Only 50 college students chosen for this award across the U.S. Mississippi universities have two.

Published 7:55 pm Monday, December 11, 2023

Harvard. Yale. Washington & Lee. All prestigious universities with at least one Marshall Scholarship honoree. There’s only 50 in America, and Mississippi has two, adding both Mississippi State University and the University of Mississippi to that list.

Madison Brode, a senior biological sciences major at Mississippi State, is the university’s first recipient of the Marshall Scholarship, a prestigious award annually providing a select 50 American students graduate-level study in the United Kingdom.

“Gifted and accomplished scholars like Madison Brode are a strong testament to the mission and vision of our university,” said MSU President Mark E. Keenum. “I am so proud of Madison’s superior record of academic success and of how magnificently she represents our faculty, staff and students. Our Shackouls Honors College continues to be a launching pad for excellence.”

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Brode, a native of Memphis, Tennessee, will study biodiversity, conservation and management at the University of Oxford in England, where she completed two previous study-abroad sessions. A portion of her overseas experiences was funded by scholarships from MSU’s Turner A. Wingo Honors College Excellence and Dr. Nancy Hargrove Study Abroad endowments.

“I am so extremely excited and honored to be selected as a Marshall Scholar, and I am thrilled to be returning to the U.K. to pursue graduate studies. The support I’ve had in pursuing research, studying abroad and applying to external scholarships as a student at MSU has been incredible. I think winning the Marshall Scholarship is undoubtedly a reflection of the amazing opportunities I’ve had during my undergraduate career,” said Brode, who has conducted significant research in ornithology and behavioral ecology of birds. “What initially drew me to the U.K. and what makes me want to return for graduate study is its rich history of studying and conserving birds. In whatever role I am in after college, I hope I can connect people to nature.”

Brode is a highly decorated MSU student expected to receive her undergraduate degree in spring 2024. This year, she was named one of the university’s latest recipients of the nationally renowned Astronaut Scholarship, an award recognizing the best and brightest science-, technology-, engineering- and mathematics-focused students in the U.S. Brode is a 2022 recipient of the Goldwater Scholarship, the country’s preeminent undergraduate award for STEM students, and MSU’s Dr. William E. Gardiner Memorial Award for academic achievement and leadership development in biology. She previously was named an MSU Provost Scholar and was recognized by the Office of Student Leadership and Community Engagement for her volunteer efforts.

MSU Office of Prestigious External Scholarships Director David Hoffman said Brode “truly encapsulates the Marshall Scholarship program,” and her undergraduate career shows MSU provides pathways for students to excel in global scholarship, leadership and service.

“Madison’s successful application was built upon leveraging both study abroad and research, which were made possible by generous donations and the support of the Shackouls Honors College,” Hoffman said, “as well as her research mentor, Dr. Kristine Evans, in the Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Aquaculture.”

The British government has named University of Mississippi alumna Jilkiah Bryant as a winner of a prestigious Marshall Scholarship, making her the third Marshall Scholar in the university’s history.

Bryant, a 2023 graduate with a degree in public health and health sciences, plans to spend the next two years studying community health at Sheffield University in England.

“Having an opportunity to have an educational experience that I couldn’t get in the U.S. will transform the way I think about health care and community change,” Bryant said. “Up until this part of my journey, I’ve had a lot of questions and ideas.

“With this program, I think I’ll be able to answer a lot of those questions and find better questions to ask.”

Created by the British Parliament in 1953, the Marshall Scholarship funds two years of American students’ study toward master’s degrees of their choosing in the United Kingdom.

Through the scholarship, the Macon native will pursue two master’s degrees: a Master of Public Health in international development and a Master of Science in health economics and decision modeling.

The Marshall is among the world’s most prestigious and competitive scholarship programs, said Vivian Ibrahim, director of the Office of National Scholarship Advisement.

“What distinguishes Jilkiah is she has incredible drive,” Ibrahim said. “She wants to bring what she’s learning back to the state and make change here.

“She doesn’t want to be a part of the brain drain; she really wants to make a difference.”

During her time at Ole Miss, Bryant won a prestigious Harry S. Truman Scholarship in 2022 and was a Catalyzing Entrepreneurship and Economic Development Scholar, Luckyday Scholar and a Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors Scholar and was selected for the Hall of Fame.

She also coordinated health fairs in rural Mississippi in 2021 during the COVID-19 pandemic and founded Project Powerful, an organization that pairs high school students with volunteer opportunities across the state.

“I found that throughout every period of my life, I’ve had these mentors who have taken a stake in my development and without them, there would be no me,” Bryant said. “Those opportunities to connect and find places to grow my interest were really pivotal in my development.”

Many of those mentorships began back in Noxubee County, such as Teresa Hughes’ AJOY: A Journey of Our Youth, an education and empowerment group for young women.

“I don’t think I realized how profound of an impact that had on me,” Bryant said. “It validated our lived experience and for me that was profound because that’s what I want to do, in a way; I want to validate people’s lived experiences and uplift them.

“I got that first inkling of that in my home community.”

Hughes, who retired in 2009 after 28 years of teaching elementary school in Noxubee County, said she remembers Bryant as a quiet, precocious child with a heart for education.

“I always remember her as having a zeal for learning and a strong sense of initiative,” Hughes said. “She’s a self-motivated go-getter.”

Hughes and Bryant stayed in touch when Bryant moved first to the Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science and, later, to Ole Miss. The purpose of AJOY is to raise up young women like Bryant to help them see that they can succeed, Hughes said.

“It’s always been my dream to help youth in my county,” she said. “I wanted to nurture and guide them and that’s how AJOY was born.

“Jilkiah, she has blossomed into a fine young lady. I’m proud of her and all the others. I think I have a few more Jilkiahs coming along.”

Bryant said she hopes to bring what she learns through her Marshall Scholarship back to rural Mississippi counties, where community health is essential to improving the quality of life of citizens.

“I always say that I am a product of opportunity in the way I was raised and my background,” Bryant said. “I think that one of the biggest contributors to who I am is my environment, my community and the way I was raised.

“I think that’s why I really want to work on the community level.

“I think that’s why I really want to work on the community level. I recognize the power that communities can hold in shaping who you are and, more importantly, who you choose to become.”

Founded by a 1953 Act of Parliament and named in honor of U.S. Secretary of State George C. Marshall, the Marshall Scholarship commemorates the humane ideals of the Marshall Plan and expresses the continuing gratitude of the British people to their American counterparts, according to its website.

Marshall Scholarships are open to U.S. citizens who hold an undergraduate degree from an accredited American college with a minimum 3.7 grade-point average. The award covers university fees, cost of living expenses and books, while also supporting thesis, research and daily travel grants and fares to and from the U.S.