Mitchell Scholarship a ‘crowning achievement’

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By Robbi Pickeral (UNC News Services)

Sarah Bufkin always has loved writing. In the sixth and seventh grade, she began to pen a couple of what she now calls “really bad” novels. In high school, she preferred the essay portion of exams.

But it was her first semester at the University of North Carolina, when she took an Introduction to Poetry Writing class, when she says something “clicked.”

“It was the best class I took my whole semester – probably for the first two years I was at Carolina, honestly,’’ said Bufkin, a senior who plans to graduate in December. “I learned so much, I found I had so much respect for what poetry does for language … it really helped propel me to where I am today.”

That would be celebrating her Mitchell Scholarship, a prestigious award that supports graduate studies in Ireland. Bufkin, 22, learned Saturday she was one of 12 Americans selected for the scholarship, which provides tuition, accommodations, a living expenses stipend and an international travel stipend for one year. She will pursue a master’s degree in moral, legal and political philosophy at Queens University in Belfast.

Bufkin, a cultural studies and history major in the College of Arts and Sciences, is UNC’s third Mitchell recipient since the first class of Mitchell Scholars in 2001. Applicants are judged on scholarship, leadership and a sustained commitment to community and public service.

“It’s such a surprise, and it really is an incredible honor to represent UNC over in Northern Ireland,” Bufkin said. “It’s also the crowning achievement of my four years in Chapel Hill. And it will allow me to do more, to learn more — to get a Master’s, which is something I never thought I would be looking to do this soon after graduating. I’m quite ecstatic.”

The Atlanta native came to Carolina on a Morehead-Cain Scholarship, and spurred by her love for writing, she has served as editor-in-chief of Campus BluePrint and has interned for The Huffington Post and ThinkProgress.

Over the years, she meshed her zeal for writing with her interest in politics. Last April, she was awarded the Taylor Research Fellowship to study the intersection of public engagement, political unrest and poetry in Northern Ireland during the 1970s. And as an extension of her interest in justice and civil rights, Bufkin last summer conducted comparative research on the death penalty in the United Kingdom and North Carolina.

That research, she said, is what led her to interview for the Mitchell Scholarship, rather than the Rhodes (for which she was also a finalist).

“To pursue the research I wanted, there’s no better place to be than Queens University in Belfast,’’ she said. “The Mitchell was the path I chose, and I’m so excited to have this opportunity.”

In the future, Bufkin said she would like to earn a law degree and a doctorate in American studies. Long-term, she said, she would like to be a civil rights public interest lawyer.

And she always will continue to express herself through words.

“That’s how I think, through writing,’’ she said. “That’s how I like to engage with the world.”

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