Zoë Sobel ’14 Is First Alumna to Be Named a Luce Scholar in 10 Years

One woman interviews another with a camera
Image credit: Zoe Sobel
March 6, 2019

Zoë Sobel ’14 has been selected as a Luce Scholar, the first Wellesley alumna in a decade to be chosen for the program.

Launched by the Henry Luce Foundation in 1974, the program offers participants a stipend, language training and professional placement in one of 19 countries or regions in Asia with the goal of educating potential American leaders who haven’t had much exposure to the continent. Sobel is one of 18 scholars who were chosen though a rigorous selection process from a pool of 162 candidates nominated by 70 U.S. colleges and institutions.

For the past three years, Sobel has worked for an NPR affiliate based in Unalaska, one of Alaska’s Aleutian Islands, in a community made up primarily of people of Asian descent. “I hope spending a year in Asia will give me context to better understand my host country as well as Unalaska,” she said.

At Wellesley, Sobel pursued her interest in journalism through an internship at WBUR her senior year. She credits her classes and professors with helping her to develop the “inquisitiveness and critical thinking skills” that are essential to her as a journalist.

“I grew up listening to public radio and I’ve always enjoyed stories, so I’m looking forward to learning about how storytelling and journalism function in a different continent,” she said. “Who gets to tell a story? How is it told? How do journalists tell the important stories of their communities? How do organizations support watchdog journalists?”

Wellesley’s previous Luce Scholars include Elizabeth Mandeville ’04, who was in the 2005–2006 cohort.

“As a Luce Scholar in Cambodia, I had my first real opportunity to encounter and grapple with the challenges of international development on a daily basis,” said Mandeville, who now directs the Exploration and Experiential Learning team in Career Education at Wellesley. “It gave me a deep curiosity about, humility around, and appreciation for the complexity of culture, people, and systems that I now draw on daily.”

Epidemiologist and 2018 Alumnae Achievement Award recipient Camara Jones ’76 studied and worked in the Philippines as a 1976–1977 Luce Scholar. “We all need to find ways to burst through our bubbles of experience, to understand and experience our common humanity in very different settings,” she said. “That’s the first thing that the Luce Scholars, or any travel experience, affords—to learn that there is not just one way of doing things and seeing things, not even just one right way of doing things or seeing things.”

Sobel learned of the Luce Scholars program through Career Education, where she was encouraged to apply.

Photo: Sobel interviews Agnes Thompson at the Museum of the Aleutians in August 2018. She filmed Thompson as part of an upcoming documentary, which follows descendants of Alaskans from Attu revising their ancestral home for the first time.