Amazing Students

Kathleen Wilson

Foundation Fellow Kathleen Wilson has traveled the world and is now working in Washington, D.C., with the U.S. Department of State in preparation for her career advocating for the political, economic and social rights of women and girls worldwide.

Hometown:

Beaumont, Texas

High School:

Monsignor Kelly Catholic High School

Degree objective:

B.A. in economics, B.A. in international affairs

Other degrees:

Arabic minor, French minor

Expected graduation:

Spring 2016

University highlights, achievements, awards and scholarships:

My first semester at UGA, I took a Spanish class, an Arabic class, an international affairs class, an economics class and a chemistry class. Reflecting on the past 2 1/2 years I have spent at UGA, my experiences often seem like my freshman course load—a bit random and disjointed. Nonetheless, they have wonderfully blended together to form the cohesive narrative of who I am and what I’m passionate about.

The summer after my freshman year, with the support of the Bernard Ramsey Honors Scholarship, I traveled to Meknès, Morocco, for 11 weeks, where I studied Arabic intensively and volunteered in a women’s hospital. The summer was physically and mentally taxing but also exhilarating, setting the tone for my continuing study of Arabic.

Sophomore year, I decided to take the Roosevelt Scholars Policy Seminar—one of the best decisions I have made in my college career. In this course, I combined my interests in economics, international affairs and women’s rights by conducting policy research on women’s literacy in Afghanistan. I am incredibly grateful to my TAs Smitha Ganeshan and Jacqueline Van De Velde for their guidance. I am still involved in the Roosevelt Institute, a student-run think tank. On campus, I served as the director of the Education, Equal Justice, and Economic Development policy center this past semester, guiding other students through the policy process. This semester, I’m working as the editor-in-chief for the national 10 Ideas for Economic Development journal. Roosevelt continues to be a rewarding organization that challenges me to critically analyze issues.

The second half of sophomore year brought many additional blessings and opportunities for personal and professional growth. In the spring, I interned at the Carl Vinson Institute of Government as the International Center Fellow, where I researched child marriages in Syrian refugee camps. That same semester, I was honored to be the recipient of the Mid-Term Foundation Fellowship, a community of scholars, activists and friends who brought me into the fold and supported me in every step of my journey.

Last summer, I was also honored to be selected as an Honors in Washington recipient. Interning with the Government Relations and Global Health and Rights teams at the Feminist Majority Foundation in D.C., I became even more certain of my desire to pursue a career in public service, helping women and girls achieve their full potential. The summer ended on a high note as I flew to Chicago for a week of interfaith leadership training, as one of 12 Better Together coaches with the Interfaith Youth Core.

This past semester, with the help of some passionate, driven Georgia feminists, I founded WORC, the Women’s Outreach and Resource Collective. Coordinating with students, student groups and the UGA administration, WORC seeks to establish a collaborative community that champions gender equity and social justice. Here I am now, interning at the U.S. Department of State, championing social justice and human rights worldwide. It’s been an exciting journey so far, and I can’t wait to see what the next year and a half has in store for me!

Current Employment:

I am an intern at the U.S. Department of State in the Office of International Religious Freedom within the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. In this position, I am tracking developments in religious freedoms within the Middle East, South Central Asia and the East Asia Pacific regions. I’m privileged to be able to merge my passions for religious freedoms and women’s rights, conducting policy research on women in religious communities and their roles in countering violent extremism.

Family Ties to UGA:

I have no family ties to UGA. As a matter of fact, I don’t think I had ever been to the state of Georgia before I applied to UGA and came to visit.

I chose to attend UGA because…

There are three things that stuck out to me the day I visited UGA: North Campus, downtown Athens and the sense of community within the Bernard Ramsey Honors Scholar and Foundation Fellowship programs. I visited campus on a cold, dark, rainy day, and while dodging puddles on my walking tour through North Campus, I fell in love with the beauty and the buildings and the landscape. At lunch, I ran across Broad Street for a quick meal at East West Bistro and fell in love with Broad Street, the quintessential little college town right off campus. As for the people, the intellectual, supportive, activist community that welcomed me to campus made me confident that I would have opportunities for both academic and personal growth at UGA.

My favorite things to do on campus are…

1. Swing by the Fellows Library in Moore College for a quick nap, a dinner seminar with a professor or an afternoon study session with interspersed periods of lively, intellectual debate.

