Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Fairmont State University senior Alicia Nieman received a $2,500 study abroad scholarship from the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship Program. Nieman is the first Fairmont State University student in recent history to receive the scholarship and spent five weeks this summer in South Africa.

The past Student Government president and a mother of two, Nieman’s focus has been on improving her community, both on and off campus. During Dr. Greg Noone’s American government class, Niemen had her “ah-ha” moment as she realized that her interest in international policies was well suited for a political science degree.

“I want to work either with the Department of State or with the U.N. to help to improve policies that exist focusing on international human rights. I think that area really found me. When I came here I was an undecided major because I knew that I liked this university, I liked the campus, I was liking the people I was meeting. I still wasn’t really sure about what I wanted to do,” she said.  

“I took some basic classes and one of those classes was American Government with Dr. Greg Noone. Just being in a classroom with him and hearing his story made me realize that my personality is really suited toward a lot of things that he talks about. The more and more I got involved in school, the more and more I knew this is exactly what I wanted to do, so I started shaping my curriculum to focus on those aspects so I could take everything that I learned here and move on to the next level.”

At the recommendation of Dr. Erin Hippolyte, Assistant Professor of French and Study Abroad Coordinator, Nieman first considered studying abroad last year. “I have always felt connected with the conflict in Africa, and I never imagined that I would have the opportunity to see it for myself,” she said.

While in South Africa, Nieman chose classes offered through the Nation Building and Development of South Africa Program and studied South African economics, history and post-apartheid political science.

“Because of my political science major, I naturally chose courses in that area. My professors were able to not only speak of their experiences as South Africans living in a post-apartheid environment, but were also able to give their views from their specific gender. It was interesting to see how men and women view current and past conditions differently,” she said.

Looking back on her experience, Nieman said what she remembers most was her visit to the townships. During the Apartheid Era, blacks were evicted from properties that were in areas designated as “white only” and were forced to move into segregated townships. Separate townships were established for each of the three designated non-white race groups.

“Today, South Africans have been able to racially integrate their communities in the post-apartheid environment at a rapid pace,” said Nieman.

In addition to studying abroad, Nieman participated in the Pathways Advancing Community Employment (PACE) project’s trip to India in the spring of 2011. Nieman joined Fairmont State professors Dr. Craig White and Dr. Sunil Surendran. The team conducted a firsthand, macro needs assessment analysis by interviewing over 500 villagers.   

“We discovered that these villagers need healthcare, shoes, transportation, clean water, education on planting the best crops, etc. With a little direction they can maintain their cultural lifestyle but will not have to worry about going to bed hungry. Our hope is to take the observations we have made in the villages of India and create a plan to help abolish the poverty they are experiencing,” she said.

Nieman will spend her fall 2011 semester speaking to other students about her experience and the availability of the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship. She wants all students to know that travel abroad opportunities are available to them and these experiences are invaluable.

“I do not think that I would have had the opportunities elsewhere that I have here. You can be a shining star at Fairmont State,” Nieman said.

What does “be First” mean to you? To share your “be First” story, send an e-mail to befirst@fairmontstate.edu.