Winter 2022 Issue

Cultivating Leaders

New study-abroad scholarship at William & Mary honors Gen. Colin Powell

By Tina Eshleman

A Tradition of Service: Gen. Colin L. Powell D.P.S. ’88, P ’85, P ’87, P ’92 (right) is shown with his son, Michael K. Powell ’85, D.P.S. ’02. Both entered the U.S. Army through the ROTC. Photo courtesy of Swem Library Special Collections.

A new scholarship named for the late Gen. Colin L. Powell D.P.S. ’88, P ’85, P ’87, P ’92 will help William & Mary prepare leaders who can emulate his example as a statesman on the world stage.

With $1 million in seed funding from a William & Mary Foundation trustee who wishes to remain anonymous, the university will establish an endowed fund to begin awarding the Colin Powell Global Engagement Scholarship in the 2024-2025 academic year to at least six outstanding students who seek to study abroad. Other donors who wish to give toward the scholarship in tribute to Powell could expand its impact by increasing the number of recipients.

“We are deeply grateful to our trustee for her generosity,” says President Katherine A. Rowe. “Colin Powell dedicated his life to public service and to creating opportunities for young people. His remarkable legacy lives on through this gift. The Powell scholarship will open doors for future leaders to gain the kind of transformative experience that comes from studying abroad.”

Gen. Powell, who passed away on Oct. 18 at age 84, served as national security adviser, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and secretary of state. He broke racial barriers as the first Black American to hold all three positions. The son of Jamaican immigrants, he graduated from the City College of New York and joined the Army through the ROTC. During his 35-year military career, he served two decorated combat tours in Vietnam and rose through the ranks to become a four-star general.

In launching the first scholarship of its kind to be named in Powell’s honor, the W&M Foundation trustee also pays homage to the extraordinary leadership of the general’s son, Michael K. Powell ’85, D.P.S. ’02, at William & Mary. Michael Powell recently ended his term as chair of the W&M Foundation and served on the Board of Visitors from 2001 to 2009, including three years as rector.

“Gen. Powell’s service to our country and his faithfulness to the principles on which it was founded are an inspiration to us all,” says the trustee, who is an alumna. “I hope that students who receive this scholarship will learn from his example and from that of Michael Powell, who exemplifies so well what it means to be a leader both on the national level and at our beloved alma mater.”

Consistent with the values that Colin Powell demonstrated throughout his career, the scholarship will advance William & Mary’s strategic goals of addressing global challenges, forging dynamic partnerships to fuel positive change and modeling democratic ideals. It will also encourage consequential research and scholarship and enhance opportunities for students to serve the global community.

W&M is the No. 4 public university in the United States for studying abroad. In a typical year, William & Mary’s Reves Center for International Studies helps more than 750 students — nearly 60% of all undergraduates participate by graduation — to study in over 55 countries.

The new Powell scholarship will be one of William & Mary’s most prestigious opportunities for students engaged in international study.

“Throughout his life, Gen. Powell modeled leadership with integrity,” says William & Mary Chancellor Robert M. Gates ’65, L.H.D. ’98, a former U.S. secretary of defense and CIA director who, like Powell, served in several presidential administrations. “As someone who started from humble beginnings, he also understood the importance of mentorship and paying it forward for later generations.”

In the 1980s, Powell and his wife, Alma, chaired the Parent & Family Council at William & Mary, where all three of their children attended. In addition to Michael Powell, they include Linda Powell ’87 and Annemarie Powell Lyons ’92. Gen. Powell spoke at W&M’s 1988 Commencement ceremony and received an honorary degree from the university the same year.

“We are so thankful that Colin and Alma Powell saw William & Mary as a place where their children could walk in the footsteps of some of our nation’s greatest leaders and blaze new trails of their own,” Rowe says.

Like his father, Michael Powell entered the Army through the ROTC, but a traumatic injury cut his military career short. He went on to hold leadership positions as commissioner and chairman of the Federal Communications Commission and he is currently president and CEO of NCTA — The Internet and Television Association. He and his wife, Jane Knott Powell ’85, have established multiple scholarships at William & Mary, with a focus on leadership and opening doors for students from underrepresented backgrounds.

Of the William & Mary students who studied abroad during the pre-pandemic 2018-2019 academic year and the summer of 2019, 23% received scholarships through the university’s Global Education Office. There is a particular need for scholarships during the summer, when general financial aid is more limited. Although 72% of students who applied for summer study abroad scholarships that year received some level of aid, the funding was not enough for every interested student to participate, says Sylvia Mitterndorfer, director of global education at the Reves Center, noting that the Powell scholarship represents a significant stride toward making study abroad experiences possible for more students. 

Students who apply for the Powell scholarship will be required to submit an application describing their leadership experiences in the classroom and in campus or public service organizations, as well as their vision for how studying abroad will assist them in their career path. A Reves Center committee will review the applications with the goal of identifying the highest-caliber recipients. Scholarship funds may be applied to study-abroad programs during the fall or spring semester, or summer and winter terms. After returning to campus, the Powell scholars will share a report with the Reves Center about their overseas experiences and they will engage with scholarship donors at events throughout the year.

Michael Powell says his family is profoundly moved by the creation of the scholarship honoring his father’s legacy.

“It was when I was a student at William & Mary that I began to think I was capable of leadership,” he says. “My father taught me that sometimes people will see potential in you before you see it in yourself. That was true for me at William & Mary, and because of that, I was able to thrive here. I am excited about the potential for this scholarship to foster globally minded change-makers.”