This year's winner of Davidson's W. Thomas Smith Scholarship, Alyssa Bryan '17, will spend a year at the London School of Economics completing a master's degree in development management.
Unique to Davidson, the Smith Scholarship is designed similarly to prestigious national postgraduate awards such as Rhodes, Marshall, Luce and Fulbright scholarships. The award provides all expenses for two consecutive semesters of study at a major university outside of the United States.
When she was only 14 years old, Bryan conducted research on fetal exposure to malaria in Kenya in a lab at Case Western Reserve University.
Lesson learned: "Data matters, because data is people."
That understanding grew with her education, she wrote in her Smith application essay: "Recognizing the paramount importance of structure for sustained growth, I expanded my focus from the micro-level of immunology to examining the political institutions framing communities' experiences."
A Belk Scholar who double-majored in economics and political science, Bryan studied global development investment in Beijing.
The lessons she learned there were more complex: "A host of other factors can obscure the true effect of aid–democracy being one such variable that many political scientists argue contributes to growth. However, I found that, on average, autocracies benefit marginally more from foreign investment than do democracies and, in the post-Cold War period, receiving World Bank funds could actually increase levels of domestic conflict."
She perfected her French through Davidson's study abroad program in Tours, France, and then lived in the nation's capital for the Davidson in Washington summer program.
"By the end of summer, my focus returned to where I had begun: individual stories, individual circumstances, aggregating to create macro-level crises," she said. "This is the area of development research that I find most intriguing–the use of micro-level decision frameworks to generate macro-level outcomes for cities, regions, even countries."
From micro to macro and back again is how her mind works. Whether she's examining the "utility function" of assumptions around U.S. healthcare and the European Union or just idly ciphering aloud on a road-trip with her boyfriend about dead-weight-loss stats for trucking companies, Bryan's endless mental energy flows across flash points like electricity across a spark-plug gap.
"I hate the idea of bucketing myself into a specific industry. It's one of the biggest problems we have in the world today," she said. "There are very few people who bridge the gap. I would like to bridge that gap."
A year from now, armed with her M.Sc. from the London School of Economics, Bryan will return to the United States and to a job waiting at global consulting firm McKinsey & Co.
There, her education will continue.
"The thing that I love about the work that I'm going to be doing," she said, "is they very much encourage you to explore their areas of deep expertise by industry and function, and to find something you're truly passionate about."