Mary Wurtz speaks at TEDxBellarmineU on March 1, 2019.
A Bellarmine University senior whose dream is to help unify the Korean peninsula won a highly selective fellowship designed to prepare future leaders to meet the geopolitical challenges of the 21st century.
Mary Wurtz of Crestview Hills, Ky., is scheduled to head to China in August for a year at Tsinghua University in Beijing as one of 145 Schwarzman Scholars (although the start date may be delayed by the coronavirus outbreak). The program, now in its fifth
year, was inspired by the Rhodes Scholarship.
Wurtz, who will graduate from Bellarmine in May with degrees in foreign languages & international studies (FLIS) and theology and a minor in refugee studies, will earn a master’s degree in global affairs during the one-year program, which has
a curriculum devised by academic leaders from universities such as Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and Oxford.
“I hope that I can be a bridge of understanding for people between these two countries that have a lot of tension about them right now,” she said.
The 2021 Schwarzman Scholars were selected from more than 4,700 applicants after a rigorous application and interview process and represent 41 countries and 108 universities. They include a five-time Carnegie Hall pianist; a machinist and welder who built
shelters for more than 26,000 earthquake victims in Nepal; one of the BBC’s Most Inspiring Women of the Year; and the CEO of a company from Syria that provides 3D-printed prosthetics to refugees.
“I am inspired by these remarkable, accomplished and dynamic young individuals who will be joining Schwarzman Scholars at a time when its mission is more important than ever,” Stephen A. Schwarzman, founding trustee of Schwarzman Scholars,
said in a news release. “I am excited to see … how they will apply themselves as people of consequence in their generation.”
Wurtz is part of a select group of students who were awarded full-ride, four-year scholarships to Bellarmine as Bellarmine Scholars. She was twice elected by her peers to serve on the Honors Student Advisory Board, including a term as president in 2017-18
during which she helped establish new service partnerships with local non-profits and co-authored a bill that secured funding for undergraduate research. As an intern with the World Affairs Council of Kentucky and Southern Indiana, she wrote a proposal
for an NGO that brought more than a dozen English as a Second Language teachers from other countries to Louisville for professional development.
In March 2019, she was one of 16 speakers at Bellarmine’s inaugural TEDx event; her topic was “A Second Soul: Love as the World's Lingua Franca.”
“Mary is a shining example of the well-roundedness that liberal arts institutions strive to inculcate in their students, inclusive of the level of deep thinking so vital to ethical leadership,” Dr. Justin Klassen, chair of Bellarmine’s
Liberal Studies program, wrote in his letter nominating Wurtz as a Schwarzman Scholar.
Wurtz said she was drawn to Bellarmine by the opportunity to do research through the Honors Program and by the FLIS major, in which students master a foreign language while also developing global competency through study-abroad experiences and a diverse
selection of courses such as international relations, human geography, world religions and intercultural communications.
She speaks Spanish fluently—she was interpreting for Spanish-speaking clients to Bellarmine’s free physical therapy clinic before a recent interview—has taken Japanese courses at Bellarmine and has done self-study of Korean.
She has been interested in the Korean conflict since she befriended South Korean students at her high school in Northern Kentucky, which had a large international population.
“Being friends with people from South Korea made me realize what a distorted view of North Korea we have here,” she said. “When I’ve been on interviews, a question that I’m asked a lot is, if you could try to get across one
thing about North Korea to people, what would you want them to know? And I always say, ‘There are 20 million people living in North Korea, and they’re not all named Kim Jung-on.’”
Egregious human-rights violations are certainly occurring on the peninsula, she said, “but it’s not all gloom and doom. There are people my age who have crushes, and they like watching TV and movies, and they have dreams about what they want
to do when they grow up—you know, they’re just normal 22-year-olds like me. That’s what got me first interested in working towards peace on the peninsula—with the caveat that I’m an American and my country helped make
this problem. I’m not trying to be the savior, but it’s important to me.”
Her “big, crazy, pie-in-the-sky dream” would be to be the first ambassador to a united Korea, she said. But in the meantime, “I would really like to get into policy research. … I’d love to be someone who influences policy
for a while before I have the résumé to run for office [in Kentucky] myself.”
Dr. Nelson López, chair of the Department of Global Languages and Cultures, says she is “someone to watch.”
“What has made Mary so successful is her drive and determination to embody our Bellarmine motto: ‘For the love of truth’—not loving the truth we want to hear; rather, the truth we seek, the truth that will lead us to fairness and
justice for all,” he said. “She argues marvelously both in English and Spanish for these and other causes. It may sound pretty idealistic, but in Mary I see her actions grounded in reality, infused by her wit, her keen mind, and humble
candor. Her success speaks volumes.”
Wurtz is quick to credit her professors as well. “I’ve always found professors who wanted to help me find challenges and who have sent me stuff: ‘Oh, have you heard about this,’ or ‘Oh, you should definitely apply for this.’
The faculty are so willing to go above and beyond to make your Bellarmine experience your Bellarmine experience, and not anybody else’s. You get these hands-on experiences and have people willing to help you do whatever it takes to succeed.”
As for her goals in Beijing, she says she hope to gain an “in-depth, insider” understanding of China.
“Like North Korea, it’s one of these places you hear about: ‘The Chinese this, the Chinese that,’ and it’s like, there’s a billion human people living there who fall in love, and who go to school, and who have passions
and dreams and aspirations for their future. They’re complex people with complex lives, just like me and you,” she said. “So I really hope that I can learn as much as I can about the different political and social issues there and
bring that back to the United States so that when I hear someone go, ‘Man, the Chinese are going to beat us in this,’ I can go, ‘Well, the Chinese are a billion people, and they’re actually kind of interesting—let me
tell you a bit about their culture.’”