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2020 ASU honors grad winner of prestigious Barry Scholarship

Corbin Witt

Corbin Witt, a 2020 Arizona State University honors graduate, has won the Barry Scholarship to study at the University of Oxford in England. Photo by Samantha Lloyd.

August 27, 2020

Corbin Witt graduated Arizona State University summa cum laude and with honors from Barrett, The Honors College in May and took a job in construction in his home state of Montana.

This October, he’ll be leaving his home and the job behind to study abroad with support from a prestigious scholarship.

Witt is a recipient of the John and Daria Barry Scholarship, commonly called the Barry Scholarship. It is offered by the Barry Foundation and the Canterbury Institute, an educational nonprofit, and funds two years of master’s, doctorate or second bachelor’s degree study at the University of Oxford in England.

“I never thought that something like this would be available to me, nor did I ever imagine myself being able to afford a graduate degree from any institution,” Witt said.

“My dad is a contractor who grew up on a cattle ranch,” Witt said. “The fact that I can go from a summer job in the construction industry to studying at the oldest university in the English-speaking world is still a little baffling to me.”

Witt’s bachelor’s degree is in human communication with a minor in civic and economic thought and leadership. He is a member of Phi Beta Kappa, the oldest academic honors society in the United States.

Paul Carrese, director of ASU’s School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership nominated Witt for the Barry Scholarship.

“The School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership is honored to be one of the nominators for the Barry Scholarship. As I told Corbin when I suggested he apply, I had benefited from a graduate scholarship to study at Oxford. I joined other faculty in thinking he was an excellent candidate for this kind of intellectual adventure. The Barry Foundation and Canterbury Institute are offering an amazing opportunity for study at one of the world’s great universities, and their distinctive approach to higher learning enriches education in both Britain and America,” Carrese said.

Witt found out he had been offered the scholarship in mid-December last year.

“I was surprised and overjoyed,” he said. “The funny thing about it was that my email was glitching at the time and I was not receiving notifications for received messages. So it took me a whole day to see that I had received the offer, and I was appalled to see that the letter said that I only had 48 hours to accept it.”

He had been spending his winter break preparing applications for law schools and had to immediately change course and apply to Oxford, since the scholarship is dependent on also being accepted to a program at the university.

Witt will begin his first term at Oxford, called the Michaelmas term, on Oct. 11. Each academic year at Oxford is divided into three terms: Michaelmas term from October to December, Hilary term from January to March, and Trinity term from April to June.

He will pursue a second bachelor’s degree in history as a student in senior status, meaning he will be on an accelerated track to complete the program in two years as a master’s degree.

“Hopefully, I will expand my professional network overseas and form lasting connections with my cohort of fellow Barry Scholars,” Witt said.

Corbin Witt talks about his experiences at ASU and the Barry Scholarship. Video by ASU’s School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership

Despite the coronavirus pandemic, Witt plans to set off for England and arrive on Oct. 4, a week before classes start. If necessary, though, he will travel earlier in order to have time to self-isolate at Oxford before the term starts.

He expects that classes will be primarily in-person, with some activities online.

Once Witt returns to the U.S. with his degree from Oxford, he intends to pursue a juris doctorate and become a judge.

“This scholarship, though, can only open doors for me on that road,” he said. “I am studying history, something that Oxford teaches in a very unique way. The method they use for history was incredibly attractive to me and I hope to learn how to see the world with fresh eyes, taking in all of the relevant context for every situation and being careful about which suppositions are fair to make.”

Witt said that the most important factors for him getting the Barry Scholarship were being involved in the School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership and Barrett, The Honors College.

“Barrett also was a major motivator that made me perform better in school,” he said. “It is easy to coast through your degree, but Barrett incentivized me to take honors courses and take on honors contracts in my favorite classes. In fact, in my (Barry Scholarship) application, I made use of an essay that I wrote for an honors contract as my writing sample.”

Common threads throughout Witt’s studies and research are legal issues and the criminal justice system.

Witt’s honors thesis was titled “Perp Walks and Prejudice”, in which he studied the messaging that is communicated by photos of criminal defendants being "perp walked," led into a police station or courthouse in such a way as to enable the media to publicize the event. 

“I have a real passion for those topics, and it shows in the quality of my work,” Witt said. “The papers of mine that I am proudest of are on legal debates for end of life care for infants and experimental medical treatments, and an analysis of how the U.S. government handled a high profile prosecution against a woman accused of aiding foreign terror groups. Those are also the papers that I constantly turn to when I need to submit a writing sample, even though they are quite hefty pieces of work.”

Witt credits his overall ASU experience with leading him down the path to success he is on today.

“It never would have been possible without the support given by ASU faculty and staff,” Witt said. “I chose ASU solely for its affordability, but it seems that it was the best of all places for me.”

Story by Ranjani Venkatakrishnan, who graduated ASU with a degree in journalism and honors from Barrett, The Honors College in May 2020. She is pursuing a master’s degree in journalism at ASU.

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