Obama Scholarship Recipient Mary Hurner ’24 Examines Refugee Issues

Hurner was recently named as the first recipient of the Obama-Chesky Scholarship for Public Service, often known as the Voyager Scholarship. The fellowship provided her with a $10,000 stipend as well as free Airbnb housing to pursue her own work-travel combination.

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Hurner, a public policy major from Heber City, Utah, knew she wanted her research to focus on refugee difficulties. Her interest in asylum and refugee resettlement began during her sophomore year at Hamilton as a COOP (Community Outreach & Opportunity Project) service intern. “That internship was my first experience working with refugees directly, and sparked my interest in learning more about international refugee policy and aid,” she told me. Hurner is now a COOP Senior Fellow, advising a new CSI cohort four years later.

“Because I had worked on the resettlement side at The Center (formerly Resource Center for Refugees in the Mohawk Valley), I was now looking to engage with people who were still going through the asylum-seeking process before they were resettled in their new country,” she said.

Hurner began her Voyager Scholarship assignment in Nicosia, Cyprus, with Refugee Support Europe, where she assisted with the operation of their Dignity Center and the processing of labor card applications. Hurner flew to Calais, France, after a brief respite for a Levitt Center trip to Ireland, where she connected her experience to Irish refugee and migration history. She worked with Collective Aid to assist asylum seekers by performing administrative activities and providing English classes.

Hurner spent her spring semester prior to her project participating in the Hamilton in France program. “The skills I learned at Hamilton in France definitely applied to my summer because it is so important for these organizations to have French speakers who can clearly communicate aspects of bureaucracy,” she said, adding that in Cyprus, she worked with many asylum seekers from French-speaking African countries.

Hurner underlined two crucial takeaways from her summer: the people you meet can be just as influential as the work you perform, and it is beneficial to be flexible in your interests and ambitions during these formative years at Hamilton. Hurner is excited to educate the new COOP CSIs about her Voyager experience and show students how limitless their potential may be as a COOP Senior Fellow.

Hurner has returned to Capitol Hill and is enrolled in the Fall 2023 Justice Lab, which focuses on human rights. Her summer work acted as a trigger for her involvement in this program, shifting her attention from a more “on the ground” approach to an academic view of asylum and immigration concerns.

Hurner is exploring numerous post-graduate fellowships that would allow her to travel and undertake independent study as she prepares to graduate from Hamilton in May. She also wants to get active in local governance in order “to make a tangible difference and engage directly with local citizens.”

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