mississippi Legislature about a charter school bill. She is writing her honors thesis, a casebook study of how the SCFP model could be replicated in a neighboring county.

“In the Mississippi Delta and in South Africa, Chelsea has forged a human link between local and global concerns,” said Douglass Sullivan-Gonzalez, dean of the honors college and institutional faculty representative for the Mitchell. “Her solutions to problems in communities consistently reflect genuine hope and sustainable possibility.”

Other UM faculty members were equally complimentary of Caveny.

“I recommended Chelsea because she is a perfect fit,” said Melissa Bass, assistant professor of public policy leadership. “Her commitment to and experience with public service, combined with her outstanding academic abilities and accomplishments, make her an ideal candidate for the Mitchell Scholarship.”

Even if Caveny had not been named a Mitchell Scholar, it remains an honor for her to have been a finalist, UM officials said.

“I’m very, very pleased that Chelsea is taking the university’s name into the finals of this prestigious scholarship,” said Debra Young, associate dean of the honors college. “This invitation validates some of the directions our talented students are selecting – figuring out how to solve complex, real-world problems.”

Caveny served as Associated Student Body Director of Community Service. In addition to SCFP, her memberships include the Columns Society, University Judicial Council, Hope for Africa, One Mississippi and the U.S. Public Service Academy Youth Advisory Council.

She is the daughter of Jay Ladner and Jennifer Caveny of Hattiesburg.

Named in honor of the former senator’s pivotal contribution to the Northern Ireland peace process, the George J. Mitchell Scholarships are intended to interest and involve the next generation of America’s leaders in the U.S.-Ireland relationship. The Mitchell looks for persuasive, documented evidence of achievement in three areas: academics, leadership and community service. Unlike the Marshall and the Rhodes, the Mitchell Scholarship does not conduct regional interviews. Instead, 20 finalists are invited to interview in Washington, D.C. From that group, up to 12 scholars are selected.

Learn more about the Mitchell Scholarship at http://www.us-irelandalliance.org/scholarships/html