MISSOULA – A University of Montana student who possesses a rich talent for piano, the kind of grit required for backcountry trail work and a unique intellectual rigor, was named a finalist for the Rhodes Scholarship ꟷ the oldest and most prestigious international scholarship in the world.
UM senior Ryan Garnsey, a philosophy and history major from Bozeman, completed interviews this weekend as a finalist for a full graduate education at Oxford University, the oldest institution of higher education in the English- speaking world. It is the first time in 5 years a UM student has been named a Rhodes scholar finalist.
Garnsey said his academic journey at UM provided him the credentials necessary to become a finalist for the esteemed scholarship.
“The best aspects of my education at UM have been the small class sizes, the caliber of humanities educators and the opportunities for mentorship that a state school education affords,” he said. “The most edifying elements of an education rarely come in a 200-person lecture hall, but through active discussion in the seminar room, where one is forced to parse arguments and reckon with faulty convictions.”
Garnsey said the intimacy of small classrooms and enriching discussions allowed him to build lasting intellectual relationships with professors.
“These relationships have been pivotal in my development and allowed me to pursue an opportunity like the Rhodes,” he said.
UM President Seth Bodnar and his wife, Dr. Chelsea Bodnar, are both Rhodes scholars. Bodnar said Garnsey represents the best of what’s possible at UM.
“On behalf of the entire University of Montana family, we are honored to support and celebrate Ryan on his outstanding achievement of being selected as a Rhodes finalist,” Bodnar said. “We are particularly proud of Ryan because his time at UM was spent immersed in engaging deeply in the humanities, one of our cornerstone strengths. Ryan’s training in the humanities has allowed him to think clearly and deeply about meaning, values and ethics, which is applicable to almost every great challenge the world faces today.”
Selected with 15 other finalists from a four-state region that includes, Idaho, Montana, Alaska, Oregon and Washington, Garnsey blended a passion for philosophy, history, the outdoors, music and international diplomacy in his application.
Garnsey spends time outside of class trail running, hiking and backcountry skiing and balances academics by playing piano gigs in multiple bands around Montana and the Northwest.
Garnsey said the one-on-one attention from UM faculty offered “an education he wouldn’t have gotten anywhere else.”
For example, Garnsey received summer research funding from the Keck Foundation as an undergraduate research Fellow at UM’s Center for Structural and Functional Neuroscience. He worked with UM English Professor Ashby Kinch on a project to evaluate the scientific classification scheme of human memory though analysis of classical literature and autobiographies.
UM recently welcomed a new director of prestigious scholarships, Kylla Benes, who mentors and supports students who apply for fellowships and scholarships. Benes worked closely with Garnsey in his Rhodes application materials ꟷ by providing advice on how to meld his academic successes and personal experiences and connecting him with UM alumni for interview coaching.
“We are very excited and immensely proud to celebrate Ryan as our Rhodes Scholar finalist this year,” said Benes. “The application process is intensive and there is a lot to be proud of in that accomplishment alone. Ryan is an example of an interdisciplinary scholar who puts an enormous amount of energy and thought into all of the things he balances – including research, music and extracurricular activities.”
Garnsey has built an impressive academic record as a UM student, Benes said. He has won numerous awards and honors, including the Richard Drake Writing Award, the Congress-Bundestag Exchange for Young Professionals and the German Academic Exchange Service Young Ambassador awards.
UM philosophy Professor Bridget Clarke, herself a former UM Rhodes Scholar herself, said she watched Garnsey emerge as a standout student in her undergraduate philosophy class on logic.
“He was engaging with the material in way you might expect from a graduate student,” Clarke said. “He was way beyond where he should be and it clear he was an intellectually serious and committed person. By his second year, he was just knocking it out of the park.”
Clarke said faculty in UM’s history and philosophy departments began to take notice of Garnsey’s penchant for deep, critical thinking and aptitude for scholarship in the humanities – something Garnsey said he wanted to explore at UM from the start.
With an ability to easily make relationships across campus, Garnsey identified several UM faculty to work with and help identify scholarships to advance his academic career, Clarke said. That included mentorship from Richard Drake, UM’s Lucile Speer Research Chair in Politics and History, and Ashby Kinch, associate dean of UM Graduate School and professor of English, among many others.
“He got this idea to do a fellowship in Germany and it was really neat to see him envision this, roll up his sleeves and get himself in a position to apply,” she said.
While in Germany, Garnsey volunteered at a refugee camp outside Leipzig, helping to build, maintain and provide bicycles to refugees in the Dölzig camp as they await the processing of their paperwork. Bicycles enable the refugees to get to the city and engage in life outside the camp. In Montana, he has spent several summers working for the National Park Service in Yellowstone on a backcountry trail crew and has also canvassed for U.S. Senate races.
“Ryan is one of the students who came to UM with a fully formed intellectual drive,” said Kinch, who was the UM Rhodes adviser from 2014 to 2017. “He was really curious and very interested in a number of tracks where UM has great strengths and remarkable faculty ꟷ particularly in history and philosophy. Not only is he a really smart student who has had an amazing academic career here, he’s a multifaceted person who takes on challenges and explores things. You can hear that in the way he plays music and in the manner he explores things.”
Each year, thousands of Rhodes Scholarship applications are submitted by colleges and universities across the world. Applicants who demonstrate academic excellence, the ability to lead and care for vulnerable members of society, are selected as finalists. They participate in two-day interview process that determines the winners.
UM has generated 26 Rhodes scholars in its history. The last UM Rhodes scholars were Charlotte Morrison in 1993 and Scott Bear Don’t Walk in 1992.
The last two Rhodes finalists were alumna Mara Menahan in 2014 and alumnus Derek Crittenden in 2015.
Contact: Kylla Benes, UM director of prestigious scholarships, Davidson Honors College, 406-243-5241, firstname.lastname@example.org; Ryan Garnsey, UM senior and Rhodes Scholarship finalist, 406-600-5337, email@example.com.