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“Exeter gave me the skills and the confidence to be ambitious, to pursue my dreams and the things I’m passionate about."

Exeter alumnus earns Harvard Scholarship

Exeter alumnus Tom O’Bryan has been awarded a Kennedy Scholarship to study a Masters of Public Policy (MPP) at Harvard in 2015/16.

The Kennedy Scholarships are Britain’s living memorial to President Kennedy and up to 10 are awarded each year in a national competition run by the Kennedy Memorial Trust  Tom (International Relations 2013) is the first University of Exeter graduate to be awarded one of the scholarships which provide full-funding for all tuition fees for two years, and all living expenses for the first year of graduate study at Harvard and MIT. 

Tom said “It’s an incredible honour to have been selected for this most prestigious award. I was in a very rural area of the Democratic Republic of Congo where I was working at the time when I got the news – I pretty much dropped my phone in shock! When I look at the list of previous Kennedy Scholars at Harvard – people I really admire, like David Miliband – and I look at the incredible contribution they’ve made to society through their public service, I still struggle to get my head around the idea that I’m going to be following in their footsteps.”

Annie Thomas from the Kennedy Memorial Trust said “The trustees were impressed by Tom’s vision to transform policy-making in conflict zones building on his experience in Congo and Western Sahara and were delighted to award him a Scholarship to fund his MPP at the Harvard Kennedy School beginning this autumn.”

Tom gained a First Class BA in International Relations at Exeter in 2013.  During his degree he won a prestigious Higher Education Academy (HEA) bursary to visit the Houses of Parliament as part of his final year dissertation research and was awarded a Dean of School Commendation for Outstanding Academic Performance.

Tom says of his time at Exeter “Exeter gave me the skills and the confidence to be ambitious, to pursue my dreams and the things I’m passionate about. I’ll be forever grateful to the remarkable professors I had at Exeter, who continue to be exceptional mentors now even years after graduation. They pushed me on and still give invaluable advice today to support my development and growth."

One of those mentors is Dr Claire Dunlop, Associate Professor in Public Policy at the University of Exeter. Claire said:

“We are absolutely delighted for Tom and wish him every success with this fantastic opportunity. We keep in touch with many of our alumni and it is with great pride that we hear about their progress. Tom is a great example of the exceptional students Exeter continues to attract. ”

Tom’s scholarship will see him focus on how to transform policy-making in conflict zones. “Having worked in Western Sahara and the Congo, I’ve seen the devastating impact that war can have on local people, families and communities. I want to question the way we engage with international conflict zones, to design new and innovative policy solutions. How can we as an international community empower local entrepreneurs, catalyse sustainable local industries and create jobs in these regions? How do we address some of the economic root causes of conflict and drive positive change? These are the kind of issues I want to work on, both while studying at Harvard and beyond. I think the world is a safer, more prosperous place when we work together to tackle the great challenges of our time.”

Tom has two pieces of advice for current students “The first: take full advantage of the summer break! This is the time to build on what you’ve learned over the course of the year: to develop new skills, to gain professional experience, and to build your networks. You bring all that experience back to the classroom the following year.

The second: don’t wait! A sobering but liberating reality is that you will never have as much free time as you do right now. As soon as you graduate and start work, you’ll find you’re much busier than ever before. That’s one of the great things about being a student: students have the space to think critically, to make their voices heard and the potential to be changemakers. If there’s an issue that you care about, and you want to be a part of the solution, don’t wait!”

Applications for Kennedy Scholarships for 2016-17 will open during August 2015 and close in late October 2015. To find out more about Kennedy Scholarships visit

Date: 25 June 2015

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