The Chance of a Lifetime: Friends, roommates find national scholarship success

From “Mountains and Minds” to the United Kingdom, MSU students Bryan Vadheim and Joe Thiel, along with Montana native Amanda Frickle, will pursue graduate degrees overseas after being awarded some of the world’s most prestigious scholarships.

Vadheim is MSU’s first recipient of the Marshall Scholarship, while Thiel was named one of just 32 Rhodes Scholars nationwide. He is MSU’s 10th Rhodes Scholar and its third in the last six years. These two scholarships honor scholastic achievements and personal character while providing full financial support toward pursuing a graduate degree in the United Kingdom.

After working with the MSU chapter of Engineers Without Borders (EWB-MSU), Thiel, a former vice president of the group, is planning to study student participation in international development.

“There are opportunities and also threats in the trend of sending students overseas to fragile communities,” Thiel explained. He plans to study ways to create positive experiences for both students and communities by pursuing a one-year master’s degree in public policy and another one-year degree in economics for developing communities while at Oxford.

Vadheim, who was also involved with EWB-MSU, hopes to study economics for a year at the London School of Economics, then pursue water engineering and policy at King’s College London.

Though Frickle is not an MSU graduate, she is a Billings native and has come to call Bozeman her home. After graduating from The College of Idaho, where she studied political economy and history, Frickle returned to Montana and became an employee for MSU Residence Life. She applied for the Rhodes Scholarship through The College of Idaho and will travel to Oxford next fall.

This year’s winners will join former MSU students Katy Hansen and Hilary Fabich in the United Kingdom. Hansen was named a 2011 Rhodes Scholar and is attending Oxford, where she is studying water science, policy and management, while Fabich is a 2011 Gates Cambridge Scholar studying chemical engineering at the University of Cambridge.

Strength in numbers

Through groups like EWB-MSU, rigorous academic schedules and living situations, each of the five Montana scholars share some kind of connection, and in addition to other MSU faculty and students, have provided a valuable support network for one another.

As Vadheim explained, he and Thiel have been roommates for the majority of their time at MSU after meeting in the Honors Quads their freshmen year. Both are studying chemical engineering and spent time working and studying together over the years.

After being named a finalist for the Marshall Scholarship, Vadheim traveled to San Francisco for a 20-minute interview. Thiel and Frickle went with another MSU finalist, Eric Dietrich, to Seattle for the Rhodes Scholarship’s 25-minute interview and formal luncheon with the selection committee.

After their interviews, the 15 district finalists played the waiting game, knowing that only two of them would be selected.

“There was fantastic camaraderie within the group,” Dietrich explained, speaking of all 15 finalists. Everyone was supportive, and after waiting about four-and-a-half hours, two names were read. “The immediate response was hugs all around,” Dietrich said. A handful of the finalists even went out to celebrate with Thiel and Frickle.

In the weeks leading up to the interview, the three Bozeman finalists also spent time with each other preparing for the next step, and this makeshift support group helped provide them with some peace of mind.

“It came down to the three of us going to a coffee shop to discuss the application,” Dietrich explained, and the trio used the Sunday afternoon meeting to discuss the interview and the challenges it would present.

“It was helpful going into a competitive environment knowing that competitors can also be friends,” Frickle said.

The power of community

Dietrich, Thiel and Vadheim cite the support of MSU friends and faculty as a major factor in their successes. University staff, including Honors Program Director Ilse-Mari Lee, worked to help prepare the finalists, providing them with mock interviews before a panel of professors in order to experience a formal interview setting. Conversing with fellow students also allowed the finalists to hone their opinions.

Frickle relied on a support group as well, saying, “I could not have done this without the special people in my life who kept me sane throughout the process.”

Thiel’s support network extends from his new wife, Bizz Browning, to friends and professors he has met while at MSU. “The friendships with students and professors were key,” Thiel said, adding that these relationships have been the best part of his college experience and are what help him to excel.

Hansen also stressed the role of community support in her success, not only in receiving the Rhodes distinction, but also in her time at Oxford. “The Rhodes community provides a tremendous amount of support,” she said.

However, it has not always been easy. “The expectations can be difficult to manage,” she explained, “but the challenge forces valuable introspection and, hopefully, growth.”

Lee is overjoyed that two MSU students received such high profile distinctions. “What makes me very happy is that, next year, there will be four MSU graduates in England,” Lee said.

She is also excited about what these honors mean for MSU. “This is a wonderful place; there are no barriers between inspirational faculty and highly motivated students,” she explained.

Vadheim, Thiel and Frickle hope to maintain the MSU support group while abroad, and build on it as they grow and learn from their experiences in the United Kingdom. Hansen reflected on these opportunities for growth, saying, “[These scholarships] provide a platform to connect with role models and potential collaborators, explore, take risks, and build lifelong friendships with talented and well-rounded individuals from across the world.”