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SCU alumnus wins elite George J. Mitchell Scholarship to study and continue playwriting in Ireland

Monday, Nov. 24, 2008

SANTA CLARA, Calif., Nov. 24 -- Neil Ferron, a 2005 magna cum laude graduate of Santa Clara University, poet, and playwright, was named Saturday one of 12 George J. Mitchell Scholars for the 2009-10 academic year by the U.S.-Ireland Alliance. The scholarship will enable Ferron, who already has written and produced a critically acclaimed play and founded a Seattle-based theater company, to work further on his playwriting at Trinity College in Ireland.

"Congratulations to Neil Ferron, who has a very promising future as a playwright," said University President Paul L. Locatelli, S.J. "I am most pleased with his well-deserved selection as a Mitchell Scholarship recipient. Santa Clara is proud to have him as an alumnus, and we wish him every success in further developing his extraordinary gifts and talents during his studies at Trinity College in Dublin."

The 10-year-old Mitchell award is named after former U.S. Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell, who spearheaded the historic Good Friday Agreement of 1998, which led to peace in Northern Ireland. The program recognizes outstanding young Americans who exhibit the highest standards of academic excellence, leadership, and community service, and seeks to link future American leaders with Ireland.

This year, there were 300 Mitchell award applicants, representing more than 150 colleges and universities across the country. Winners receive tuition, housing, and stipends for living expenses and travel for one year of postgraduate study in any discipline offered by institutions of higher learning in Ireland and Northern Ireland. Applicants are judged on three criteria: academic excellence, leadership, and a sustained commitment to service and community.

A member of the University Honors Program while a student at SCU, Ferron earned a B.A. in English with an emphasis in creative writing and received numerous prizes and awards for his poetry and extensive community service. He spent six months with the Missionaries of Charity in Calcutta, India, and volunteered at the local Julian Street Inn for homeless, mentally ill people. Ferron's writings about those experiences exhibited great "charity of heart," wrote Paul Fitzgerald, S.J., senior associate dean of SCU's College of Arts and Sciences, in his letter of recommendation to the Mitchell selection committee.

In Calcutta, Ferron worked in an orphanage and a school for homeless children. "He made friends with a family that lived on a blanket in a soccer field," said Fitzgerald recently. During that time, "there was an amazing progression in his writing," from a focus on the overwhelming smells, sights and sounds, to stories about the people there, to his delight at being accepted by those he served, Fitzgerald added.

"Neil is eminently deserving" of this award, Fitzgerald continued. "It will allow him to take the very best of his education here, and translate it in a way that it becomes available to much broader audiences."

Simone Billings, Ph.D., senior lecturer in the English department and Ferron's co-adviser on his senior thesis, said he will thrive as a Mitchell Scholar. She wrote to the selection committee that "Neil's delightfulness is not limited to his choice of subject matter; he uses language thoughtfully and precisely, wrestling and testing for the right word rather than settling for whatever word occurs to him,' and he "demonstrates a keen ear for the nuances of human speech.'

Ferron said his plan had been to get a master's degree in fine arts from an American university, but he put that off for a few years to gain life experience and solidify his writing style. The process of applying for the Mitchell award reconnected him, he said, to his love for direct service to others. "In the last two to three years, a lot of my emphasis was on the excellence of my playwriting, not so much my community service, which was such a part of me at Santa Clara."

Ferron also expressed gratitude to SCU Trustee Jerry Cobb, S.J., an associate professor in Seattle University's Department of English, for helping him prepare for his Mitchell interviews. Ferron said he will get a Master's in Philosophy from Trinity, where he will be working with pre-eminent Irish playwrights like Marina Carr, analyzing plays, writing his own, and collaborating with actors and directors in "a land of cultural struggle."

About Santa Clara University
Santa Clara University, a comprehensive Jesuit, Catholic university located 40 miles south of San Francisco in California's Silicon Valley, offers its 8,685 students rigorous undergraduate curricula in arts and sciences, business, and engineering, plus master's and law degrees and engineering Ph.D.s. Distinguished nationally by one of the highest graduation rates among all U.S. master's universities, California's oldest operating higher-education institution demonstrates faith-inspired values of ethics and social justice. For more information, see

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