The next ONSF alum in our new series is a Marshall Scholar: Evan Binkley! The Marshall Scholarship is one of our most unique opportunities. Students who do 2-year programs can choose to go to two different universities in the UK as opposed to just one. Evan won the Marshall Scholarship in 2020 and attended the University of London's School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), earning a Master's in Global Creative and Cultural Industries. He then followed up with a Master's in African Studies at the University of Cambridge.

How did your scholarship or fellowship experience evolve over time? What, if anything, was different from your original proposal?

As a 2020 graduate from Michigan, restrictions brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic drastically impacted my scholarship experience. For my first postgraduate degree, I planned to pursue an MA in Museums, Heritage and Material Culture Studies at SOAS University of London. One month before the start of class, SOAS canceled that MA program in part due to low enrollment. I was given the option to choose from three consolidated SOAS programs, out of which I chose the MA in Global Creative and Cultural Industries. My first MA program was taught entirely online and occurred during the heart of the UK’s COVID lockdown. In my Marshall application, I had also planned to do my second postgraduate degree at SOAS. However, after a difficult first year, I decided to look elsewhere and eventually decided to move to the University of Cambridge.

It must have been difficult to learn your program was canceled so close to the start of classes. How did you end up choosing from the three consolidated SOAS programs you were offered?

It was difficult to have to make a decision on such short notice. I chose Global Creative and Cultural Industries (GCCI) because it covered topics that I had not previously studied. The other two options were either the Art History MA or Social Anthropology MA. I had majored in Art History at Michigan and also had a research background in many of the topics that the Social Anthropology program covers. With GCCI, I was able to take classes on a wide range of topics, from music production to podcast recording. I was also afforded much more flexibility when picking my dissertation topic. I ended up researching song recommendation algorithms on Spotify and corporate interests in the moods of consumers. 

What was the most important or meaningful part of your experience?

By far, the most meaningful part of the experience was building lasting friendships with other Marshall scholars. I am constantly inspired by other members of my Marshall cohort and will forever cherish the time I spend with them. Even with the pandemic, we were still able to form a tight-knit group. Despite our diverse research backgrounds and academic interests, there was never a dull moment in our interactions, especially on excursions throughout the UK.

I am very thankful for the Marshall Commission’s financial support of my postgraduate education. As someone who worked three jobs as a student at Michigan, the ability to focus on academics and academics alone at SOAS and Cambridge was a great privilege. The Marshall Commission’s support was incredibly validating of the many personal sacrifices that I had made at Michigan. As my research examines the transatlantic slave trade and British colonialism, access to government archives throughout England was also an invaluable resource.

What comes next for you as you complete your scholarship/fellowship experience?

I have just begun a position as the Collections Manager for the Office of Art in Embassies (AIE) at the United States Department of State. AIE presents more than 50 exhibitions every year at the State Department’s facilities and supports diplomatic relations globally. To coordinate these efforts, it engages over 20,000 international participants, including artists, museums, universities, and collectors. Outside of this full-time role, I still intend to engage in academic research on the multifaceted histories of African cultural heritage sites and the contemporary ramifications of colonialism.

As you reflect back, what advice do you have for prospective applicants for this scholarship/fellowship?

Above anything else, it is critical that applicants can clearly articulate the direction of their research interests during and after the scholarship. I was surprised to learn that most members of my Marshall cohort were planning to pursue further education (either law school or medical school) directly after their time in the UK. It is important to apply to the scholarship with the understanding that successful applicants have thought through their plan after the Marshall and can demonstrate how their time in the UK will help get them to that future point. As I did not intend to pursue further education after the Marshall, my finalist interview responses for the scholarship underscored the institutions that I planned to engage with, including the State Department and Smithsonian Institution.

Is there anything else you would want students to know about the Marshall application?

I would especially encourage students at Michigan pursuing degrees in the arts and humanities to apply for the scholarship. Each year, the Marshall Commission selects from a diverse set of research backgrounds, yet a large percentage of scholarship applicants come from STEM fields. For any prospective applicant in the humanities, do not let this discourage you from applying. The Marshall Scholarship allows you to pursue degrees at any UK institution for a reason, and you should use that accessibility to find the program that best suits your interests and aspirations.