Math Major Selected as Marshall Scholarship Finalist

Posted: November 8, 2012 at 3:30 pm, Last Updated: November 13, 2012 at 2:25 pm

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By Frances Womble

Esther Jackson. Photo by Heather Anderson

Like many college seniors, Esther Jackson is trying to make postgraduate plans. And like many of her peers, Jackson, who is majoring in mathematics with an emphasis on actuarial science and a minor in music, is preparing for an interview that may decide her future.

However, this isn’t an interview for a job or even entry into the usual graduate program. Instead, Jackson faces the final step in determining whether or not she will receive a prestigious scholarship that will enable her to study in Glasgow, Scotland, while pursuing graduate degrees in financial risk and international banking and finance.

Jackson is a finalist for a Marshall Scholarship, a program founded by British Parliament that annually selects 40 U.S. students to pursue graduate studies in the United Kingdom. The scholarship provides all expenses for up to three academic years. The scholars are selected based on their academic merit, leadership potential and the ability to make a positive contribution to society.

Anthony Hoefer, the director of the University Scholars Program, and LaNitra Berger, the director of the Office of Fellowships in the Honors College, encouraged Jackson to apply.

“The Honors College provided tremendous support throughout the entire application process. Dr. Berger has been there for me every step of the way,” says Jackson.

“If selected as a Marshall Scholar, Esther Jackson will be a phenomenal ambassador for both George Mason University and the United States,” says Berger. “Esther is among the most intelligent yet humble students I have worked with at Mason. Her community service and her mathematics research have changed the way people view the role of math in their daily lives.”

A Path to Math

Jackson in class. Photo by Evan Cantwell

Becoming a Marshall Scholar finalist has been years in the making for Jackson.

Math first sparked Jackson’s interest when she was in elementary school, and she says learning to play the piano at a young age taught her self-discipline. In middle school, she competed in regional math competitions. But participating in a high school summer actuarial program at Howard University, where she studied the financial impact of risk and uncertainty, really opened her eyes.

“It was there that I was introduced to the field of risk assessment,” Jackson says. “I learned how vital this field is to our economic stability. I sought to explore risk assessment within financial markets. This is why I came to Mason. It is one of the few schools with an advanced program in actuarial science.”

In her four years at Mason, Jackson has conducted research funded by a grant through the National Science Foundation, served as a robotics instructor for the African and African American Studies’ Paul Robeson Academy, coached a middle school math team under a grant from the Virginia Department of Education and tutored struggling math students at another local middle school.

In addition, she is the vice president of the Association for Women in Mathematics graduate chapter on campus and supports events that bring younger students to campus and pique their interest in math.

“This is important for furthering development and interest in math and science-related fields. We are providing educational resources to students who may not otherwise have access to this support,” says Jackson.

Six Months, 15 Drafts

Jackson’s professors report that she is a dedicated student.

“I am thrilled that Esther has made the finals of the Marshall Scholarship selection process,” says Kathleen Alligood, associate dean and professor of mathematical sciences in the Honors College. “As an Honors student and University Scholar, she has an outstanding academic record and an active ongoing research program in financial mathematics. In addition, Esther has a presence to which people immediately respond. Whatever she does, she takes the time to show kindness and respect for others.”

Jackson began the application process for the Marshall Scholarship in May and went through 15 drafts before reaching the final version.

She sent in her application in mid-October and expected to hear if she was a finalist by the last week in October.

“I’d check my email pretty much every hour. When the email finally came in, I was driving. I had to pull over, I was so excited.”

After learning she had made it to the next step, Jackson said she immediately began calling everyone who had helped her.

The final step in the process is a 30-minute interview on Nov. 9 at the British Embassy.

“The faculty and staff have poured out a wealth of support. Professors offer their time to hold mock interviews, sharing advice and expertise. At the same time, I have to balance my schoolwork and other commitments while staying focused,” Jackson admits.

“In working with Esther to prepare for her upcoming interview, I have observed her grace, keen intellect and tremendous leadership potential. I am confident that she represents the best that George Mason University can offer in its undergraduates,” Berger says.

Write to Robin Herron at

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