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Two students earn national security education awards

July 23, 2008

KALAMAZOO--Two Western Michigan University students have won highly competitive Boren awards from the National Security Education Program to conduct research overseas.

Courtney Marie Buck of Broomfield, Colo., was awarded a Boren Fellowship worth more than $19,000 to conduct biofuel research in Kenya and Jamie LeBlanc-Hadley, now of Kalamazoo and formerly of Houston, Texas, was awarded a Boren Scholarship worth $11,300 to attend Beijing Language and Culture University for the 2008-09 academic year.

"The Boren scholarships and fellowships through the National Security Exchange Program are very competitive national awards similar to the Fulbright awards," said Brett Berquist, WMU's executive director of international programs and NSEP campus representative.

"Jaime and Courtney worked closely with their faculty mentors and me to prepare strong applications. Their unique study projects would not have been possible without this support. We're pleased that two of the three applications from WMU were funded this year, and we hope to see more applications next year."

NSEP funds innovative, intensive and long-term opportunities that build significant competencies in the critical languages and cultures of Asia, Africa, Eastern Europe, Latin America and the Middle East. Its awards are unique in that after completing their academic studies, recipients commit to entering public service with the U.S. government. The service duration is equal to the duration of assistance provided under the program, but in no case less than one year.

Both Buck and LeBlanc-Hadley will give back through employment within the intelligence community, utilizing the language skills they gain through their experiences abroad. This could include serving as intelligence analysts in the states or U.S. Foreign Service officers overseas.

Buck is working on a Master in International Development Administration at WMU through the Department of Political Science. She was one of 92 Boren Fellows selected from a pool of 388 applicants and ultimately hopes to pursue a career in East African sustainable development.

Her 10-month fellowship activities began in late May when Buck started nearly three months of intensive language training in the United States to improve her conversational Swahili skills. Upon concluding this training, she will travel to Kenya's Coast Province--the same province she worked in as a volunteer in summer 2007.

While overseas, Buck will work predominantly with KOMAZA, a community-based organization focused on sustainable agricultural enterprises and poverty reduction. She plans to help implement a pilot project promoting small-scale jatropha farming to improve energy self-sufficiency and environmental sustainability in rural Kilifi District communities.

"The overseas component combines supervised research with my unpaid internship at KOMAZA," Buck said.

"My research will be carried out with Dr. John Onyari and other biological chemists and biofuel specialists at the University of Nairobi, with which WMU shares an academic memorandum of understanding encouraging collaboration in biodiesel research and development projects."

Drs. Paul Clements and Sushi Datta-Sandhu, WMU professors of political science, served as Buck's mentors and assisted her in applying for the Boren Fellowship.

"Courtney richly deserves the award. She's one of the strongest students the Master of International Development Administration program has seen in recent years, and she's particularly committed to improving conditions in developing countries," Clements said.

"This fellowship allows her to address two critical issues for developing countries--poverty and energy security. She will also be strengthening her Swahili language skills and building on her foundation of professional skills and resources."

LeBlanc-Hadley is a senior working on an undergraduate major in global and international studies with a minor in Chinese. She was one of 150 Boren Scholarship recipients from a national pool of 697 applicants. WMU also has awarded her $8,000 from its President's Grant for Study Abroad program, a $5 million endowment fund administered by the Haenicke Institute for Global Education that provides needs-based scholarships to students for overseas foreign language study.

While at the Beijing Language and Culture University, LeBlanc-Hadley will spend part of her time studying with her husband, Daniel Hadley, a WMU junior from Newago, Mich., and a former Marine who served in Iraq.

Hadley introduced his wife to Chinese in his freshman year, and she introduced him to global and international studies, which is now his major. The two will be taking intensive Chinese courses, in addition to other academic courses applicable to their degrees.

LeBlanc-Hadley also will spend part of her time working on her WMU Lee Honors College thesis project, which focuses on Chinese economic policy, primarily in Tibet.

"I'll be focusing on economic policy that China has enacted and, obviously, given recent relations with China and Tibet, I'd like to visit there as well. There's data available in China that's not available over here," Le-Blanc Hadley said.

"My main objectives are to become functionally fluent in Mandarin, to gain better insight into contemporary Chinese culture, and to analyze Chinese texts and data related to the country's economic policies that impact U.S. national security as it relates to the economy and trade."

Dr. Gregory Veeck, WMU professor of geography, served as Le-Blanc-Hadley's research director and assisted her in crafting her NSEP proposal.

"Jaime is an excellent student and certainly deserves the considerable national recognition indicated by this award. It's an honor for her, and also, I might add, for WMU," Veeck said.

"The awards for China are particularly competitive because of China's growing international roles in the global economy and the political stage and the Olympics this year. It's been a pleasure to work with Jaime, and I know she'll make the most of the opportunity."

To learn more about the National Security Exchange Program scholarships and fellowships, contact the Haenicke Institute at study-abroad@wmich.edu or (269) 387-5890.

Media contact: Jeanne Baron, (269) 387-8400, jeanne.baron@wmich.edu

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