A two-year scholarship to study in the UK has introduced this American to the joys of clay shooting, while helping her advocate for rural interests

A passion for rural interests pushed Victoria Maloch to pursue academic and professional paths to ultimately advocate for rural voices in the policy process. And it was a two-year scholarship to study in the UK that introduced this American to her love for clay shooting.

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On more than one occasion while living in the UK over the past two years, I have caught myself looking out at the beautiful countryside and feeling almost as if I were at home. Although the past several years of my life have been spent living in various cities in the UK and US, my rural roots run deep.

Originally from a small town of just 368 people, my family has been raising cattle and farming the same land for more than 140 years. I acknowledge this may not be considered noteworthy in the UK, but in the US this has earned us special recognition from the Arkansas Agriculture Department. While my rural upbringing gave me an appreciation for fieldsports, it wasn’t until I moved to the UK that I pursued shooting in a serious way through my involvement with the Oxford University Clay Pigeon Shooting Club. Ultimately, it has provided me with a wonderful opportunity to connect my personal and professional interests in an exciting way.

My involvement with rural pursuits is not confined to my upbringing and recent sporting activities, however, and my passion for rural issues has shaped and defined my academic and professional paths. As an undergraduate at the University of Arkansas, I took a year’s leave of absence and travelled more than 100,000 miles while serving as a national officer for the National FFA Organization, the premier youth organisation in the US preparing student members for leadership and careers in the science, business and technology of agriculture.

This experience not only deepened my commitment to agriculture and rural issues, but it also solidified my goal to pursue a career ensuring that rural voices are heard in the policy process. This has since led to internships and fellowships in rural policy at the US Department of Agriculture, the US Department of Health and Human Services, and on the White House Domestic Policy Council.

Yet, even after these experiences, I still had a desire to further my academic understanding of rural issues. I was fortunate enough to receive a Marshall Scholarship, a competitive two-year scholarship that allows Americans to study in the UK, and I decided to pursue an MPhil in Public Policy from the University of Cambridge and an MSc in Comparative Social Policy from the University of Oxford.

Victoria Maloch

Her family has been raising cattle and farming the same land for more than 140 years in Arkansas.

The intersection between rural issues and prominent political issues in both the US and UK made these postgraduate programmes an interesting option and it has helped me to gain a better understanding of the issues rural areas face more broadly. Additionally, both academic programmes have offered me incredible freedom to incorporate rural interests into my coursework, including policy research on rural broadband, rural poverty and farm labour shortages in the US and UK.

However, I wanted to find a way to reconnect with my rural roots in the UK outside of the classroom after I finished my degree at Cambridge. This drove my initial desire to join the Oxford University Clay Pigeon Shooting Club earlier this school year. The experiences I have had as a member of the club will be a part of my Oxford experience I will cherish forever. In clay pigeon shooting, I have found not only an exciting sport but a wonderful group of individuals. While we represent a variety of backgrounds and experiences, our shared connection through clay pigeon shooting fosters a sense of community among the members that is reminiscent of that in my rural hometown.

Gaining a greater appreciation for the sport, and the broader fieldsports community, has also enabled me to develop a deeper understanding of the important role this community can play in achieving many rural and environmental policy goals.

As I prepare to return to the US at the end of my degree programme, I will be taking these lessons with me to inform my work in policy. I will also be returning with a new weekend activity. And, who knows, perhaps my involvement with clay pigeon shooting will prove useful to my future career in policy beyond the deeper understanding I have gained. In fact, the current Lieutenant Governor of Arkansas was also a member of the Oxford Clay Pigeon Shooting Club – and hails from the same part of the state that I do.

TOP TIPS: Find ways to advocate for rural pursuits, people and the environment in whatever you do, whether it be through direct work or indirectly by introducing others to your love of the countryside and fieldsports. It is always helpful to have more voices at the table speaking on our behalf.