Mathematics Senior Becomes University’s First Schwarzman Scholar

Portrait of Matthew Salm outdoors on campus

Matthew Salm

Matthew Salm, a mathematics senior in the School of Natural Sciences and Mathematics and a McDermott Scholar, is the first student at The University of Texas at Dallas to become a Schwarzman Scholar.

The Schwarzman is a highly selective award that fully funds a one-year master’s program at Tsinghua University in Beijing, as well as travel costs and a personal stipend. The award comes on the heels of Salm having received both a Truman Scholarship and a Udall Scholarship in May.

Salm is one of just 142 students selected from a pool of more than 4,000 applicants from 39 countries and 97 universities. Eunice Ko BS’16 was a finalist in 2016.

Salm said he was ecstatic when he heard he received the scholarship, even more so because of his keen interest in climate policy issues such as curbing global greenhouse emissions.

“Having an in-depth understanding of China and knowing how their public policy can mitigate their environmental impact is crucial,” Salm said. “What’s going on in China will impact what will happen in the global energy sector for 10, 20 and 30 years from now.”

Scholars will reside and study at Schwarzman College, a LEED Gold-certified building designed to encourage cross-cultural connections and intellectual exchange. Beyond the classroom, scholars will gain a broad network of relationships through internships, mentor opportunities, distinguished speakers and extensive travel throughout China.

Inspired by the Rhodes Scholarship, the program was established three years ago when Stephen A. Schwarzman, co-founder of the Blackstone investment firm, contributed more than $100 million to the program. He is leading a fundraising campaign that has raised $516 million toward the goal of endowing the program.

Dr. Douglas Dow, associate dean of the Hobson Wildenthal Honors College and clinical professor of political science, said the Schwarzman award is given to candidates who demonstrate exemplary leadership qualities as well as academic excellence.

“The Schwarzman Foundation is alert to the wide variety of leadership styles that will be required of the next generation of international leaders,” Dow said. “Matt’s leadership skills exemplify a very sophisticated understanding of context and audience. Those skills, which I think can be practiced but really can’t be taught, were certainly one of the traits that attracted the Schwarzman to Matt.”

At UT Dallas, Salm has led environmental initiatives that include successfully advocating for the establishment of a Green Fund from student fees, serving as president of the Sustainability Club and growing its membership, and helping to set up a food recovery program that takes leftover food to an area shelter.

“Finding new ways to give is another example of Matt’s leadership,” said Thea Junt MS'16, MBA'16, former associate director of energy conservation and sustainability at UT Dallas. “He identified a waste — food from the dining halls — and paired it with an opportunity to network with a food pantry. It’s this trait that is so attractive to prestigious awards such as Schwartzman.”

Salm also has worked as a teaching assistant for an honors physics course, researched environmental conservation in Bhutan and interned with environmental economics teams at the World Bank and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, where he had to navigate complex bureaucracies.  

Dr. Joseph Izen, a UT Dallas professor of physics, recommended Salm for the scholarship, saying Salm's academic interests and abilities were a solid fit for the program.

Matt’s idealism is totally pragmatic. Adoption of Earth-kind policies needs economic drivers, which are best described through mathematics, hence Matt’s academic interests in math and business. Matt is an extraordinary dot connector.

Dr. Joseph Izen,
professor of physics

“Matt’s idealism is totally pragmatic,” Izen said. “Adoption of Earth-kind policies needs economic drivers, which are best described through mathematics, hence Matt’s academic interests in math and business. Matt is an extraordinary dot connector.”

Even so, the selection process was rigorous. More than 400 semifinalists were invited to regional interviews in Beijing, Singapore, London or New York, where Salm said he was asked such specific questions as how he might try to influence policymakers in China who are not answerable to voters, and how to advise a Chinese policymaker interested in replicating the American shale gas revolution.

Salm eventually wants to pursue a PhD in economics and work in public policy. He said the relationships he forms with other scholars in his cohort and the diverse experiences in China, starting in August, will be invaluable for his future career.

“The most exciting part to me is that we will all live and study together in the same building. Doing so many things together will be tons of fun, but more importantly, it will broaden my perspective beyond what I can even imagine now,” Salm said.

Media Contact: The Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, [email protected].

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