Scott Erwin’s, ’05, experience as a democracy leader in Iraq got the attention of many in the University of Richmond community — but his story doesn’t end there.
As a student, Erwin participated in the University’s D.C. Initiative program. He impressed the Bush administration and ultimately postponed his senior year after being offered a position as a budget advisor for the Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad following the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. In his spare time — and with startup funding from the University — he established Ambassadors of Democracy to teach the principles of democracy to Iraqi college students.
“I think I learned more from them than they learned from me,” says Erwin. “I had remarkable interactions with brave individuals who wanted to make sure the future of their country was better than the past.
“Now, those same people have taken positions in media, nonprofits, and government. They have real opportunities for leadership.”
His efforts, however, made him a target of Iraqi insurgents, who ambushed his vehicle in June 2004. Two Iraqi police officers who were riding with him were killed, and Erwin sustained gunshot wounds to his abdomen and arms. After a long recuperation, he returned to Richmond to finish his degree and the Oldham Scholar graduated with a double major in political science and classical civilization.
“It was a big adjustment to come back, but the University was very gracious and made it as easy as possible,” he says. “Everyone went out of their way to welcome me back and it was great to have an extra few months for that victory lap."
The following November, Erwin was selected as one of 32 Americans to receive a Rhodes Scholarship to the University of Oxford in England. He intended to pursue a master’s degree in economics, but ultimately decided to explore a more personal interest in theology. Erwin graduated from Oxford with a doctoral degree in the subject in September 2010.
“Oxford was a nice extension of what I was doing in Iraq,” he says. “I tried to understand the appropriate role of America in the world and think about the big questions that underpinned my practical experiences in Iraq and Washington, D.C. I’d had the chance to be active, and Oxford was my chance to reflect on those experiences.”
Today, Erwin is applying his practical experiences and his theoretical knowledge to the private sector. In his work with the London office of McKinsey and Company, a global management consulting company, he consults with clients to address strategic problems and identify opportunities for growth. He also has plans to return to Oxford this September — this time to marry his fiancée, Nita Colaco.
“I don’t know where I’ll be in the future, because my plans haven’t always come to fruition,” he says. “For instance, I never expected to go to Iraq. But my training at Richmond and Oxford was a good basis and gave me the tools and skills to do whatever I want.”
Photo: From left, Ash Rust, Garrett Johnson, Raphael Thallakottur, Lev Sviridov, and Scott Erwin.