The George J. Mitchell Scholarship is a fellowship awarded annually by the U.S.-Ireland Alliance funding graduate study in Ireland. Although relatively young—the first class of scholars began their studies in 2000—the Mitchell Scholarship has quickly established itself as one of the most selective fellowships in the United States. The scholarship is often considered one of the four primary and most competitive international fellowships for American students, alongside the Rhodes Scholarship, Marshall Scholarship, and Gates Scholarship. Each year, approximately 300 young Americans apply for the 12 scholarships.
The George J. Mitchell Scholarship is organized under the auspices of the US-Ireland Alliance, a non-profit non-partisan organization based in Arlington, VA. The program began in 1998, created by US-Ireland Alliance president Trina Vargo with early support from the Irish and British Governments. Over the last decade, the program has been largely funded by the United States Department of State, with additional support from the Northern Ireland Government, Becton Dickinson, and Cross Atlantic Capital Partners. In 2010, the Irish Parliament passed legislation whereby it will match any contributions, up to 20 million euros, to an endowment for the Scholarship program. A Mitchell Scholarship award includes tuition, housing, airfare, a cash stipend, and other benefits such as a travel bursary to encourage travel both in and outside Ireland and Northern Ireland. In recent years, Mitchell Scholars have used their travel bursary to explore countries as diverse as Oman, Cambodia, Senegal and Azerbaijan.
The Mitchell Scholars Program, named to honor former U.S. Senator George J. Mitchell's pivotal contribution to the Northern Ireland peace process, is designed to introduce and connect future American leaders to the island of Ireland and recognize and foster intellectual achievement, leadership, and a commitment to community and public service.
Alumni of the Mitchell Scholarship program have pursued careers in consulting, law, academia, politics, and journalism. Notable alumni include Arsalan Suleman, the acting U.S. Special Envoy to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation; Matt Haney, president of the San Francisco Board of Education; Ty McCormick, the Africa editor of Foreign Policy magazine; and Jimmy Soni, the former managing editor of the Huffington Post.
Mitchell Scholars are placed at universities in both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, including Trinity College, Dublin, University College Cork, University of Limerick, National University of Ireland, Galway, National University of Ireland, Maynooth, University College Dublin, Dublin City University, University of Ulster and Queen's University Belfast.
In 2012, the Department of State attempted to eliminate funding for the program but with the support of several members of the United States Congress; university presidents and professors; the public, in the form of a petition; and the Irish and Northern Ireland Governments, the decision was reversed for fiscal year 2013.