Ryan Brown, Trinity '11, was announced as one of 18 winners of the Luce Scholarship for 2014-2015.
Brown has spent the years since her graduation in South Africa on a Fulbright Scholarship, publishing a biography on South African journalist Nat Nakasa and writing for the Christian Science Monitor. She is currently working towards a Master's in African studies at the University of Oxford to be completed in June. The Luce Scholarship is a national fellowship that is awarded annually to college graduates under age 30 who have had minimal experience with Asia and Asian studies in order to increase understanding of the region in future American leaders.
Brown, a former Chronicle staff writer, said a major reason why she decided to apply for the Luce Scholarship was because her time in South Africa allowed her to realize how interlinked contemporary Africa and Asia are.
“I thought it’d be really useful for someone who wants to be a journalist in Africa to spend some time in Asia, learning a language, getting cultural immersion, working,” Brown said. “And I also thought it’d be an adventure.”
The Chinatown and Chinese mining companies Brown saw in Johannesburg particularly intrigued her, she said.
“Because of my own ignorance of the world, I wasn’t expecting to go to a big African city and see a Chinatown,” Brown said. “Seeing the Chinese mining companies sparked up this interest, made me very curious about the interrelations between these two parts of the world.”
Luce Scholars attend an orientation in June and language training in July and August, after which they are individually placed in Asian countries from September through July of the next year.
Brown said she will be reporting for an English language newspaper most likely in a Chinese speaking region, although her exact country and placement have yet to be determined. She hopes to learn Mandarin and learn about the local culture so she can write about Chinese-African relationships in a fair and accurate way, she said.
Brown noted that she previously applied for the Luce Scholarship as a senior at Duke and was denied.
“I just wanted the Luce because I wanted to go abroad,” Brown said. “After I got rejected from it, I went on with my life but I always kept the fellowship in my head. Three years later, I had a much more coherent sense of what I might want to do with it, so I applied again.”
Brown’s honors thesis adviser Karin Shapiro, associate professor of the practice of African and African American studies, described Brown as incredibly dedicated, tremendously enthusiastic about her work and an “imaginative, prodigious and dogged” researcher.
“She was trying to get material on Nat Nakasa, and she managed to get the South African police file on him, filed a Freedom of Information request with the FBI, got in touch with his remaining family and colleagues,” Shapiro said. “She has a very compelling and good reason to go [to Asia]…she’ll be great.”
Rose Filler, Trinity ’11 and a friend of Brown's who also had Shapiro as an adviser, echoed Shapiro’s sentiments. She described Brown as intellectual, thoughtful and curious.
“She’s just a really exceptional person, as a student, and any scholarship she gets I would be not surprised about,” Filler said. “She’s the kind of person that gets along with anyone, so she’ll adapt and find good relationships with people [in Asia] regardless of their superficial differences.”Brown is the ninth Duke alumnus to receive the scholarship since it was created in 1974, and the first since 2007.
“When you go to a new place, everything is unusual and interesting—that’s the moment for me when I get the most story ideas, when I feel most excited,” Brown said. “I’m just really excited to go to a part of the world that I’ve never explored and see what kind of cool new stories I’m going to find there.”