By Charles Martin
Marian Royston’s small town upbringing helped create in her a strong sense of community and the desire to combine traditional ways of life with new ideas to help rural communities thrive. She is taking those lessons from life in Roanoke, Alabama, and traveling to Northern Ireland next year as one of only 12 U.S. students selected for a prestigious Mitchell Scholarship.
As Auburn’s first recipient, she will pursue a master’s degree in leadership for sustainable rural development at Queens University of Belfast. The scholarship program, named to honor former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell's contribution to the Northern Ireland peace process, selects students for their scholarship, leadership and commitment to community and public service.
She says her family has taught her the responsibility of contributing to society in a meaningful way. One of her biggest influences was her grandmother, affectionately called "G-Mama," who passed away at age 88 just two days before Marian was named a semifinalist.
"She always thought of others," Marian said. "She was a Sunday school teacher, a hospice volunteer, worked at the food bank and gathered clothes for others. She was always a good neighbor. Her influence helped motivate me to get involved in community service."
At Auburn, Marian is an Honors College student who will graduate in May with a degree in history and a double minor in political science and community and civic engagement in the College of Liberal Arts.
"Entering Auburn, I knew I wanted to prepare myself to positively influence the lives of others living in rural towns like my hometown of Roanoke, so I decided on a career in public interest law," said Marian, who is interning this semester in the U.S. District Court in Montgomery.
Sacrificing the limited free time of a college student, and not waiting for an "assignment," she has sought out opportunities.
Through the College of Liberal Arts, she mentors young people with the Macon Youth Development Initiative in Macon County, Alabama; she has participated in the Appalachian Community Development Alternative Spring Break in which she helped transcribe mountain dialect for an oral history project; and last summer she was a Living Democracy Fellow in Hobson City, Alabama’s first African-American municipality. She is also the youngest member by 15 years in the Pilot Club of Opelika.
Perhaps most notable, she is a resident assistant for a floor of 36 boys in a residence hall for Honors College students. "My residents were some of my biggest sources of encouragement in the application process for the Mitchell Scholarship," Marian said.
This fall she will say goodbye to family and friends and begin her adventure overseas in Northern Ireland, where she will take classes for two semesters and work 16 weeks in rural areas.
"I will have Irish roommates in an on-campus apartment," she said. "For my work program, I hope to work for an agency to help solve social issues in rural areas, such as poverty, education and access to health care.
"I believe Northern Ireland’s past conflicts mirror some of the racial situations that have existed in the United States and still exist in some areas. I want to help bring people together because a strong community makes a strong country.
"My dream job is to someday work with the USDA and help rural communities."
Last Updated: Feb. 15, 2013