Chelsea Hodgkins spent nearly all of April in a remote village of Ghana helping 59 households to drink cleaner water as part of a fellowship program.

Before she left, she ran around West Virginia University’s campus in an attempt to get classes approved this summer in case she was named a Boren Scholar.

Less than a week after she returned from Africa, she checked her email as she did periodically – but a new email address showed up.

The 97 words in that email changed her life. The first probably said it all, though.

“Congratulations!” the email from the Institute of International Education read. She was named WVU’s ninth-ever Boren Scholar.

“When I got the email, I started shaking. I was like, ‘wait, did they send this to the right person, because this isn’t a funny joke,’” she said. “It’s such an honor ? I had a big final the next day, and I couldn’t even concentrate on that, because I was so excited.”

Hodgkins is one of 161 undergraduate students who were awarded the David L. Boren Scholarship. A total of 1,014 undergraduate students applied for the scholarship.

After not having any from 2001 to 2008, Hodgkins is now the sixth in the last four years.

“This is a great honor for Chelsea which places her among a select group of scholars chosen to study in an international arena,” said WVU President Jim Clements. “It’s exciting to see the kind of dedication students like Chelsea bring to their academic interests. This honor also reflects our superior faculty and staff who teach, advise, mentor and encourage our students each and every day.”

Hodgkins, a junior dual major in international studies and geography, learned of the Boren Scholarship in January after looking into other prestigious scholarships for next year. With just three weeks left until the application deadline, Hodgkins didn’t believe she had enough time to put together a well-rounded submission. However, Dr. Lisa DeFrank-Cole, director of ASPIRE at WVU, motivated Hodgkins to put in the work. It paid off.

Click below to hear the WVUToday radio spot on Chelsea Hodgkins' work.

“It is such a pleasure working with Chelsea. She is highly intelligent and equally humble. Her interest in learning Twi and dedication to the people of Africa inspires me,” DeFrank-Cole said. “I feel fortunate to have worked with her on the Boren application where I could encourage and help her see the potential she has to make a difference in the world.”

As a Boren Scholar, she will study the Twi dialect at the University of Florida for two months this summer and then study abroad this fall in Ghana. While there, she will continue to learn the language, go on educational excursions, take part in homestays, attend lectures and conduct an independent research project. After she graduates from WVU next spring, she will do one year of government service as part of the Boren Scholarship.

Boren Scholars from WVU

1995 – Bruce Etling
1996 – Ian Turner
2000 – Deniz Bilgesu
2009 – Emily Kayser
2009 – Abigail Hohn
2009 – Tabitha Smith
2010 – Justin Moore
2011 – Cody White
2012 – Chelsea Hodgkins

“It’s really surreal, because I feel like as a student you’re continually working toward your future. Each and every time you do something it makes you think either ‘wow this hard work is paying off’ or ‘wow, I need to do something differently,’” said Hodgkins, a Sudlersville, Md., native. “To see my hard work go in my favor is very humbling.”

Hodgkins has traveled to Africa twice including her trip last month as part of a fellowship program with Community Water Solutions.

In Ghana last month she worked to install a water filtration system for a village of about 500 people. The water treatment center that she helped to construct uses alum, a coagulant, to help filter out particles. A main component of installing the treatment center included teaching two women in the village how to treat the water and run the center and educating the entire village about the importance of drinking clean water.

“It’s really hard to do that for two weeks and then come back to the U.S. and not be impacted. It left a lasting mark on me. I came back changed,” she said.

After the installation of the water purifying system, she remembers a distinct image. She saw a pregnant woman filling her five-gallon container with water and thought about the significance of this project.

“All these villagers in this area had to grow up drinking this water, and who knows how many people have died because of it. But, this woman’s baby is going to have clean water, and the next generation in this village is hopefully going to have a different lifestyle,” she said. “Often times we think of projects as something we do, and then we leave. But, it’s really important to have a prolonged presence. It’s about education.”

That’s the type of impact Hodgkins wants to make on not only that small village of less than 500 people but on the entire continent of Africa.

Her trip also allowed her to find her newest passion. In the end, she wants to find the solution to water problems like privatization and lack thereof throughout Africa. Hodgkins would like to pursue a career in development policy and project implementation including fieldwork in Africa. She believes the combination is the only way to make a significant impact.

“I woke up one morning with a burning desire to go to Africa. I said to myself, ‘I don’t really know what this is, but I’m going to follow it,’” she recalled. “That led me to all of this, and ever since I’ve been getting these amazing opportunities. I think each person has a purpose, and at this point in my life Africa and working there is my calling.”

Since 1994, more than 4,700 students have received Boren Awards. The Boren Scholarship program, which includes awards up to $20,000 for study, focuses on sending students to areas of the world that are critical to U.S. national security interests and underrepresented in study abroad. Scholars are required to study less commonly taught languages and complete a service requirement within three years after completion of the program. Under the service requirement, each scholar must work in a federal government position with national security responsibilities for at least one year.

By Tony Dobies
University Relations/News



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