2. Go to class! As long as there’s not an exam that day, I genuinely usually like going to class. I’m grateful for the opportunities I have had to take classes across academic disciplines. From international affairs to economics to foreign language coursework, there’s always a new topic for me to get excited about.

3. It’s not technically on campus, but it’s right across the street … which is close enough for me. Some days just call for a coffee date with a friend at Walker’s, the ideal social study hangout.

When I have free time, I like…

I have zero shame in admitting that my go-to free time activity is napping. On super busy weeks, I can be found catching catnaps in the Fellows Library. I’m also a big fan of curling up on couches in coffee shops and reading. When not sleep deprived, I get in touch with my childhood dance and cheerleading careers by doing Zumba or dance classes. If I’m feeling especially daring, I like to experiment with gluten- and dairy-free dessert recipes.

The craziest thing I've done is…

Years of cheerleading produced daily chronic head pain that necessitated surgery four days after my high school graduation. Looking back on it, being thrown up in the air for seven straight years was pretty crazy, as were the head surgery and the decision to take a gap year. However, I think the craziest part of the story is the decision I made to spend the three months preceding the start of college as an au pair in Spain. On a bit of a whim, I was connected with a family in Spain that was searching for an au pair to teach English to their two kids, María and Guillermo. I got on a plane and flew to a country I had never visited and lived with a family I had never met. That summer consisted of copious amounts of sangria, Spanish tortillas, sun tanning and intercultural friendships.

My favorite place to study is…

… on the third floor of the main library. There’s a quiet, relatively hidden room with large wooden tables, egg chairs, couches, shag rugs and warm lighting. The room has large glass windows that overlook North Campus—a perfect view for studying.

My favorite professor is…

I once had an interview panel ask me who my favorite professor was. It was a trick question because two of my former professors were sitting across the table, secretly taking bets on which one I liked more. That being said, I can’t pick one favorite professor; there are so many who have introduced me to new material, challenged my thinking and supported me throughout my college career. In Terry, Meghan Skira in the economics department has been extremely supportive and always seems to have time for me to drop by her office, whether it be for a five-minute drop-in or an hourlong mock interview. In SPIA, MaryAnn Gallagher has been instrumental in fostering my passion for women’s rights within the international sphere. David Williams and Jessica Hunt have always made themselves available to me for professional, academic and personal advice. Santanu Chatterjee, Matt Clary, Kenneth Honerkamp, Chris Linder, Alicia Arribas … the list continues. I am eternally grateful to all of my professors who have invested time and energy into not only my academic success but also my personal fulfillment.

If I could share an afternoon with anyone, I would love to share it with…

I would love to get tea with Sakena Yacoobi, founder of the Afghan Institute of Learning and a personal hero. Born and raised in Afghanistan, Sakena came to the United States for college before returning to Afghanistan to found AIL, a nonprofit that serves over 350,000 women and children each year. She tirelessly works in Afghanistan to bring health and education services to Afghan girls and women. Sakena is one of my biggest sources of inspiration; I want to hear how she continues to persevere in her work even in the face of despair.

If I knew I could not fail, I would…

… eliminate all forms of discrimination against women and girls worldwide. One’s sex should not dictate his or her potential opportunities in life. When women have equal opportunities for education, economic mobility, political representation, etc., the benefits are extraordinary. GDP rises, health improves, life expectancy increases, the quality of life on average improves, and a country is likely to have greater political stability and more long-lasting peace. It is not only politically and economically advantageous for women to be afforded the same opportunities as men but also a fundamental human right.

If money was not a consideration, I would love to…

… travel the world, learning as many languages as possible. I envision myself spending two to three years in a place, immersing myself in the culture; reading, writing and speaking a new language; and making new friends and trying new foods. I also would have to find either a job I love or a volunteer opportunity during this time; I’d be far too bored just wandering around exploring, all day, every day. Maybe this is where my dreams of running an aerial yoga/baby ballet studio come into play?

After graduation, I plan to…

In the short run, I plan to pursue a joint Master of Public Policy and Master of Arts in Middle Eastern Studies. In the long run, I plan to settle down in a big city on the East Coast that has at least one bakery that meets my gluten- and dairy-free needs and spend my career advocating for the political, economic and social rights of women and girls worldwide.

The one UGA experience I will always remember will be…

… dancing on the top of the South Campus parking deck with scarves, scooters and loud music blaring, feeling inspired by the Canopy aerial dance performance I had just seen. That night marks the beginning of a dear friendship and every time I think of it, I can’t help but laugh out loud at how ridiculously happy and carefree we were.

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