UND Today

University of North Dakota’s Official News Source

UND student wins Marshall Scholarship

Sydney Menne, a Math and Physics major, is UND’s first student to win the highly competitive award

Sydney Menne, a UND senior from Shoreview, Minn., is the University of North Dakota’s first-ever Marshall Scholar. The scholarship pays for graduate study in the United Kingdom, and Menne, a double-major in Physics and Mathematics, will begin her master’s degree program at the University of Southampton this fall. In the photo, Menne stands on the factory floor of Virgin Orbit in Long Beach, Calif, in front of the rocket that’s expected to become the first ever to be launched from U.K. soil. Photo courtesy of Virgin Orbit.

Sydney Menne, a senior double-majoring in Physics and Mathematics at the University of North Dakota, has been named a winner of the Marshall Scholarship — one of the most prestigious and selective graduate scholarships worldwide.

First established by British Parliament in 1953, the award provides America’s best and brightest scholars the chance to pursue up to three years of graduate study in any field and at any university of their choice in the United Kingdom. This year, only 40 of the 951 university-endorsed applicants were selected after a highly competitive and vigorous vetting process. The winners will begin their studies at 21 institutions across the U.K. in late September.

President Andy Armacost shakes the hand of Marshall Scholar Sydney Menne after he and Provost Eric Link popped in Tuesday on a surprise gathering of friends and faculty in support of the UND senior. The president presented Menne with a presidential coin, and more than once, the crowd broke into applause as others shared their congratulations. “I know, Sydney, that you appreciate the contributions of everybody here. This is how we roll at UND, right? This is what we do,” Armacost said. “We look out for one another. We elevate the performance of all of our students, and in particular with one as talented as you, we can lift you up. People are standing by to do that. Congratulations!” Photo by Shawna Schill/UND Today.

The first from UND

Menne, a native of Shoreview, Minn., is UND’s first-ever Marshall Scholar. She plans to pursue her Master of Science in Propulsion & Engine Systems Engineering at the University of Southampton her first year and then, in her second year, possibly earn her master’s in Environmental Policy & Management at Bristol or Climate Change & Environmental Policy at Leeds. Though she hasn’t made a final decision, a third option she may consider is starting a doctorate in an aerospace propulsion program her second year.

“Earning this scholarship is an extraordinary accomplishment for Sydney when you consider the remarkable group of people Marshall Scholars encompass and the impact they’ve had on the world,” said UND President Andrew Armacost. “She is truly an exceptional scholar and leader and so deserving of this honor and recognition. Her example demonstrates to others what can happen when you combine talent, hard work and the strength of the academic programs at the University of North Dakota.”

Menne, Virgin Orbit LauncherOne demo rocket.

The 2023 cohort of Marshall Scholars — chosen not only for their exceptional academic record but also for their leadership and ambassadorial potential — marks the 70th anniversary of the scholarship named for U.S. Secretary of State George C. Marshall. The scholarship was created as a living gift to the people of the United States for their country’s post-World War II recovery aid provided to the U.K. under the Marshall Plan.

To date, more than 2,200 Marshall Scholars have been named, and among them are many university presidents, six Pulitzer Prize winners, one Nobel Laureate, 14 MacArthur Fellows, two Academy Award nominees, two U.S. Supreme Court justices, five U.S. ambassadors and a NASA astronaut.

Among the other six winners from the Chicago Region this year are students from Harvard University, Johns Hopkins University, the University of Chicago and the U.S. Air Force Academy.

“I feel really lucky, of course, to have been selected to represent UND at this level, but I know I couldn’t have done it without all the support of faculty and others,” Menne said. “That’s really what’s been especially meaningful to me. I’ve been able to work with so many amazing people.”

Sydney Menne joined the propulsion engineering team at Virgin Orbit for 12 weeks last summer as a Brooke Owens Fellow. She wears personal protective equipment (above) as she uses a mallet to remove samples from a build plate. The samples were printed in the powder bed fusion machine behind her. Photo courtesy of Virgin Orbit..
Sydney Menne uses epoxy to attach the centering rings on the motor mount tube for a full-scale rocket in preparation for the 2021 NASA Student Launch competition. The UND team brought home third place for the Rookie Award, which is presented to the top three rookie teams at the college and university level. Photo courtesy of UND Advanced Rocketry Club.

‘I know that she will make her mark’

Armacost said he’s proud of Menne for this great achievement and her many others. She has earned more than a dozen top honors in the past four years, including recognition as a TRIO McNair Scholar, a US MASTER Scholar and both a 2022 Goldwater Scholar and Brooke Owens Fellow. She also was a finalist for the international Rhodes Scholarship this year and received a DAAD-Rise Scholarship in 2021 from the German Academic Exchange Service.

Close friends and faculty surprise Menne.

“I’ve truly enjoyed getting to know Sydney and seeing firsthand the impact she has made,” Armacost said. “Not only does Sydney have extraordinary academic talent, but she is a true leader in numerous campus clubs, academic clubs and charitable groups. I truly admire all that she has accomplished, and I know that she will make her mark on the world in profound ways.”

