Alumna Bessie Young Awarded Mitchell Scholarship to Study Photography and Aging

Submitted on Monday, 11/21/2011, at 11:23 AM

November 21, 2011

Amherst College alumna Bessie Young has been selected as one of 12 recipients nationwide of the 2012-2013 George J. Mitchell Scholarship, the US-Ireland Alliance has announced. A 2011 graduate of Amherst and the college’s first-ever winner of a Mitchell, Young was chosen from 300 applicants for the award, which funds one year of postgraduate study in any discipline offered by institutions of higher learning in Ireland and Northern Ireland.

Young intends to use her scholarship to pursue a master of fine arts degree at the University of Ulster in Northern Ireland. There she will collaborate with a faculty member who is working with photography as a memory aid for those suffering from Alzheimer’s.

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Long an advocate for the elderly, Young said she feels it is important for younger generations recognize that they will be old one day and “comprehend aging populations in terms of the individual as well as the whole.” “I believe I can make a significant change in attitudes toward aging and the treatment of the elderly through diligent research and through my photography,” she said. “I believe that true leadership inspires others not only to think but also to feel a certain way about the world, and that is exactly what I hope to do.”

Young has spent the months since graduating from Amherst in Japan on a Luce Scholarship serving as an “entrusted researcher” at Kwansei Gakuin University under two professors specializing in gerontological social work.  She also works two days a week at a senior citizen day care center in Ashiya, where she is taking photos of senior living facilities for the elderly. (Check out her work at her website: www.besyoung.com.) She spent the summer studying Japanese at Doshisha University.

“It is one thing to enter another’s world with a camera or a pen and quickly take away with you what you find. It is quite another to immerse yourself in that world as Bessie has done, to come to know your subject and yourself through the work,” said Ronald Rosbottom, professor of French and European studies and chair of Amherst’s Faculty Committee on Student Fellowships, of Young’s approach to her studies. “Her ability to see herself as part of a larger community, but still integral, is rare and is what allowed her to make this body of work… She will make the world a better place for us all and she deserves every possible bit of support we can give her.”

During her time at Amherst, Young served as a teaching assistant in the “Psychology of Aging” course, a student liaison to the local senior center and founder and president of a campus group called Ageless, which “aims to build relationships with the senior citizen community and Amherst College through fun intergenerational events and volunteering.” She coordinated volunteer work at the Senior Center for more than 80 Amherst students and organized several “Singing Suppers”—intergenerational dinner parties featuring musical performances. She even created a video of footage of interviews she conducted with local senior citizens for Amherst’s “Collaborative Art” course. (She was also featured in an Amherst magazine piece this past spring.)

Outside of her work with the elderly, Young was very active in extracurricular activities. She acted with the college’s improv group, contributed to various student publications, and worked as an art camp coordinator, tutor, computer center staffer and research assistant for a handful of faculty members. What’s more, she won several awards, including a prestigious Watson Fellowship for a year of independent, purposeful exploration and travel; she declined that award to accept the Luce.

A native of Tewksbury, N.J., and a psychology, art and interdisciplinary triple major at Amherst, she is the daughter of Nancy and Tom Young. She graduated from college summa cum laude with distinction and received the Hasse Prize in fine arts.

Launched in 1998 with an endowment from the Government of Ireland, the Mitchell Scholarship recognizes outstanding young Americans who exhibit the highest standards of academic excellence, leadership, and community service. The scholarship, administered by the US-Ireland Alliance, is named in honor of the pivotal role the former U.S. Senator from Maine played in the Northern Ireland peace process.

A reception for Young and her fellow finalists was held at the Irish Embassy in Washington, D.C. on Nov. 18. Guests included alumni of the Mitchell program, Capitol Hill staffers, Irish and British Embassy diplomats, State Department officials including Dan Baer, the deputy assistant secretary of state democracy, human rights and labor; well-known mediation lawyer Kenneth Feinberg and Carey Parker, former legislative director to the late Senator Edward M. Kennedy.

Irish Ambassador Michael Collins told the assembled guests, “The scholarships that bear Senator Mitchell’s name are a wonderful testament to the contribution the Senator made to peace in Ireland and provide an invaluable platform to connect highly talented young American men and women to Ireland today. The scholarships are important to Ireland and ensure that Ireland and the United States remain connected in a very special and meaningful way.”

Support for the program comes for the U.S. Government (Congress and the Educational and Cultural Affairs Bureau at the Department of State), the Department of Education and Learning in Northern Ireland, the Irish Government, institutions of higher education on the island of Ireland, Cross Atlantic Capital Partners, Becton Dickinson, and others.

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Peter Rooney
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prooney@amherst.edu