Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Rebecca Brett (GLS ’20) is the First NYU Student to Receive the Mitchell Scholarship



Rebecca BrettWhat are you studying at NYU?

I study Global Liberal Studies with a concentration in Politics, Rights and Development and Social and Cultural Analysis with a focus on Gender and Sexuality studies. I spent my freshman year abroad at NYU Florence and my junior year at NYU London.


What is your favorite memory from your time at NYU so far?

When I was a freshman, I had really bad imposter syndrome. I felt too dumb and too poor to keep up with my classmates. Professor Gabriela Dragnea Horvath (2019 recipient of the Liberal Studies Teaching Award for Global Site Faculty) drilled the imposter syndrome out of me with tough love. She shredded my writing to bits with encouragement to go to the NYU Florence Writing Center, and she loved to cold-call on me in class. At the end of my freshman year, after gaining some confidence and a 4.0 GPA, I met with her as I often did in her office. I shared with her that I had always been a perfectionist, and I felt as if my time at NYU was only motivating that desire for perfection even more. She responded, "Why do you think that's a bad thing? Perfection is the goal, excellence is merely tolerated." A true NYU icon. I miss her.

Rebecca Brett: her story continues

You are the first NYU student to ever receive the George J. Mitchell Scholarship. Can you tell us about the scholarship?

This still feels incredibly surreal. I feel like I won't fully understand that I'm a George J. Mitchell scholar until I've actually set foot in Ireland. I kept telling my NYU scholarship advisor (Kurt Davies) that I wasn't qualified and yet he believed in me every step of the process.

The scholarship funds one year of postgraduate study either in the Republic of Ireland or Northern Ireland. You can choose any university in either as well as any degree program. I'll be studying Gender, Globalisation, and Rights at the National University of Ireland, Galway (NUIG). Each year the US-Ireland Alliance chooses 12 scholars to sponsor. The sponsorship is meant to strengthen ties between the United States and Ireland by sending future American leaders to study in Irish universities.


Rebecca Brett teaching a child chess
Rebecca Brett teaching for Chess NYC

You worked with Chess NYC as a student. What was that experience like?

Working full-time as a full-time student is not fun, but doing it made me feel kind of like a superhero. Whenever I'm super busy now or feeling overwhelmed with how little time there is in the day, I remind myself that I've done this a million times before.

Chess NYC is an amazing organization run by Michael Propper. They're involved in schools, prisons, nursing homes, anywhere they feel chess can make a positive impact. I use skills every day that I acquired from being a teacher and executive assistant at Chess NYC.
Rebecca Brett playing chess

Can you tell us about founding the organization Chess For Girls?

Chess NYC was already providing classes specifically designed for female empowerment in the chess community when I was hired. We branded it into a specific class option on chessnyc.com and advertised it more heavily in the weekly email blasts. It was received really well, and the classes filled up super quickly! Now, Chess for Girls is an established component of the Chess NYC curriculum.


What was it like working with Susan Polgar?

Susan Polgar has partnered with Chess NYC for a long time. Being the first ever female grandmaster, Susan has faced a plethora of sexism in her life. Not only has she faced sexism gracefully, but also in a direct and blunt manner that refuses to simply "shrug it off." She sacrifices so much of her time to coach young chess players, particularly young women. I can't say enough about how kind, patient, and sincere she is with every person she meets. She gave out two full ride college scholarships at the last tournament Chess NYC hosted with her!


Do you still play chess?

I play for fun in my free time. For me, playing chess is a really good way to decompress after a long day. I like the feeling of putting all of my brain power into one singular object of study. In a tough chess match, there's no mental space for thinking about other subjects. I'm always sad to hear when someone either doesn't know how to play or never saw the fun in playing chess. When I hear that, I find myself instantly switching into "chess teacher mode."


What are your plans for next year?

Honestly, just to breathe and study. I've always had to work extra jobs while going to NYU, and I'm excited for the opportunity to truly commit all of my time to my Master's program. My family is Irish-American, so Ireland holds a special place in my heart. I'm hoping through the generous sponsorship of the US-Ireland Alliance to implement a community chess program for young girls in Galway. Fingers crossed!
Rebecca Brett at chess competition

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