Soon after he arrived at Montana State University as a Presidential Scholar from Lake Oswego, Oregon, Riley Shearer developed a philosophy to follow a path lit by passion, studying those subjects that truly interested him. That philosophy has led the senior, who will graduate from MSU in May with three distinct bachelor’s degrees, to a prestigious Schwarzman Scholarship for a year of study at Tsinghua University in Beijing.
Shearer is one of 129 scholars selected from an applicant pool of 2,747 candidates from 30 countries and 75 universities who will form the second class of Schwarzman Scholars, a highly competitive new scholarship developed by philanthropist Stephen A. Schwarzman, chairman, CEO and co-founder of Blackstone. Shearer is the first MSU student to receive a Schwarzman Scholarship, closely modeled on the Rhodes Scholar program.
“We at Montana State University are extraordinarily proud that Riley Shearer will represent Montana and our nation in an exemplary fashion within the international community of Schwarzman Scholars,” said MSU President Waded Cruzado. “Riley’s success is a testament to the abilities of a number of professors at MSU who have inspired this gifted student to blossom and achieve the highest of honors.”
Ilse-Mari Lee, dean of the MSU Honors College and one of Shearer’s mentors, said that Shearer, who currently has a perfect 4.0 GPA, will graduate summa cum laude from MSU with three separate bachelor’s degrees in chemical engineering in the College of Engineering, biochemistry in the College of Letters and Science, and economics in the College of Agriculture and the College of Letters and Science with a minor in mathematics as well as a degree from the MSU Honors College while gracefully managing a dizzying number of accomplishments and activities.
“We are very proud to call him our first Schwarzman Scholar and will follow his trajectory over the years with great interest,” Lee said.
Shearer credits his choice in attending MSU, as well as the mentors and quality of professors he has had at the university, including Lee, with his honors.
“When I first visited MSU, I got this vibe that there were so many opportunities for undergraduates here,” Shearer said, adding that while the offer of a Presidential Scholarship was vital, so were the opportunities to ski, climb and recreate in the nearby mountains. “That turned out to be true. I got lucky to come here. It has been the right place for me.”
When he first came to MSU, Shearer said he planned to major in biomedical engineering. As a freshman he was involved in research of nanoparticles in the lab of Trevor Douglas, a former MSU chemistry professor. That research, along with work with Stephanie McCalla in the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering, led to a Goldwater Scholarship for Shearer, the country’s most prestigious undergraduate award honoring achievements in STEM fields.
However, when Douglas moved to another university, Shearer turned what others might consider a devastating development as an opportunity, branching out with his research efforts to economics, a field he hadn’t even considered until he took a “random” economics course. His research with mentor D. Mark Anderson, professor of economics -- who calls Shearer “an outstanding student (who) excels as a researcher, and he is also one of the most genuine, polite and considerate persons I have ever met,” -- has focused on impacts of policy on health care. His interest is born of close observation. His mother, Kathy McCready, is a nurse practitioner. His father, Paul Shearer, is a retired software engineer.
Shearer said he applied for the Schwarzman following an inspiring political science course taught by U.S. Ambassador Brooke Anderson.
“I began to think about how I could use economics to make a difference for others. So I looked for opportunities to get a graduate experience in public policy that would help me do that,” he said.
Shearer said after his year earning a master’s degree in public policy in China, he hopes to attend an M.D., Ph.D. program. He envisions a career where he will practice medicine while also being involved in public health care policy. His model for that job description is mentor Dr. Jennifer DeVoe, an MSU graduate and one of MSU’s 11 Rhodes Scholars who also serves on the Honors College External Advisory Council. Shearer recently helped propose and served as a teaching assistant for an MSU Honors seminar on health disparities taught by DeVoe, who is now a practicing family physician at the Oregon Health and Science University as well as executive director of the OCHIN practice-based research network of community health centers.
While at MSU, Shearer has also volunteered with MSU’s Engineers Without Borders chapter, helping to bring clean water to the village of Khwisero, Kenya. He has been a student ambassador for both the College of Engineering and Honors College, and his research at MSU received support from Montana INBRE – an Institutional Development Award from the National Institutes of Health. He has volunteered with Eagle Mount’s alpine ski program, Bozeman Health Deaconess Hospital and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Gallatin County. He has also participated in science outreach activities in the Belgrade and Manhattan school districts and various philanthropy events through his fraternity. He is on the national advisory board for his fraternity, Sigma Phi Epsilon, where he spearheaded a successful initiative to end pledging practices in chapters nationwide. He also was the president of the MSU chapter. The breadth of his public service resulted in a 2016 Torley Award, an MSU award that honors community service.
Shearer said he believes that his extracurricular experiences will be the most resonant memories years after graduating from MSU. In particular, he said his fraternity, membership that he shares with his roommate, Josh Carter, who two weeks ago won the Rhodes Scholarship, provided him with an opportunity to develop his leadership skills.
“I came to college not remotely comfortable with a leadership role, and the Schwarzman recognizes leadership,” Shearer said. “I credit the fraternity, and the opportunities it has provided, with a lot of that.”
David DiMaria, MSU’s associate provost for international programs, said the Schwarzman Scholar program, while new, has already developed an international reputation for recognizing leaders such as Shearer and preparing them for global roles.
“The Schwarzman is among the most highly selective scholarship programs on the planet,” DiMaria said. “Students receiving this honor pursue graduate studies at one of the most prestigious universities in China, develop a global network of professional contacts and acquire leadership skills that are essential for success in an increasingly interdependent world. It is a great pleasure to see a Bobcat selected for participation in this program.”
About Schwarzman Scholars:
Schwarzman Scholars was inspired by the Rhodes Scholarship, which was founded in 1902 to promote international understanding and peace, and is designed to meet the challenges of the 21st century and beyond. Blackstone co-founder Stephen A. Schwarzman personally contributed $100 million to the program and is leading a fundraising campaign to raise an additional $350 million from private sources to endow the program in perpetuity. The $450 million endowment will support up to 200 scholars annually from the U.S., China and around the world for a one-year master’s degree program at Tsinghua University in Beijing, one of China’s most prestigious universities and an indispensable base for the country’s scientific and technological research. Scholars chosen for this highly selective program will live in Beijing for a year of study and cultural immersion, attending lectures, traveling, and developing a better understanding of China. Admissions opened in the fall of 2015, with the first class of students in residence in 2016.
Portions of research reported in this story were supported by the National Institute of General Medical Sciences of the National Institutes of Health under Award Number P20GM103474. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.
Ilse-Mari Lee, firstname.lastname@example.org, (406) 994-4689
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