Allegheny College senior Melissa Mattwig has received a prestigious Boren Award and will be a part of the African Flagship Languages Initiative (AFLI) beginning in the summer of 2017.
As a Boren Scholar, she has been selected to study Swahili in Tanzania for a year and will receive a $20,000 scholarship for her studies. Mattwig is a double major in biology and environmental science, and a double minor in French and Spanish.
“I want to study Swahili because I would like to continue to study the ecology of lakes, particularly focusing on great lakes, both in North America and Africa, and how they are expected to change as a function of climate change,” Mattwig says. “It is in the same discipline as my comp, which studied lakes from a degradation perspective. I want to continue to study lakes, but I’d like to go more in depth on climate change-related degradation.”
Patrick Jackson, national fellowships advisor in the Allegheny Gateway, encouraged and assisted Mattwig in applying for the scholarship. “I think that Melissa’s particular strength was the coherency of her proposal — she’s got a long-term vision for studying freshwater ecology, and since much of the world’s fresh water is to be found in the East African Great Lakes, it makes a ton of sense for her to learn to speak Swahili,” Jackson says.
Once she completes the program, Mattwig intends to go to graduate school and would like to become a professor. She also will work for the federal government for at least one year as part of the Boren Award requirements. “Ideally, I will still be working with government entities that collaborate with East African scientists and communities around the African Great Lakes,” Mattwig says.
“If there’s a water catastrophe in East Africa, it will affect the stability of the entire region, which would undoubtedly have knock-on effects related to U.S. interests — military, commercial and political. If she can manage to get a handle on the language, she will be an important asset not just to the scientific community, but to the State Department as well,” says Jackson.
The Boren Awards and Scholarships were created by David L. Boren, who was the principal author of the legislation for the National Security Education Program (NSEP) that funds the program. The award is meant to increase the number of experts in underrepresented countries, whose needs and perspectives need to be more fully understood. Administered by the Institute of International Education (IIE), 194 scholarships were awarded this year to undergraduate students, and 114 to graduate students, and among them they will live in 44 countries and study 36 languages.
As one of the experts-in-training, Mattwig will begin her studies at the University of Florida, participating in the AFLI Domestic Intensive Summer Program, hosted by the Center for African Studies and the Department of Languages, Literatures and Culture. The eight-week course will have classes during the week, as well as two extra sessions with host families.
“I’m looking forward to chatting with people,” Mattwig says. “I’m going to be meeting others with life experiences and ideas completely different from mine, and I look forward to listening to those stories from all sorts of different people. I anticipate experiencing difficulty in transitioning to a different culture, but I’m more excited about everything I am going to learn and experience more than anything.”
In the fall, Mattwig will leave to study in Arusha, Tanzania, at the MS Training Center for Development Cooperation. The program has been developing extensive training in Swahili studies for 40 years, offering courses for scholars of all levels of expertise. Once the semester is over, Mattwig has chosen to extend her studies for another semester. She will spend the spring semester continuing in the Boren program, but will supplement the courses with an internship in an environmental organization nearby.
Mattwig will attend Allegheny’s 2017 Commencement ceremony on May 13 but will remain matriculated until the completion of the Boren Scholar program, officially graduating in May 2018.