Erin Murr named first recipient of Ken Tuck International Study Award

Nov. 12, 2012
Contact: Karen B. Eldridge, Director of Communications
865.981.8207; karen.eldridge@maryvillecollege.edu

Erin Murr ’14 has never traveled to a foreign country, used public transportation or lived in a residence hall, but she’ll experience all of that in January, when she travels to study for a semester at the University of Ulster in Coleraine, Northern Ireland.

“It’s terrifying, but I’m looking forward to it,” said the Maryville College junior from Greenback, Tenn. “I really want to put myself in situations where it’s not predictable, where I don’t know what’s going to happen next.”

Murr, the daughter of James and Lynne Murr and a 2010 graduate of Greenback High School, will be a participant in the Irish-American Scholars Program, which is a bilateral exchange between the College and the University of Ulster through the Association of Presbyterian Colleges and Universities. Only 27 students from the United States were accepted for study in Northern Ireland next semester, so the program is incredibly competitive. Murr is the only student from a Tennessee college or university selected to participate in the program for the semester.

Murr chose Northern Ireland, in part, because of her own Scots-Irish lineage. A history major, she also was intrigued by opportunities to study the religious history of Ireland and European history.

“I want to understand European history from the viewpoint of Europeans,” she explained.

While she’s studying at the University of Ulster, Murr hopes to be housed with other international students and take short trips to nearby Scotland, England and France.

“I hope to get so much out of this experience,” she said. “For me, this may be the most economical way to experience other countries – and the only time in my life I’ll be able to go.

“I’m just blown away thinking about what it will be like.”

Traveling for all the right reasons

Murr’s reasons for studying abroad are exactly what inspired alumnus Ken Tuck ’54 and his wife, Sara, to establish the Tuck International Study Endowment last year and make another donation this year that doubles the size of the endowment.

Murr will be the first recipient of the Ken Tuck International Study Award, which is funded by the endowment.

“Study abroad expands and enhances your education,” said Ken, who graduated in 1954 and went on to a successful career in ophthalmology that continues to this day. “These experiences change lives, and I am passionate about the development of the College’s international program. It has the potential to greatly strengthen the Maryville College academic and cultural experience for many students, as well as the value of a Maryville College diploma in our complex and changing world.”

Ken didn’t study internationally as an undergraduate at Maryville, but meeting students at Maryville College who came from all over the East Coast was as much a cultural eye-opener as he had ever experienced growing up in rural Moneta, Va.

Representing his profession nationally and internationally, Ken has traveled extensively and developed relationships with people of different ethnicities, faiths and economic backgrounds.

“Through much of that, I’ve seen the importance of developing relationships to improve the lives of others and bring them hope for a better world,” he said.

The Tucks were able to provide their daughters with international experiences while in college. When grandson Peter Coats attended Maryville College from 2004 until his graduation in 2009, the couple made it possible for Coats to take advantage of the opportunities presented by the College for travel-study.

Ken and Sara saw, first-hand, the impact studying abroad had on their daughters and grandson and were so convinced of its value that they wanted to ensure that others had the same opportunities.

Sharing a dream

By doubling the size of the endowment, more students will be able to study abroad – just what Ken and Sara Tuck intend.

“I heard that 85 percent of freshmen at Maryville College last year indicated that they would like to have an international experience while they’re enrolled, but many can’t afford it,” said Ken, who serves on the College’s Board of Directors. “We want to remove barriers to that dream.

“Seeing the world was a dream I had as a young student at Maryville in the 1950s,” Ken said. “Now, I want to share that dream with the institution I love.”

Kirsten Sheppard, director of international education at the College, said students face many obstacles to studying abroad, with financial obstacles being among the most significant.

“The Ken Tuck International Study Award will provide Erin and future Maryville College students the opportunity to have significant and sustained engagement with cultures and peoples of the world and develop their leadership and citizenship skills,” she said. “Scholarships like this one, along with more coordinated campus-wide support for study abroad, increased incentives for students, and high-visibility education about the tangible and professional benefits of studying abroad will encourage students to prioritize international education.”

The value of the award is up to $3,000 per student and is intended to cover costs such as air travel, books and additional cultural or educational activities offered through the study abroad program that are not covered in basic tuition.

Murr intends to use the award to pay for her residence hall room on the Coleraine campus. That will allow her to use the money she has been saving since high school for a study abroad experience on trips into other countries.

“Without the Tuck award, I would have to pinch pennies to study abroad, and I probably would not be able to travel beyond Ireland,” she said. “I’m very thankful.”

Sending scholars and ambassadors

Ken Tuck’s great-grandfather emigrated from Ireland to Virginia, so the Tucks have visited the Emerald Isle to learn more about those familial origins.

Although they didn’t visit Northern Ireland, Ken said he believes the residents there will treat Murr as hospitably as he and his wife were treated in the Republic of Ireland.

And he recognizes that she will be an ambassador – for the College, as well as the United States – while she is abroad.

“More people abroad will have heard of Maryville College because of Erin’s study abroad experience,” he said. “So ours is an investment in the College, as well as in the student.”