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Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Humphrey Fellows look to bring global change

In a year’s time Trecia Mullings will return to Jamaica with a single aim: to change things for the better. “I want to see what certain industries in the U.S. are doing in terms of resource management, water management and waste management,” she said. “I want to see how they reduce their impact on the environment, and take those ideas back to Jamaica with me.”

As Jamiaca’s first female certified safety professional (CSP), Mullings has joined this year’s group of Humphrey Fellows spending a year at UC Davis. Nationwide, 156 mid-career professionals, like Mullings, from over 90 designated countries, will take part in the Humphrey Fellowship Program this year. Their destinations are 15 of the U.S.’s most prestigious universities.

This year, UC Davis welcomes 11 Fellows focusing on agricultural development and environmental sciences. Each fellow builds his or her own individual program that combines non-degree study with practical experience.

“Some of our Fellows come here with the aim of returning to their home country with new technologies. One [Humphrey] Fellow this year, Huatian Zhang, has set herself the task of looking at pollution control mechanisms and technologies and taking these back to China with her,” said Paul Marcotte, program director and UC Davis professor of agriculture and environmental science.

“Some of our Fellows on the other hand come to Davis to brush up on their skills,” Marcotte noted. “For many of them it has been 15 to 20 years since they were last in school so they see this as a chance to find out where science has moved to since.”

For nearly all of the Humphrey Fellows, however, their goals encompass more than academics.

“It’s an opportunity for most to meet people from other places and learn how to navigate through those multi-cultural waters,” Marcotte said. “Many of our Fellows will go back and become ministers in their countries, or work for world organizations like the UN. This is the starting point for them.”

For Mullings, one of the best things about her journey so far has been learning to accept the opinions of others. “I’ve learnt more tolerance and patience here,” she said. “If we have differences, it doesn’t mean that I am right, or that you are right, but that we are just different.”

Although it is much different than her home, living in Davis has been a positive experience for Mullings.

“I love Davis,” Mullings said. “Believe me, when I went to New York two weeks ago and I saw all the hustle and bustle I missed Davis. It’s so quiet and peaceful. I really, really love it.”

But Mullings will have one thing to look forward to on her return to Jamaica next year. “I miss the food!” she said.

The transition to the American way of life can be a challenge in itself to many of the fellows, some of who leave young families behind for the year. Colombian, [omit comma ml] Julián Cardona Vallejo, whose focus for the year is the economic valuation of ecosystems, has two children back home.

“I miss my children. One of them is nine and the other is three,” he said. “I try to call them every day.”

But for Vallejo and the others, the sacrifices are worth it in the long run. He hopes to return to Colombia and set up a consultancy with the help of contacts he meets this year.

“It’s a great experience,” Vallejo said. “Sharing the different cultures and trying to understand the American culture is very useful for our professional lives.”

The Humphrey Fellowship Program originated in the late 1970s by President Jimmy Carter in honor of former Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey, a supporter of international understanding and cooperation.

In the program’s 30 years of operation, it has seen 4,090 Fellows from more than 156 countries travel to the U.S. in the hope of making a difference.

To see the program’s results one need only look to its recent history. Tanh Tran Nhan Nhuyen, a Humphrey Fellow who studied at UC Davis last year recently found out he will direct a World Bank funded, five-country environmental project on the Mekong river delta in Vietnam, Marcotte said.

“It’s a very prestigious program with a small number of Fellows taken in each year. It’s definitely a significant achievement for them to have gotten here,” said Karissa Ringel, social coordinator and student assistant. “But it’s definitely also a huge benefit to Davis – these are all people who are going places in their countries, it’s great being able to meet them as they have so much to offer.”

Much of the program’s benefits come from the cultural enrichment that it brings to the campus and city, Ringel said.

“It’s all about the new perspectives they bring,” she said. “A huge part of this program is knowledge assimilation, from their cultures to ours and ours to theirs. They do community presentations and go into schools. It’s a great benefit to all the people they meet.”

Interacting with the Humphrey Fellows has enriched Ringel’s own education.

“We watched a presentation earlier by our Fellow from Djibouti, Aden Atteyeh Sougal, on the situation of portable water there. It was an incredibly moving presentation that showed some of the hardships that some of these people come from, and the challenges their countries face,” she said. “To hear about it from them really brings home the realities of the world.”

This year’s Fellows will attend a Global Forum at the Fielder Room of the MU between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. on Nov. 21. This will be a chance to hear from the Fellows themselves about their home countries and projects.

 

CHRISTOPHER BONE can be reached at features@theaggie.org.

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