of Delaware students Micah Petersen and Matthew Rojas use the same word
over and over as they talk about their personal experiences and goals
and the opportunities they see in becoming Schwarzman Scholars. The word
The two seniors, both Honors Program students and Eugene du Pont
Memorial Scholars at UD, are among 129 men and women chosen from more
than 2,700 applicants for the Schwarzman Class of 2018.
The group — composed of students from 30 countries and 75
universities, with 45 percent from the United States and 20 percent from
China — will study at Beijing’s Tsinghua University, one of China’s
premier institutions, beginning in August. Scholars choose classes from
three areas of concentration and earn a master’s degree in the one-year
program, which is taught in English.
“When I started at UD, I became aware of various distinguished
scholar programs [such as the Rhodes, Marshall and Truman Scholarships],
and I read about the incredible experiences that previous winners of
them had,” said Rojas, who has undergraduate majors in public policy and
“Then, when I learned about the Schwarzman, it seemed like a great
opportunity. I really believe in the mission of making future leaders
cognizant of global issues and having the chance to live and learn with
top scholars from around the world.”
Petersen said he was in seventh or eighth grade when he became
interested in becoming a Rhodes Scholar someday. But, with double
undergraduate majors in Chinese studies and international relations and a
concurrent master’s degree in geography at UD, he immediately saw the Schwarzman as made to order for him.
“With my interest in China and in pursuing leadership opportunities,
this could not have been a more perfect fit for me,” said Petersen, an
Army ROTC cadet who will become an active-duty infantry officer after
completing his year at Tsinghua University.
“The academic component is important to me, but so is the focus on
building relationships among people they believe will be leaders in the
future. As this program continues, there will be thousands of us alumni
who will know each other personally or had similar experiences, and I
think that can be a huge benefit to everyone.”
Petersen and Rojas are certainly correct in their assessment of what
the program is seeking when it selects a class of Schwarzman Scholars,
said Kristin Bennighoff, senior associate director of the University Honors Program and the campus contact for the Schwarzman and other major scholarship programs.
“It is clear that Schwarzman Scholars is looking for outstanding
leadership first and foremost, along with excellent academics, good
character and an interest in public policy, business and economics or
international studies,” Bennighoff said. “Both Micah and Matt have a
great combination of nonprofit initiatives, on-campus involvement and
Petersen, from Houston, Texas, first began learning the Chinese
language as a freshman at UD. Since then, he’s taken numerous classes in
Chinese studies and spent nine weeks in China in summer 2015, speaking
only Chinese, through Project GO (Global Officers) for selected ROTC
Today, he said, he can hold his own in conversation — though he
declined to use the word “fluent” — and is working hard at reading and
writing Chinese characters. During Winter Session this year, he’ll
interview Chinese migrants in Mozambique as research for his master’s
thesis on Chinese-African racial issues.
China is “a country that’s so far from us but in some ways very
similar” and clearly will remain a key player in future global affairs,
Among his many academic, public service and extracurricular
activities, Petersen is a founder of the nonprofit Reviresco, which
works to educate civilians about ways to support military personnel;
commander of UD’s Army ROTC Sandhurst and Ranger Challenge Team;
director general of HenMUN, a model United Nations program; president of
the Veritas Forum speaker series that brings together distinguished
scholars in the scientific and religious communities; and founder and
president of MDP Bowties, making and selling hand-crafted bowties.
He has won numerous awards related to his ROTC leadership and service and to his academic work.
Rojas, from Commack, New York, said his interest in China arose from
his studies in economics and public policy and the realization of that
nation’s growing importance in the world. He was “intellectually
curious,” he said, and began taking some classes in Chinese language and
Another interest, in international affairs and leadership, motivated
Rojas to work toward a goal of becoming a Marine Corps officer. He
attended Officer Candidates School to begin preparing for that role, and
expects to complete the training after returning from his year in
“I was 7 when 9/11 happened, and since I lived on Long Island, it
always felt very personal to me,” Rojas said. “I started thinking about
military training as an experience to advance my leadership skills and
for character development.”
Rojas is president of the Student Government Association, co-founder
of the Better Block Wilmington neighborhood transformation initiative,
an active mentor with Big Brothers Big Sisters and founder and president
of the Lazarus Rising organization, which combats homelessness through
the services of college volunteers.
He received a 2016 UD Hutchinson Scholar Award for top economics
students, a Jefferson Awards Foundation GlobeChanger Award and a city of
Newark LEAD360 Challenge Award and was selected in 2015 to participate
in the Clinton Global Initiative.
Both Petersen and Rojas have been active with UD’s Horn Program in Entrepreneurship.
The nonprofits Reviresco and Lazarus Rising have been part of the
Horn’s VentureOn program, and both students credit the program for its
Bennighoff described herself as proud to have worked with Rojas and Petersen.
“I have known them both during their entire college careers at UD,
and it has been wonderful to see what they have accomplished during
their time here,” she said. “Their selection is not only a recognition
of their accomplishments, but also a reflection of the University of
Delaware's ability to provide resources and opportunities for students
to reach their full potential.”
More about the Schwarzman Scholarship and UD
The Schwarzman Scholars
program, founded by Blackstone Chairman, CEO and co-founder Stephen A.
Schwarzman and inspired by the Rhodes Scholarship, enrolled its first
class last year. That group will complete its studies in August.
Schwarzman Scholars are selected in a rigorous screening process that
seeks to identify exceptional men and women who are expected to become
future leaders and to confront the most difficult challenges of the
coming century. Expenses for each scholar are fully funded by the
At UD, Bennighoff has an advisory role for any undergraduate who
pursues a major scholarship program such as the Schwarzman and writes
institutional assessment letters for those candidates.
The Honors Program helps guide candidates through their extensive
application preparation process, including practice interviews conducted
with the help of faculty, alumni and friends of the program. Bennighoff
especially credited Ray Peters, the program’s assistant director, for
helping prepare students for the scholarships.
Candidates for the Schwarzman Scholarship can apply during their
senior year or after graduation up to age 29. Current undergraduates
must have an institutional evaluation included with their applications,
and UD goes through the selection process of candidates late in the
spring semester of their junior year.
Article by Ann Manser; photos by Kathy F. Atkinson