Tompkins '01 Named Luce Scholar
U.S. Army Capt. Matt Tompkins ’01 – currently serving his second tour of duty in Iraq – has won a Luce Scholarship that will allow him to live and work in Asia studying arms control and international security.
Tompkins, an officer in the Army’s Chemical Corps – a group that specializes in chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and high-explosives weapons and warfare – was chosen from nominees representing 65 U.S. colleges and universities. Stationed in Iraq since October, he is the fourth Occidental graduate in the last five years to win the honor. Over the same span, only six schools in the country – Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Stanford, University of North Carolina and USC – had four or more winners.
While fellowship details will be finalized in coming months, Tompkins hopes to further his knowledge in unconventional arms, namely weapons of mass destruction. “It’s a field where even the smallest incremental improvement or advance can have incredibly far and wide-ranging implications,” he said in an e-mail from Baghdad. “I don’t think there is any more heinous force on earth than unconventional weapons. I’ve seen how these materials can kill people, the suffering they can induce, the global instability they can foster through even their mere existence, and a world without them is one worth pursuing.”
While at Occidental, Tompkins majored in diplomacy and world affairs and joined the ROTC as a way to pay for college. He did his training at USC and was commissioned as an officer upon graduation in May 2001. He served his first deployment as a NATO peacekeeper in Kosovo from October 2001 to May 2002. Tompkins is currently a military liaison to the State Department at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. As chief of operations of the regional operations office, he facilitates military and contractor support of the State Department’s 10 regional sites throughout Iraq. During his first tour from March to July 2003, Tompkins was a support platoon leader and offered logistical support for the military’s Joint Special Operations Task Force. He is due to return to the United States in April and leave the Army in May, having met his obligations.
Of the Luce Scholarship, “I’m looking forward to the opportunity to live in another country, amongst another culture with the complete freedom to define the experience myself,” Tomkins said. He briefly broke away from his Iraq duty to interview for the scholarship with the Henry Luce Foundation in New York. “It was a pretty simple matter,” Tompkins said. “Everyone pops in and out of the country at some point. I did the military version of hitchhiking to get to and from the states.”
Tompkins said he wants to earn a doctorate and split his time between academia and arms control – as an analyst, treaty negotiator, or inspector.
“The Luce Foundation looks first and foremost for leadership potential when screening candidates, and it’s hard to imagine someone with more leadership potential than Matt,” said Giorgio Secondi, associate professor of economics at Occidental and the college’s Luce advisor. “What’s most impressive is his ability to move from excellence in the classroom to military service on foreign soil, from science research to diplomatic work in a U.S. embassy. This combination of solid academic preparation, versatility and rich life experiences is the hallmark of the best Oxy graduates, and just what the foundation looks for in prospective Luce scholars.”
Tompkins graduated cum laude from Occidental and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. He was a Margaret Bundy Scott Scholar for four years.
The purpose of the Luce Scholars Program is to increase awareness of Asia among future leaders in American society. Luce scholars have backgrounds in virtually all fields – other than Asian studies – including medicine, the arts, business, law, science, environmental studies and journalism. Which Asian country scholars will be placed in, in addition to stipend amounts, will be determined in coming months by the Luce Foundation in collaboration with the San Francisco-based Asia Foundation.
Placements this year will be made in the following countries in East and Southeast Asia: Brunei, Cambodia, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Mongolia, Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam.
The New York-based Henry Luce Foundation was established in 1936 by the late Henry R. Luce, co-founder and editor-in-chief of Time Inc. It has assets of about $700 million. The foundation has a particular interest in Asian scholarship because Luce’s parents, Henry Winters Luce and Elizabeth R. Luce, were educational missionaries to China. The couple’s four children were born in China.