The Select Few

This year's Mansfield students

Standing, from left (all class of 2016): Frank Vitale IV, Courtney Helt, Xueyin Zha and Abigail Preston. Sitting, from left: Elizabeth Lanigan and Shayna Solomon. Photo by Carl Socolow '77.

Next fall, Dickinson will send more students to Oxford’s Mansfield College than in previous years combined

by Tony Moore 

Nearly one-fifth of the students in the University of Oxford's prestigious Mansfield College Visiting Student Programme next fall will be Dickinsonians. Made up of roughly 35 students "from Ivy League and other top U.S. Institutions" each year, the program recently announced that six Dickinson students, all class of 2016, have been accepted into the 2014 program.

Independent study

The yearlong program sets the bar high—only students with a 3.7 or higher GPA are considered—but Dickinson raised that bar, as the six students accepted into the program, all sophomores, each have a 3.9 or higher, showing just how competitive, and how intellectually enticing, the program is.

“Some of the students are really warming to or craving the possibility of beginning to frame their own inquiry more deeply—to be in charge of their education,” says Wendy Moffat, professor of English and faculty coordinator for the Dickinson at Oxford program. This idea of taking the reins of one’s education is one that echoes from student to student as they discuss Mansfield.

“The level of independence afforded by the program as well as Oxford's world-class faculty helped me become a better writer, thinker and researcher,” says Martin de Bourmont ’14, who was one of two students to head off to Oxford when Dickinson joined the Visiting Student Programme two years ago.

The tutorial system embraced by Oxford is what helps cultivate this independence, and students will find that their studies are directed by individual academic pursuits, and discussions with professors and small groups are the norm.

Displaced, in a good way

Finding themselves in a wholly new environment, as Dickinsonians often do, students look to embrace the unfamiliar and use it to their advantage.

“I'm a historian, and I concentrate in medicine and science,” says Frank Vitale IV. “Mansfield and Oxford have the Wellcome Unit for the History of Medicine as well as the Museum for the History of Science and several tutors in the field of medicine/science. The program gives me the opportunity to visit those museums, use those resources and get ideas for new theses and research projects I could be doing. And it gives me a different perspective.”

That new perspective is something that comes from what Moffat calls displacement.

“I think these students like the idea of displacement and how that will help them understand themselves and what matters to them,” she says, noting that this year more applicants than ever came forward to be "displaced."

"I'm excited to study at Oxford, because I'll have the opportunity to focus deeply on the passions I've developed here at Dickinson," says Abigail Preston, a Russian and political-science major. "It'll be a huge challenge but one that will make us more independent thinkers and scholars, which will be very beneficial after graduation."

“It puts students' intellectual work at the center of the experience,” says Moffat. “The intellectual passion leads the way, and the student is shaping the inquiry much more, which means that if you're passionate about things, you can really dive into them.” 

Read the biographies of the fall 2014 Mansfield students 

Courtney Helt is an English major from Hanover, Pa. She loves to read and write and is able to put these interests to use in her job as a tutor in the Norman M. Eberly Multilingual Writing Center. Courtney is planning to study Charles Dickens, Virginia Woolf and British children’s literature while at Oxford. 

Elizabeth Lanigan is an English and women’s & gender studies major from Rockaway, N.J. She is the executive copy editor for the Dickinson College Science Magazine, abroad chair for Alpha Phi Omega and a member of the Montgomery Service Leaders, through which she interns at Carlisle CARES, one of Carlisle's local homeless shelters. At Dickinson, she has developed equal passions for service and the study of English and women's writing. She is excited to continue her study of English at Mansfield. 

Abigail Preston is a political-science major from Baltimore, Md., who hopes to focus on political philosophy while at Mansfield. At Dickinson, she’s part of the Mock Trial team, a member of Dickinson's chapter of Students for Sensible Drug Policy and a member of Delta Nu.

Active in many political and religious activities on campus, Shayna Solomon is a political-science major from Rockville, Md., with a special interest in the intersection of religion and politics. She is president of the Jewish student organization Hillel, vice president of the social-justice group Students for Social Action and treasurer of the two-state solution (to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict) advocacy group J Street U. She works for the Office of Religious Life on campus and teaches at a Harrisburg religious school.

Currently working on a research project investigating the history of science at Dickinson, Frank Vitale is a history major from Fort Washington, Pa., who concentrates in the study of medical and scientific history. Frank also serves as a Dana intern for the Dickinson Archives & Special Collections, working on the archives’ Carlisle Indian Industrial School Digitization Project.

An international student from Guangzhou, China, Xueyin Zha is a history and sociology major who says her time at Dickinson has been an “extremely enriching experience, personally and intellectually.” She credits the guidance and dedication of her professors and friends and the academic and human resources at Dickinson for enabling her to take part in such opportunities as the Mansfield program. 

Read more

Dickinson at Oxford

Dickinson's global programs overview

Center for Global Study & Engagement 

Published Feb. 24, 2014