Photo by John Buckingham
Meghan Casey ’15, of North Attleboro, Mass., has been awarded a Boren Scholarship to study in Tanzania during the fall semester. She will study Swahili at the Swahili Flagship Center within the State University of Zanzibar in Zanzibar, an island off the coast of mainland Tanzania. This year, 947 undergraduate students applied for the Boren Scholarship and 161 were awarded. This is the second year in a row that a Holy Cross student has received a Boren Scholarship. Kyle Olsen ’14 spent the last academic year studying in Russia on the Boren Scholarship.
The Boren program provides up to $20,000 to U.S. undergraduate students to study abroad in areas of the world that are critical to U.S. interests and underrepresented in study abroad. It requires that award recipients work for one year in the federal government in a position with national security responsibilities.
The scholarships are sponsored by the National Security Education Program, a major federal initiative designed to build a broader and more qualified pool of U.S. citizens with foreign language and international skills.
Leading up to her travels, Casey, a biology major with Africana studies and premed concentrations, is taking part in an 8-week intensive Swahili language program this summer at the University of Florida.
Casey plans to dedicate her professional life to health development. Her longtime passions for public health, science, language, and culture were bolstered last summer when she participated in a monthlong Holy Cross study abroad program to Nairobi, Kenya. She spent much of her time working at Ushirika, a community-run health clinic in the Kibera slum, and attended two classes each day, one a peace development class and the other a Swahili language course.
“The first day that I stepped foot in the slum, I was shocked at the desperate and squalid conditions in which these people lived,” she wrote in her application for the Boren Scholarship. “That night, I remember crying myself to sleep, wondering how life could exist in such a suffocating, devastating place. Each day that passed, however, I began to feel that very life thrive within my own body.
“I no longer heard the trash squelching beneath my feet, saw the mud splattering over the bottoms of my pants, or smelled the horrid stench that had once turned my stomach inside out. I stopped noticing the yellow of the malnourished eyes and instead cherished the sparkle that they contained, stopped wondering if a patient was HIV-positive as I carefully performed injections into his or her blood and instead asked about his or her family, and stopped caring whether or not I’d gotten to shower in a few days and instead found myself, for the first time in my 19 years, freed from the chains of what I’d always been ‘expected’ to be. … Although I had always known that public health was a passion of mine, this time in Kenya is where my experience and love of the beautiful Swahili language and Eastern African culture first began.”
Casey is a recipient of the prestigious Sheehan Scholarship, which covers the full four-year tuition at Holy Cross. She has taken advantage of many on and off campus opportunities. She was sponsorship chair of Relay for Life; site manager at Project AIDS Worcester through Students Helping Children Across Borders; chemistry peer assisted learning tutor through Academic Services; Student Government Association liaison to Medical Ministry International; and emergency room liaison at Sturdy Memorial Hospital in Attleboro, Mass. She will spend the spring semester of 2014 studying tropical medicine, public health, ethnobiology, and medicinal Spanish in Costa Rica at the Organization of Tropical Studies through Duke University. She has a love for Spanish language and Latin American culture, and has studied Spanish for years.
Casey hopes to work in international health development, perhaps through U.S. government agencies like the Office of International Health in the State Department or the United States Agency of International Development. Utilizing her language skills in Spanish and Swahili, she would like to work with the Latin American and East African regions in some capacity.
“I hope to be able to work with the people on the ground that are actually affected by these issues and to use my combined language, political science, and hard science background to work toward greater justice in basic health both domestically and abroad,” she said.