And her many mentors agree. Tim Young, a UND physics and astrophysics professor, has worked with Menne on research projects from the time she was just a freshman.

“Sydney has so many personal traits that combine to make her one powerhouse,” Young said. “She has academic discipline and ambitious drive. She’s naturally inquisitive and has a deep thirst for knowledge. Her determination is larger than meets the eye, and her kindness is shared to all. This makes her a superstar.”

He added that he wouldn’t be surprised to see Menne one day discover a new type of flight. “Whether it be machine or a new fuel, she’ll invent it,” he said.

“And I believe that stewardship of the Earth is something that particularly drives her. She cares about everything and has a deep sense of compassion. Undoubtedly, I think that will be a part of whatever she does in the future.”

Mathematics Professor and Associate Dean of UND’s College of Arts & Sciences Ryan Zerr (left) and Yee Han Chu, academic support and fellowship opportunities coordinator, are all smiles moments after Sydney Menne was taken by surprise by a large group of her supporters on Tuesday, a day after she was named a Marshall Scholar. Photo by Shawna Schill/UND Today.

Ryan Zerr, a mathematics professor and associate dean of UND’s College of Arts & Sciences, had more words of praise for Menne. Zerr, who led a mock interview to help prepare Menne for the real deal, said he hopes that her incredible achievements will inspire more students to dive into undergraduate research.

“When great students are paired with talented and selfless mentors, many great things can be accomplished,” Zerr said. “Sydney is an example of that phenomenon at work. She’s extremely hard-working, and she makes the most of every minute — whether it’s part of her academic pursuits or her service activities.”

On top of that, he added: “For someone so intelligent and accomplished, Sydney also is remarkably humble.”

Yen Lee Loh, associate professor of Physics and Astrophysics, echoed that and called Menne a natural diplomat with “amazing interpersonal skills.”

“She doesn’t brag or lord it over other people, even when she is more successful at something,” Loh said. “She is a team builder and seems to be capable of getting everybody on her side.”

In a lab inside UND’s Witmer Hall, Sydney Menne, co-president of the UND Advanced Rocketry Club, puts together the black powder charges used to deploy parachutes during a rocket launch. She was preparing for a recent scale launch for the NASA Student Launch competition held in Huntsville, Ala. Photo courtesy of UND Advanced Rocketry Club.

An example for other students

Yee Han Chu, academic support and fellowship opportunities coordinator at UND, said Menne has shown she has the energy, intelligence, insight and social acumen to work at a high level of complexity, and she’s also proved to be extremely adept at taking full advantage of everything UND has to offer.

“Her achievement reflects the presence of a whole community of mentors who supported her over time and across multiple interests,” Chu said. “To be competitive at the very top, candidates need to be given that chance to research independently and to act on original ideas. Sydney embraced this fully and took advantage of every opportunity to blend that kind of freedom and support that cultivates the talents of our most ambitious students.”

A cookie cheers. Photo by Shawna Schill.

Menne is generous with sharing her time, talent and attention with others, too. Though she’s the co-president of the UND Advanced Rocketry Club and manages two regular research positions, she also finds time to share science through public outreach as a NASA STEM Ambassador with the North Dakota Space Grant Consortium. Plus, she mentors her peers as a member of the UND Honors Program — a program designed to engage students in hands-on opportunities to help them develop important life skills such as perspective, critical thinking, civic engagement and public speaking.

Philosophy Professor and Honors Program Director Rebecca Rozelle-Stone had this to say about Menne: “Sydney is truly the most motivated, intelligent and hard-working student I have had the pleasure to work with. She is laser-focused on her academic and professional goals, but she still takes the time to serve as an Honors Ambassador and vice president for the Honors Program Student Organization, encouraging and mentoring new Honors students.

“She exemplifies the true servant-leader and always is interested in helping to pave the way for her younger peers. Her latest win really demonstrates what is possible for other students. I hope they’ll be able to see themselves in her example and imagine accomplishments they never may have thought possible for a UND student.”

All who know Menne are certain this won’t be the last time UND’s first Marshall Scholar will boldly go where no one has gone before.

Take it from Professor Young, who relayed a text exchange the two recently shared during NASA’s livestream of the Artemis rocket launch: “I would text about how the NASA stream was going well and how the people they had on were great, and then Sydney would say, ‘I met that astronaut.’ I was like, ‘Oh, wow, that’s cool.’ Then as we kept watching, she would text ‘I know that person.’ And then it would be another and another. I couldn’t believe how well connected she was. She is so personable and likable that she has no inhibitions, and that is how you get places!”


The Marshall Scholarship Commission: “Marshall Scholars are a living embodiment of the enduring special relationship between the U.K. and America. It is their connections — forged and sustained through the arts, humanities, sciences, politics and beyond — that are key to the national interests of both Britain and America. They help us defend our shared values, protect our people, grow our prosperity and collectively tackle our most pressing global challenges.”