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Barksdale Award winners head to Scotland this summer

By Rebecca Lauck Cleary

Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College students Neal McMillin (left) and Hunter Nicholson are heading to Scotland this summer as Barksdale Award winners. Photo by Kevin Bain.

Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College students Neal McMillin (left) and Hunter Nicholson are heading to Scotland this summer as Barksdale Award winners. Photo by Kevin Bain.

Two University of Mississippi students have been selected to travel to Scotland this summer to pursue their dreams.

Neal McMillin of Madison and Hunter Nicholson of Brandon, both juniors in the UM Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College, are the 2013 winners of the Barksdale Awards.

The $5,000 award supports creative, courageous projects developed by students who are willing to take risks with their time and efforts and who propose ambitious, independent programs of study, research or humanitarian work. The Barksdale awards were established in 2005 to encourage students to test themselves in environments that don’t have the built-in safeties of a classroom, teaching lab or library.

McMillin and Nicholson are the 13th and 14th students to win Barksdale Awards, and they will be eyewitnesses to an explosive conjunction of place and time, said Douglass Sullivan-González, dean of the Honors College.

“Separately, Neal and Hunter will be traveling all around Scotland at a moment when history is taking shape environmentally and constitutionally,” Sullivan-González said. “In these Barksdale winners, we see two citizen-scholars intent on combining high-level academic research with a boots-on-the-ground approach to understanding complex situations from richly human perspectives. Combine that with both students’ high regard and deep affection for the Scottish people, and I think anyone can see the possibility of work that will transform the witness even while it records the moment.”

McMillin will be investigating developments in Scotland’s wave and tidal renewable energy industry. He will meet with public officials, leaders in university environmental centers and renewable energy businesspersons, while visiting key development sites. These experiences will inform his thesis as he explores the circumstances surrounding times when two historically underdeveloped areas, Scotland and the American South in the 1930s, became leaders in hydroelectric innovation.

As a competitive swimmer and lifeguard, McMillin has had a lifelong interest in the water that developed into a new, personalized concern for the environment.

“I’m inspired by Scotland’s pioneering use of the ocean for renewable energy,” said McMillin, a double major in Southern studies and economics. “My proposed project will juxtapose the cultural significance of Scotland’s contemporary wave and tidal technology with the Depression-era South’s hydroelectric dams. I will analyze the circumstances that contributed to the peculiar state of affairs in which these historically underdeveloped regions emerged as the vanguard of innovation in hydroelectricity.”

McMillin, a Newman and Barnard Scholar, said the Barksdale award gives him an opportunity to return to the birthplace of his personal environmental awakening.

“Through the venture and the thesis, I will gain a wise perspective on the intricacies of humanity’s crucial relationship with water,” McMillin said.

Nicholson, majoring in accountancy, Spanish and public policy leadership, will travel to Scotland to find out why financial autonomy is so important to Scotland that it would seek to break away from the United Kingdom. He will interview business, political and academic leaders to understand the financial significance of independence. Perhaps more important to him, though, is to ask his questions of the average Scot.

“Last fall, I went to Edinburgh, Scotland, kind of on a whim, to intern with the Scottish Parliament,” Nicholson said. “I happened to be placed with Stewart Maxwell of Glasgow, a member of the Scottish Nationalist party, which is in charge of the Parliament right now. Their main goal is to make Scotland an independent country. After spending 10 weeks with him, it was just so apparent how important it was to him and his party, and to a lot of other Scots.”

Nicholson, a Trent Lott Leadership Scholar, Taylor Medalist and a finalist in PriceWaterhouseCoopers national case competition, decided to return to Scotland and conduct in-depth research on the independence movement and then write his honors thesis about what he discovers.

“There will be a referendum next fall where all Scots will vote on whether they want to be an independent country or not,” Nicholson said. “Who knows whether or not they will say yes, but it is an exciting time in Scottish history and to even be able to sit there while it’s happening is a great honor, and I am excited to go back.”

The two winners were announced at the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College spring convocation Feb. 5, featuring political columnist George Will.

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