Student takes passion to UK with prestigious scholarship

Clara Wicoff will travel to the UK to continue studying her passion. (Photo courtesy of K-State News)

Clara Wicoff woke up on a cold morning in Chicago, pressed “play” on a podcast and began getting ready for the day. She went down for the continental breakfast in her hotel, took an Uber to her interview with representatives of the Marshall Scholarship, then went to the 61st floor of the skyscraper where her life would change forever.

Wicoff, senior in agricultural economics and College of Agriculture ambassador, received the Marshall Scholarship. She is one of 50 students across the United States to receive the award and just the 15th Kansas State student to receive it.

The scholarship supports students in graduate study in the United Kingdom. Wicoff leaves to pursue her master’s degree next October.

“British government, or the United Kingdom, pays for Marshall scholars to come to do either one or two years of graduate study at a university in the UK,” Wicoff said.

Wicoff’s top choice is the University of Oxford, where she would like to study economics.

“They have a lot of opportunities to do research, particularly what I’m interested in,” Wicoff said. “My passion is food security, and I’m really interested in the role that agriculture plays, but I’m also interested in data analysis and how we can use economic policy and economic theory to better inform policy decisions related to food security and hunger.

“The ability to take data and theory and make visuals that are interactive was something I just got really excited about,” Wicoff continued. “I knew that I wanted to try and pull that into what I eventually wanted to do as a career.”

It’s a passion Wicoff developed some time ago. She grew up in Iola, a small town in southeast Kansas with a strong agricultural background; her grandparents and uncles are farmers. In high school, Wicoff worked with her local summer food service program, helping kids aged one to 18 get free meals during the summer.

“In the town where I grew up, there were a high percentage of students who qualified for the free and reduced lunch program, and so during the school year, they were able to get free breakfast and lunch every day because they were at school and they could get it there,” she said. “But during the summertime, they don’t go to school, they don’t have that opportunity to get the free and reduced meals.”

Colby Works, senior in kinesiology, is also from Iola. Works is in the Blue Key Honor Society with Wicoff, who serves as the Catalyst self-development program’s co-director.

“We had a class together in fifth grade, but I knew her before then through 4-H, and so I had almost every high school class with Clara,” he said.

Works said he sees a lot of growth in Wicoff since they first met — from qualifying for the National Spelling Bee to flourishing social skills.

“When I first knew Clara, she was much more quiet and reserved than she is now, and she’s always been just absolutely incredibly intelligent,” he said. “Once we got to high school, I really saw her social skills grow and develop.”

He saw her passion for food security develop.

“I think especially for Clara, when it comes to Iola — Iola is a very, very poor city with lots of poverty and over half of our class was on free and reduced lunches,” Works said. “So that’s what kind of started Clara’s interest in food insecurity.”

The passion only grew during her time at K-State.

“Everything from taking classes here in the [Leadership Studies] building related to global food systems leadership and learning about the wicked problems, on to doing undergraduate research and having the opportunity to do study abroad trips with faculty and go to India have all been experiences that have shown me that I want to continue to be able to have those hands-on experiences,” she said.