Before coming to West Virginia University, Alanna Markle spent a year in Brazil as a foreign exchange student.
The Morgantown native and Parkersburg High School graduate didn’t know if a larger university like WVU would be the right fit for her. She was hoping for an individualized college experience. In fact, she thought a private, out-of-state institution might be better.
In the end, though, Markle chose WVU. She graduated in May with a dual degree in international studies with a focus in international development and political science as an Order of Augusta recipient.
And, she says WVU gave her the experience to become the University’s 32nd Fulbright Scholar.
“I ended up having far more opportunities than I thought I would. WVU has really exceeded my expectations, especially when it comes to international exposure, progressive thinking and faculty involvement,” she said. “There were so many international opportunities that I got to experience because of WVU. Some would think WVU would be a bit impersonal, because it’s such a large institution. But, in my experience, it’s the opposite.”
Markle found out last week she had been awarded a research/study grant from the Fulbright Program. She is the fifth student Fulbright recipient from WVU this year – a record for the University. She’s the first recipient in more than a decade from WVU to receive a Fulbright academic research/study grant. The others have been English-teaching assistant grants. Additionally, Larry Banta, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering in the Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources, will be traveling to Italy after being chosen by the Fulbright Scholar Program.
“We are incredibly proud to have an unprecedented fifth Fulbright Scholar this year,” said WVU President Jim Clements. “When our students earn these kind of honors, it brings great pride to our faculty and staff, who do such a great job mentoring our students. Alanna’s hard work, perseverance and dedication to her studies helped earn this life-changing opportunity, and I wish her all the best as a Fulbright in Nicaragua.”
She will travel to Nicaragua early next year for 10 months to study agricultural microfinance, the provision of financial support to low-income clients. Microfinance has been less successful in Nicaragua than in other countries, and Markle wants to find out why.
WVU has really exceeded my expectations, especially when it comes to international exposure, progressive thinking and faculty involvement. ... Some would think WVU would be a bit impersonal, because it’s such a large institution. But, in my experience, it’s the opposite.”
She will look at microfinance of coffee, basic grains and other agricultural products common to the area of the Nicaraguan Highlands. She will be working with two institutional affiliations – a university in Nicaragua and a non-governmental organization, The Working World, which works in microfinance during that time.
“My research will look at four different types of microfinance institutions to see which institutional methodologies are the most effective in enabling people to improve their quality of life and have economic mobility,” she said.
Two months ago, Markle didn’t think she would be doing any of this research at all. She wasn’t initially selected as a Fulbright. She was named an alternate. However, that changed when more funding became available for the program.
“When I found out, I felt a little bit afraid, because it rocked my world again. It definitely caught me by surprise. Talking with my family and advisor about it helped me get excited again. At this point, I’m really looking forward to it and eager to get back into my research,” she said.
She has gained a passion for Nicaragua over the last few years through multiple trips to the country.
Read about WVU’s other Fulbright recipients this year:
Lisa Beans, Jeremy Munza and Stefni Richards
Markle was a co-founder of the student organization Fair Trade 2.0, which sells “first-hand coffee” at the Mountain People’s Co-Op and the Health Sciences Farmer’s Market in Morgantown. The money made from that effort is used to help fund non-coffee income generating activities for a coffee-farming cooperative in Nicaragua. This organization helped her gain an internship in Nicaragua with The Working World. Markle and a group of WVU students, many of whom were members of Fair Trade 2.0, spent 10 days in Nicaragua earlier this year.
“Alanna is inspiring. As professors, we often get mired in identifying problems rather than proposing solutions. Then a student like Alanna comes along. She reminds you that another world is not only necessary but possible,” said Bradley Wilson, a 2006 Fulbright Fellow and assistant professor of geography at WVU who helped mentor Markle throughout her undergraduate studies.
“Alanna is a fiercely independent thinker, an excellent collaborator and cares deeply about social justice,” Wilson added. “Her project on microfinance with disadvantaged farming communities will have a significant impact on development theory and practice in Nicaragua and beyond.”
Her sincere interest in the area is the reason she was ultimately awarded the Fulbright Scholarship over other applicants, Markle believes.
“My understanding of Nicaragua is pretty specific to this cooperative of coffee farmers we’ve been working with, but they are incredibly inspirational, wonderful people,” she said. “My relationship with them is what makes me love the country so much.”
She hopes the Fulbright opportunity helps her when applying for Master’s degree programs next year. She also hopes to get a Ph.D. before thinking more seriously about career goals. She isn’t sure whether she would like to go into international development or government work. She would ideally like to start her own non-governmental organization based on her experience background.
“I happen to be wired up for academics. I truly enjoyed learning throughout college and engaging with the challenges it presented,” she said.
Until she has to get serious about a career path, Markle will continue to act on her passion for traveling and exploring the world.
“I’m not sure where that drive to go abroad comes from, but gaining a multicultural perspective is something that I think is important for the survival of our species. I’m driven to travel to get more clarity on the issues I study for myself and to be able to take that and translate it into something we can use,” she said. “People limit themselves in traveling and focus too much on the economic barriers or the fear that they feel rather than focusing on the rewards that they can get from it.
“It’s really incredible to see the differences in places, but also the similarities between human beings and those basic, common experiences that we have. It’s really been an important part of my life, especially when it comes to self-exploration. Traveling is one of the best ways to really learn about yourself, and that’s one of the reasons I’m so addicted to it.”
By Tony Dobies
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