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Going with the Flow of Water Research

Boren Fellowship and Fulbright Public Policy Fellowship recipient Jeanine Finley. Photo by Ashley Boney.

Jeanine Finley, SIS/MA '13, served in the Peace Corps in Madagascar, worked in eight African countries while with Africare and as an intern for the World Bank, and studied abroad in Norway. Soon her passport will be stamped again when she returns to Uganda and Ethiopia for 16 months of research and work experience funded by a Boren Fellowship and a Fulbright Public Policy Fellowship (FPPF).

Finley will spend six months in Uganda on a Boren Fellowship, studying Swahili and conducting independent research on the Nile Basin Initiative’s effect on civil society, and 10 months in Ethiopia on a Fulbright Public Policy Fellowship where she will work in the country’s Ministry of Water and Energy, a practical experience that will help inform her studies about water conservation, usage, and management in East Africa.

“Water is integral to so many other development objectives, including health or food security,” says Finley. “I have a regional interest in looking at trans-boundary water and water governance. Every country is different on the Nile, but at the same time, you have to consider that all of these different government actors have to cooperate together. So for me, applying for both opportunities made sense.”

Finley is one of many successful applicants for Fulbright and Boren grants this year. A total of 12 AU students succeeded in the three major Fulbright competitions: in addition to Finley, five students received Fulbright grants for study or independent research (one of whom won a highly competitive grant to earn a master’s in the United Kingdom), and six students were awarded Fulbright English Teaching Assistantships. Seven undergraduates received Boren Scholarships, and 10 graduate students earned Boren Fellowships.

Finley is the second AU student to receive the Fulbright Public Policy Fellowship since it was established in 2011. Chris Swanson, assistant director of the Office of Merit Awards, credits the success of students like Finley to strong academics and collaborative relationships with academic mentors. Finley’s mentor, SIS professor Ken Conca, is the director of the Global Environmental Politics program. He has guided Finley’s research on the Nile Basin Initiative, and encouraged her to pursue national scholarships.  

“Almost any student who wins a major national scholarship has a good, clear story to tell,” Swanson says of a student’s ability to articulate his or her academic passions in a scholarship application. “Jeanine is an AU WONK in the best sense. She’s been in the Peace Corps, she’s done fieldwork for the World Bank, she’s studying global environmental politics, she’s working with Ken Conca on a big research project. She has a great narrative.”

For years, Finley nurtured her interest in Africa with a series of deliberate professional choices—joining the Peace Corps after earning her bachelor’s degree in biology; working with Africare for two years as a program manager in Senegal, Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia, and Zimbabwe; and pursuing graduate study at AU. She was similarly methodical about securing her summer 2012 internship with the World Bank’s Office of African Water Resources Management, spending “many months” pursuing networking connections, sending follow-up emails, and representing her work to the department.

Staying in touch with the international contacts she met in Africa helped with her application for the Boren Fellowship, which requires established affiliations in the student’s country of choice. And her Peace Corps experience will be integral to the work she will be doing during her Fulbright in Ethiopia, which she observes “is one of the most important countries in the region in terms of cooperation around the Nile.”

Once Finley returns from Africa, she will have to make some big decisions—whether she will apply to a PhD program, how she plans to complete the Boren Fellowship’s requirement of one year of work with the U.S. government, and if she wants to pursue a position with the World Bank or United Nations. For now, she’s transitioning back to American life after a semester abroad at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences.

“In everything I’ve done, from looking at internships to thinking about jobs, I’ve always thought, ‘These are the kinds of issues I want to be working on, and this is how and why I want to approach them,’” Finley says. “I think if people aren’t sure of what they want, then a good thing [to do] is to get as much experience as you can. Think of what you want to work on, the projects you’re interested in, and then go from there.”