DETROIT – As Kevin Deegan-Krause approached the podium to introduce a very special guest at the April 28 meeting of the Wayne State University Board of Governors, an impressive graphic with a few dozen logos popped up on two large screens high above the ballroom floor inside the Student Center Building.
The colorful visual featured some of the nation’s elite academic institutions – Princeton University, Johns Hopkins University, Stanford University, Brown University, Wayne State University.
Yes, Wayne State.
That’s because Wayne State is proudly celebrating its first-ever recipient of one of the world’s most prestigious scholarships for post-graduate students.
Deegan-Krause, a veteran professor of political science and the faculty head of the Office of Fellowships, was at the meeting to introduce senior Aaron Keathley, the winner of the distinguished Marshall Scholarship.
“There are two big scholarships out there that will take you to England or the U.K. for graduate school,” Deegan-Krause told the governors. “One of them is the Rhodes Scholarship. But the other one, the one with the reputation for quietly serious scholarship, is the Marshall Scholarship.
“Aaron is amazing, but I wanted you to see who he was up against.”
Keathley will receive a $100,000 award for graduate studies in the United Kingdom after he graduates this week. He will receive his bachelor’s during the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences’ commencement ceremony at the Wayne State Fieldhouse on Thursday, May 4.
In mid-September, Keathley will be off to the London School of Economics and Political Science, where he plans to earn a master’s in equality studies. Then, he will attend the University of Nottingham to work on a master’s in behavioral economics.
He is the only student in Michigan to receive the award in the 2023 class.
The Marshall Scholarship is one of the most highly competitive in the world. This year, 40 winners were selected from a pool of 951 candidates. The University of Pennsylvania, Yale University and Harvard University appear most frequently in this year’s class, with three winners each. And then there is Keathley.
Board of Governors President Mark Gaffney — who helped in Keathley’s preparation process and sat in on mock interviews — said he was extremely impressed by the Irvin D. Reid Honors College student, who majored in economics with minors in psychology and statistics.
“We saw the list of the crests from all of the colleges on the screen,” Gaffney said. “Half of those schools were a couple 100-year-old universities from the Ivy League. They are arguably some of the best universities in the nation. And right in the middle of that whole page was Wayne State University. Aaron did that for us. He put us on that screen. He’s done a fabulous job.
“He’s very unassuming; you might even say humble. He’s got pretty big plans, but I don’t think there’s anybody who wouldn’t like him as soon as they met him.”
From a young age, Keathley wanted to pursue a degree in economics at Wayne State, where his mother, Kim VanDeneede, graduated in the 1990s, and his sister, Alyson, is a first-year student in the College of Nursing and a member of the Warriors’ dance team.
But it was in the last few years that he discovered a true passion for wanting to study ways to combat wealth and income inequality in cities like Detroit.
“I really learned about the city when it was at its low point during the recession and my dad lost his job,” said Keathley, a 2019 graduate of Gabriel Richard High School in Riverview. “Both of my parents work in the city and I got to see the impact firsthand. So, that led me to wanting to learn about the recession and the crisis and what caused it.”
Keathley participated in a leadership program sponsored by Applebaum Family Philanthropy and was an economic research intern at the Detroit Branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago.
He’s also volunteered as a youth coach with the Downriver Wrestling Club and worked with the Campus Election Engagement Project to promote civic engagement and nonpartisan voter registration.
“I would not have had the opportunities I’ve had if not for Wayne State,” he said. “I want to have my career and life in Detroit, so it’s a natural place to study. I was able to intern at the Detroit Federal Reserve and serve on some fellowships that the Honors College put on. Those opportunities wouldn’t have been happening in Detroit or been applicable to me if I went somewhere else.”
The Lincoln Park native credits an Academy Award-winning film based on the 2007 housing market crash for sparking his career ambitions.
“I watched The Big Short, the movie about the crisis, and from there it just kept going and going,” he said. “Then I got into politics, which naturally overlaps with economics and trying to change the world. I know it’s hyperbolic, but I want to make a difference. I saw the city at its lowest and I thought this was the best path to achieve that. From seeing it at rock bottom to where it is today, it’s a night-and-day difference. But there’s still a lot to do, especially once you get out of the Midtown and downtown areas.”
Keathley said he was pleased for the chance to tell the Board of Governors about the important role that the Office of Fellowships played in his international scholarship.
“They convinced me that I could compete with the Ivy League schools of the world and that a Wayne State student was capable of these things,” he said. “I have learned a lot at Wayne State, but I think the biggest thing I’ve learned is to not undersell myself. Every interview I’ve done, the feedback I receive in mock interviews is that I undersell myself. So, they have helped me present myself and tell my story in a confident way without being arrogant. They really made me a better professional.”
Deegan-Krause is eager to help other Wayne State students seek similar post-graduate opportunities home and abroad.
“Our purpose, our role is to help students in the process of applying for prestigious and national fellowships that can provide valuable scholarships, contacts and connections for their future lives,” Deegan-Krause said. “As you know, our students are amazing and when we give them the support and opportunity to apply for these scholarships, they win them in huge numbers and that’s really exciting.”