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Mitchell granted to alumna

By Molly Chiu     1/17/12 6:00pm

This August, Rachel Carlson (Martel '11) will be traveling overseas for postgraduate education thanks to the George Mitchell Scholarship. Out of 300 applicants, Carlson was one of 12 chosen to receive the scholarship for the 2012- 2013 academic year. She will study at Trinity College Dublin where she will pursue an master's in Environment and Development.

The Mitchell Scholarship, started in 2001 and named for former U.S. Senator George Mitchell, a major player in the Northern Ireland peace process, gives funding to students for a year of postgraduate studies in either Ireland or Northern Ireland.

"The Mitchell is a relative newcomer on the fellowships scene and has quickly risen to the prominence of the Rhodes Scholarship and Marshall Scholarship," Caroline Quenemoen, director of fellowships and undergraduate research, said. "Like the Rhodes Scholarship, it seeks well-rounded applicants in terms of academic merit, leadership potential and commitment to service."

Carlson, who graduated with a bachelor's in English and a master's degree in Civil and Environmental Engineering, said she applied for the Mitchell scholarship because Ireland offered opportunities to follow her academic interests.

"I'm interested in water security issues, particularly the governance of transborder rivers and aquifers in developing countries," Carlson said. "Trinity's program addresses international water management from social- and hard-science perspectives, and this interdisciplinary approach really attracted me. Also, Ireland and the Mitchell program have a history of conflict resolution, which can offer me valuable insight into my studies on dispute-prone river basins."

Quenemoen worked with Carlson during the application process and said that the experience was rewarding.

"Reading and providing feedback on Rachel's personal statements was rewarding intellectually because she is such a gifted writer," Quenemoen said. "Her use of metaphor, imagery and language yielded such beautifully written and insightful narratives, which I felt confident would get a selection committee's attention."

While at Trinity, Carlson said that she will research the impact of climate change on water-scarce regions.

"I hope to intern for Irish Aid or other agencies that coordinate water security programs in sub-Saharan Africa," Carlson said.

However, according to Carlson, a former editor-in-chief of R2 and two-year co-president of Rice's Environmental Club, research won't be her only point of interest while abroad.

"The English major in me can't wait to explore the literary history of Dublin and check out Joyce's and Yeats' old stomping grounds," Carlson said. "I'm also really excited about events the Mitchell program organizes for students, from meetings with diplomats to hikes in the Irish countryside."

Carlson is not new to studying and researching abroad. She is also a recipient of the Wagoner Foreign Study Scholarship and is currently researching hydropower impacts and intergovernmental irrigation policies on the Senegal and Gambia Rivers in Senegal. Carlson said that she is finding the experience very enriching.

"Though I studied abroad in Senegal, I now have the time and independence to experience the country in a more nuanced way," Carlson said. "For instance, I've been learning how to play the cora with a local musician."

Carlson said that she thinks studying abroad is important because it offers a new perspective.

"I think that it's a productive, and even moral, practice for people to question their own assumptions and defamiliarize themselves from their regular grooves of thinking," Carlson said. "Studying in another country is a good way to do that. From everyday habits to academic theory, there's a lot to learn by changing your vantage point and introducing yourself to new cultural perspectives."

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