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When Courtney Cobb headed off to her freshman year of college four years ago, she expected this August would be her month to start medical school after completing undergraduate premed studies.
But when she leaves her Sylvania home Aug. 19, the freshly minted Denison University graduate will fly to Ireland to research ways to boost the world's financial health, not its physical health, as a recipient of a prestigious Fulbright scholarship awarded by the U.S. government.
"I was pretty surprised" to win the scholarship, she said last week. "It's a very competitive procedure, and the applicant pool is very strong, especially for Ireland and the U.K."
And once she won, Miss Cobb was "a little nervous" about how the year of foreign study might affect her post-college employment, as she had been offered a business analyst job in the Cleveland office of Deloitte Consulting LLP.
"They were more than happy to defer my employment," Miss Cobb said. "I couldn't be more lucky."
The 12-month master's degree program - in economic science in European and public affairs - that Miss Cobb will enter at University College Dublin will introduce students to European affairs, public policy, and the European Union with approaches through economics, business, politics, and law.
"What can you do as a policymaker or organization to promote social, economic, and business growth? All of those things come together," Miss Cobb said. And studying in Europe, "you just get a different perspective on anything and everything happening in the world."
The course will include study visits to the Louvain Institute for Ireland in Europe, near Brussels, and to the European University Institute, Florence.
The Brussels seminar is "probably going to be the highlight of the program," with various U.N. and NATO leaders participating, Miss Cobb said.
She'd also like to travel in Europe after her studies are complete, time permitting, and she is counting on the experience to be a networking opportunity for her career.
Biological science and economics, while irrefutably different in many ways, have some similarities, Miss Cobb said.
"In science, you start out with a set of knowns [facts], and figure out the unknowns," she said.
The same is true with economics: "What is tying this all together? What if you change a variable? You're always trying to solve a problem, whether it's an economic problem or a health issue."
Miss Cobb said her academic epiphany occurred during her sophomore year at Denison, when she determined that the biological-sciences classes she was taking to pursue her premed major were becoming a grind and that she had enjoyed several economics classes she had also taken to that point.
Organic chemistry, notorious as a "weeder" class in many premed programs, was particularly daunting, even though the professor was good, she recalled.
"I had to work really, really hard to get the grades I wanted, and I just wasn't enjoying it," Miss Cobb said, adding that it was also tough to balance three-hour laboratory sessions with her practice schedule for the Denison women's soccer team, for which she was a captain and an all-conference goalkeeper during her senior year.
After switching her major to economics, Miss Cobb studied for the spring semester of her junior year in Ireland and had an internship with the Bank of Ireland in the market risk department. The internship coincided with the deepening of a major worldwide financial crisis.
"It was an interesting time to observe how they were measuring risk," Miss Cobb said. "I was very sure to count my zeroes every time I put something into the computer. People were a little nervous about their jobs."
Miss Cobb also developed a deep fondness for Ireland, the home of some of her ancestors.
"I fell in love with the country. My family is very Irish," she said, adding that she expects visitors while she's in Dublin both from her family and from American college friends.