Grace Furlong has wasted no time since arriving to George Mason University from Ireland to make important connections that contribute to her studies and her future career.
The Schar School Master of Public Administration student is an intern at the U.S.-Ireland Alliance, the Washington, D.C.- and Dublin-based nonprofit that develops strategic relationships between the two nations. On the heels of that, after “probably being very annoying to a lot of different people,” as she playfully puts it, this fall she landed an internship at the U.S.-Ireland Partnership for Growth, a Washington-based nonprofit that promotes business and economic opportunities.
As if working at two internships at two international organizations is not enough—in addition to throwing herself into her MPA studies—Furlong is also a scholar-athlete, which is what brought her to Mason in the first place. Furlong competes in the triple jump for the Mason NCAA women’s track and field team, training six days a week during the indoor and outdoor track seasons.
International graduate student-athletes are rare, said Anthony Mihalich, assistant coach of Mason’s Track and Field and Cross Country Programs. “We have a few, but it’s not very many,” he said. (She may be the only Schar School student that matches that description.)
It was Mihalich who discovered Furlong and recruited her to come to Mason. “I keep an eye on who’s doing what overseas,” he said. “I’m familiar with the Irish athletics system and look to see what people have done, who might help us, and who is interested in coming to the U.S. Grace was right in the middle of that Venn Diagram of fabulous athletes.”
Furlong, a native of Waterford, was named to the 11-member A-10 All-Academic team in March on the strength of her 3.89 GPA and her gold medal in the indoor conference championship (with a jump of 12.44 meters), and in May, one of three Mason athletes on the team to do so.
Furlong came to the U.S. after completing her undergraduate degree at the University College Cork and a master of science degree in public policy at Dublin City University. Mason, she says, compares well to the schools at home, but the athletics program is outstanding, she said.
“Mason is massive and amazing but the way they fund sports, the way they support athletes here—you just don’t get that in Europe. It’s phenomenal,” she said. “I used to have to pay to use my track back home, but not here, and the track here is amazing. They really take care of you.”
How does she manage to budget her time, given her studies, her dual internships, and her stellar athletic career?
“Sometimes I don’t,” she said with a laugh. “The schooling here at George Mason makes it really accessible—especially as an international student—because coming to understand the whole American system when you’ve not been brought up on it is overwhelming.
“But the lectures have been great, the coursework is very accessible, very understandable…Mason just complimented everything I was interested in—the coaches, the closeness to Washington, D.C., and to go into a master’s program and study something I was really passionate about.”
As for the internships, “I just do what I can fit in,” she said, adding that what she is learning is vital to a future career “in the nonprofit sector, lobbying, creating policy, things like that. I’m really open.”
When asked for athletic career highlights, Furlong hesitates and drops her voice. “I was so lucky,” she said modestly. “From about age 16, I won every national title from that year on in Ireland.”
All of Ireland?
“All of Ireland,” she quietly confirmed.