Mark Twain Fellowship Sends MU Alumnus to Oxford

New fellowship rewards exceptional Mizzou students and recent graduates.

Published on April 9, 2014

Zach ParolinZach Parolin spent Spring Break during his sophomore year sleeping on the streets of North Texas. The idea behind the five nights of self-induced homelessness was to raise awareness of the issue of youth homelessness and to honor his mother, who was displaced from her biological family during her teenage years.

Both of Parolin’s parents overcame turbulent childhoods before earning college degrees, getting married and raising a family.

“The improbability of my parents’ success has never been lost on me,” Parolin says. “I’ve always believed that I owe it to them, and to our community as a whole, to ensure that all of today’s youth, regardless of background or socioeconomic status, have the same opportunities to grow up and lead productive, meaningful lives.”

A 2012 graduate of the MU School of Journalism, Parolin has been awarded the inaugural Mark Twain Fellowship from Mizzou. The fellowship provides support for Mizzou students and recent alumni seeking to pursue graduate study abroad in any discipline. It covers full tuition and fees at a foreign university and a stipend for housing, living costs and roundtrip transportation and will allow Parolin to continue his efforts to raise awareness of and prevent youth homelessness.

“Each year, MU nominates top students for prestigious international fellowships, and each year at least some fantastic applicants fail to win,” says Associate Professor of Law Ben Trachtenberg, who chaired the selection committee for the Mark Twain Fellowship. “This allows the university to recognize excellent performance by an outstanding student or recent alum.”

Trachtenberg and the MU Fellowships Office hope this award will encourage more top students to participate in the fellowships application process.

Parolin will study and conduct research in the University of Oxford Comparative Social Policy program. His particular research interests include the psychological effects of childhood poverty and international intervention models to prevent youth homelessness.

During a visit to a Columbia children’s emergency shelter, Parolin learned that nearly 200 children and teenagers within the city’s public school district identified as “homeless,” meaning they were either on the streets, living in motels or doubling up with other families.

Parolin and a few of his friends decided to do something about it. They founded Project Sol, a campus organization working hand-in-hand with Rainbow House, a local emergency shelter for at-risk and runaway youth.

Project Sol mentored 198 homeless children and teenagers in two years. The program also developed an awareness campaign that educated students on the prevalence of youth homelessness and child poverty.

“This type of frontline support generated my passion for social policy and my desire to influence the structural factors that inhibit so many of these youth from reaching their full potential,” he says.

His aspiration to contribute to the end of youth homelessness, led him to pursue the Mark Twain Fellowship.

“I’ll be able to work with some of the world’s most renowned social policy academics to develop a thesis, write a dissertation and conduct research throughout Europe,” Parolin says.

The timing could not be more appropriate, as the UK is undergoing a massive reform of its welfare programs that will affect nearly all low-income residents within the country. Parolin would like to get involved with the evaluation efforts and assess the controversial transformation.

In addition to Project Sol, Parolin coached a Special Olympics basketball team, served as a campus tour guide and led the 75-member Alumni Association Student Board while attending MU. He was inducted into Mizzou’s oldest secret honors society, QEBH, and was voted Homecoming King during his senior year.

After graduating from the University of Missouri, Parolin worked with the Australian Baseball League for one season before moving to Washington, D.C., to research comparative welfare systems at the George Washington Institute of Public Policy and to manage strategic partnerships for the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition.

“Zach represents everything Mizzou hopes to see in its best students,” Trachtenberg says.

Selection criteria for the Mark Twain Fellowship include academic achievement, leadership, service and character. Students who apply for a Rhodes, Marshall, Mitchell, Fulbright, Gates Cambridge, National Science Foundation, Churchill or a comparable nationally-recognized fellowship program who are not awarded such fellowships may apply for the Mark Twain Award. Thirty-three students were eligible this year.

Among the finalists for the 2014 Mark Twain Award was one alumna—Rebecca Dale, who earned a degree in international studies in 2011. The three other finalists, who will all graduate in May, were nutrition and fitness major Ryan Branson, bioengineering major Claire Spradling and political science and geography major Peter Thommesen.

The desired international areas of study for the finalists included eating disorders among men in the United States and the United Kingdom, the boundaries of lands and resources claimed by indigenous peoples in Africa, technology entrepreneurship in the field of medical device engineering and the politics of South Korea.

“The finalists exemplified the breadth of excellence achieved at Mizzou,” Trachtenberg says. “To have fantastic applicants from such disparate areas of study was exciting and impressive.”