For the third year in a row, the University of Michigan has a Wolverine named to the prestigious Luce Scholarship Program. Law School student Varun Aery (LL.M ’17) joins only 17 other scholars from across the country to receive the prestigious fellowship for 2017-2018
Founded in 1974 by Time Inc. editor-in-chief Henry Luce, to honor his parents who did missionary work in China, the Luce Scholar Program is a national, competitive fellowship program which aims to enhance the understanding of Asia among potential leaders in American society. Each year, the program accepts applications from college seniors, graduate students, and young professionals in a variety of fields. The University of Michigan was one of only 75 U.S. universities and colleges invited to nominate candidates for the 2017-2018 cohort. The program is administered by the university’s International Institute.
“Each year, the Luce Scholars Program draws a great deal of interest on campus, and we receive a large number of well-qualified applications,” explains Beth Dutridge-Corp, fellowships and grants advisor with the International Institute. “This year, like most, it was very hard to select only three candidates from our pool of applicants. We were very proud to put Varun forward as a nominee.”
Varun hails from Yuba City, California, a small farming community 45 minutes north of Sacramento. While attending Yuba College, the shortage of political science courses offered forced him to drive to Sacramento City College and Butte College. It was during this time that he started to recognize how socio-economic constraints can truly impact an individual’s access to education.
“In Sacramento, classmates talked about their plans to continue their studies at four-year colleges or universities,” he explains. “In the smaller towns, fewer people were having these conversations. Socio-economic barriers were much higher.”
With a bachelor of arts in political science from the University of California, Berkeley, and a law degree from the University of California, Davis, he knew that Michigan was an ideal institution for deepening his scholarly pursuits. “International law and the study of global affairs is the hallmark of Michigan,” he says. “The law school maintains leading experts in the field who are deeply committed to students’ professional development.”
Varun feels his short time at Michigan has already expanded his perspective and understanding of comparative and international legal studies—something he attributes to his mentors including, Professors Monica Hakimi, Daniel Halberstam, Christopher McCrudden, Catharine MacKinnon, Steve Ratner, Nicholas Howson, and Karthigasen Govender, as well as Dean Theresa Kaiser-Jarvis.
"Varun's infectious enthusiasm for human rights law, his broad knowledge of the field, and his boundless energy promises to make his time as a Luce Scholar an exciting time for him, and a productive encounter for those he will meet on his travels and in the field,” says Christopher McCrudden, William W. Cook Global Law Professor.
Luce Scholars are provided with stipends, language training, and individualized professional placement in Asia for one year. Although his destination isn’t determined yet, Varun hopes to land in Cambodia. “Monitoring and protecting human rights in a transitional democracy like Cambodia will sharpen my legal skills, teaching me how lawyers on the frontlines defend economic, social, and cultural rights while facing critical political challenges that can often overshadow these vital public needs.”
Scholars are also placed with organizations closely matching their interests, and he hopes to work with an NGO or IGO engaged in human rights advocacy where he could gain practical, on-the-ground experience. “I’m looking forward to working with practitioners who I view as pioneers in their field, and learning how to promote socio-economic and cultural rights in Asia, with a view to utilizing that knowledge to improve the quality of life in the U.S.”
In the future, Varun wants to serve as a United Nations Special Rapporteur, collaborating with foreign governments to identify appropriate remedies for violations of economic, social, and cultural rights, while also being a law professor. “Like my faculty mentors, I want to bring my professional insights into the classroom to enhance our discussions. Although socio-economic and cultural rights are critical in any society, most law schools rarely teach core courses in this field—I hope to change that. We need to explore how different countries recognize and protect these rights to advance standards of living globally.”
What is Varun’s advice to those thinking about applying for the 2018-2019 cohort? “Go for it.”
For more information on the Luce Scholars Program, or to speak with a fellowships advisor, please visit the website.