Bentley Walker has one goal in life: to help usher unprecedented growth, development and prosperity in the Caribbean region.
The Global Studies major admits it’s a lofty goal, but that’s not going to stop him from getting it done. In fact, through his studies and activities, he is already diligently equipping himself with critical knowledge of the political, social and economic landscape across the region.
For his commitment to this cause as well as his academic excellence, leadership and service, he has been named a finalist for the internationally recognized 2022 Rhodes Scholarship. The scholarship is often considered the most prestigious international program of its kind in the world and is also the oldest one, first started in 1902.
According to the latest records, Walker is the first Panther ever to be named a finalist for the top-notch award. If selected during the next round of interviews, Walker would receive a scholarship to study full-time, post-graduation at one of the world’s most acclaimed higher education institutions: the University of Oxford.
Walker is representing Jamaica, his beloved home country, and is one of only a few other students across the globe selected as finalists for the Jamaica and Commonwealth Caribbean district. Only one of the students in the district will receive the final prize.
“The idea that hundreds of people in the region applied, and that I made it as a finalist along with about 10 other people, is breathtaking,” Walker says. “It feels very unreal to me.”
Walker, who transferred to FIU from Palm Beach State College in the fall of 2020, has already accrued an impressive list of accomplishments. He is a member of the FIU Honors College and the Phi Theta Kappa Honors Society. At Palm Beach State, he was a leader in student government and a Model United Nations team member.
At FIU, he immersed himself in the study of the Caribbean region and policies, currently earning a minor in Caribbean studies. He has been studying languages of the region – and is already fluent in Spanish and currently learning French. He plans to take up Dutch soon.
He joined the FIU Caribbean Student Association and was recently elected District 6 director of the group, which means he is leading students at FIU, University of Miami and Barry University.
Walker is also the CEO and founder of an international organization he is currently developing to encourage and inspire Caribbean pride, solidarity and prosperity, called the Organization for Caribbean Development.
His passion for finding ways that Caribbean countries can further flourish is rooted in his own experiences in Jamaica.
“Growing up, I always saw people struggle,” he recalls. “I saw the poor. I saw the lack of infrastructure and the lack of resources in the country [that were] unable to facilitate the development of its own citizens. I also saw the massive loss of bright minds leaving the country, to advance the prosperity of other [countries].”
The emigration away from the Caribbean continues, he says. Even today in Miami, Walker meets many people – from taxi drivers to entrepreneurs and successful business owners – who were born in Caribbean countries and feel they cannot return to their home countries to fulfill their dreams.
“People shouldn’t have to leave their home just to survive or realize their goals,” he says. “This has really impacted my heart and my soul. I have a special love for the people and the culture of the Caribbean.”
At the core of Walker’s vision and organization is his firm belief that Caribbean countries can blossom if they further unite.
“The goal is for the Caribbean [countries] to be independent, global countries relying, not just on others around them, but on their resources and providing their resources to the world.”
He and his network are already working to bring businesses to their home countries.
Being a finalist for the Rhodes scholarship – and possibly earning the prize and studying at Oxford – could be a gamechanger for him as he tries to lead change.
“The Rhodes Scholarship is the most internationally competitive scholarship in the world,” says Ashley Floyd Kuntz, director of Prestigious Scholar Development and associate professor of higher education. “Bentley’s selection as a finalist for the Rhodes scholarship is indicative of the excellence he’s already demonstrated academically and as a student leader. His selection speaks incredibly highly of the education he is receiving here at FIU.”
Walker worked with Kuntz and her office as he applied for the scholarship, and he credits FIU for his success.
“FIU believed in me,” Walker says. “I wouldn’t have applied without FIU. I wouldn’t be a finalist if it weren’t for the Office of Prestigious Scholar Development.”
For her part, Kuntz says, Walker is the kind of student meant to be a leader.
“He has a huge, bold vision,” she says. “This is exactly who Rhodes Scholars are. I’m really excited for him to be recognized as a finalist.”