Dakota Foster

To understand Dakota Foster ’18’s path to becoming a Marshall Scholar, you have to go back to the Civil War.

Or, at least, to a reenactment on an elementary school soccer field in Brunswick, Maine. Foster—or, as she was known that day, Gen. Ulysses S. Grant—was in fifth grade, and a class lesson on the Civil War culminated in a schoolyard battle, sparking her interest in politics, war and public service.

Foster is now among 43 students nationwide awarded a 2018 Marshall Scholarship—named for another U.S. general, George Marshall. Founded in 1953, the scholarship program funds graduate study for American students in the United Kingdom. The list of previous Marshall Scholars includes two Supreme Court justices, a Nobel laureate and a NASA astronaut.

Foster will initially pursue a master’s in war studies at King’s College London, and for her second year, she plans to study international relations at either Cambridge University or the London School of Economics.

A double major in political science and Asian languages and civilizations, Foster is interested in a career in national security. She would like to work for the U.S. State Department, Department of Defense or National Security Council. Her dream job: national security adviser.

Foster grew up in Brunswick—a college town that was home for many years to a naval air station—feeling the importance of service. She says the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan influenced her academic interests, leading her to ask, “Why are we fighting? How? Against whom?”

“Ours is no longer a world of one-dimensional threats,” she wrote in her Marshall application. “We increasingly live in a multi-threat world, including the rise of non-state actors, the return of foreign fighters, climate change, and the growth of cyber warfare. It will become more and more difficult to combat these threats independently.”

Foster’s favorite Amherst courses have included one on nuclear security and others in Arabic language. Last summer she interned at the U.S. Army’s Combating Terrorism Center. “Part of my work was looking at foreign fighters,” she says. “We had data from youth who were going to fight for ISIS in Iraq and Syria. [We were] analyzing that data, seeing what factors were driving these kids.”

Foster has also interned with the U.S. House of Representatives and the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

At Amherst she was the only first-year hired as a peer diversity educator. She’s been co-president of the Amherst Political Union, co-captain of women’s lacrosse and a member of the College Discipline Committee.

The leaders of tomorrow, Foster believes, “must be able to think globally.” They must possess the insight to evaluate complex problems from not just one perspective, but many.