Montana State University

Two MSU students engineer Boren awards for international study

June 2, 2010

Katy Hansen, a recent MSU industrial engineering graduate from Bozeman, is the first MSU student to win a Boren Fellowshipfor graduate students. She will receive a $30,000 award to study water management in Israel and the Middle East. MSU photo by Kelly Gorham.   High-Res Available

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The arid Israeli desert and the elongated reach of Chile are both a long way from the hallways of Montana State University's Roberts Hall, home of the College of Engineering. Yet, for two MSU engineering students, the college has been a pathway to the two countries as they have become recipients of one of the U.S.' most prestigious scholarships for international study.

Katy Hansen, a recent graduate in industrial engineering and economics who hails from Bozeman, and Lara Wabrek, a senior majoring in mechanical engineering from Pocatello, Idaho, are both recipients of Boren awards, which are State Department sponsored fellowships to study abroad.

Hansen is the first MSU student to win a Boren Fellowship, which is the Boren award exclusively for graduate students. She will receive a $30,000 award for study in world regions critical to U.S. interests. Hansen will study water management in Israel and the Middle East and is already enrolled in an intensive Arabic language program to prepare her for her year abroad.

Wabrek, who received an undergraduate Boren, will spend the spring 2011 semester in Valdivia, Chile as a Boren Scholar. She will receive an award of $10,000 to study at the Austral University in Valdivia and hopes to perform an internship in the community.

According to Sally O'Neill, MSU's coordinator of Boren awards based in the Office of International Programs, it is believed to be the first time MSU has won a Boren graduate award. Wabrek's is the sixth undergraduate Boren received by an MSU student. The last was Kathy Laubach, an MSU business student who studied in Japan in 2001.

"This is extraordinary news for Montana State University and the College of Engineering," said Heidi Sherick, assistant dean for the MSU College of Engineering and the director of EMPower (Engineering Minority Program), a program that supports underrepresented groups in engineering, including women.

"The fact that both of the students selected were women in our college makes us especially proud. They are living examples of successful women engineers who are changing the world. Both women are bright, driven and a joy to be around. Ironically, they have been roommates during part of their time at Montana State."

Hansen learned about the Boren Fellowship from Ilse-Mari Lee, director of MSU's University Honors Program, who thought she might be a good fit for the graduate Boren. Hansen, in turn, thought her friend and former roommate, Wabrek, might be a good candidate for the undergraduate Boren award.

In addition, both Hansen and Wabrek came to MSU as Presidential Scholars, which is the equivalent of an academic full-ride, and are part of MSU's University Honors program.

Hansen, who had been considering other universities for her undergraduate studies, said the Presidential Scholarship, as well as the quality of the academic programs, professors, and extra-circular activities, were big reasons that she stayed in Bozeman and attended MSU.

A graduate of Bozeman High School, Hansen's father was an engineer in Iraq and both of her parents served in the U.S. State Department in Mumbai, India. After high school she worked in Vienna, Austria, and studied German before enrolling in college. Once at MSU, she became involved in a variety of activities that reflected her passion for global issues. She worked with MSU political scientist Linda Young researching improving agricultural economics in emerging countries. She was president of MSU's Engineers Without Borders chapter, which has become one of the most respected chapters in the country for its work to bring potable water to remote villages in Kenya. Hansen was also vice president of ASMSU and a member of MSU's Women in Engineering Student Advisory Board.

Hansen said she majored in engineering and minored in economics because she believes the two fields will give her the tools to help address some pressing global issue.

"My long-term goal is to apply industrial engineering principals to humanitarian crisis," Hansen said. She said she believes her future work will focus on the shortage of water, which she believes will become increasingly critical to global economics, politics and peace. Water systems will be essential to her work on her Boren Fellowship as she interns at the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies at Kibbutz Ketura in Israel. There she will conduct water resource management research in Israel, Palestine and Jordan.

Lee said that Hansen's Boren graduate fellowship is indeed "a significant opportunity" and applauds her for foregoing lucrative opportunities in private industry for a career in public service.

"I had dozens of people (at MSU) who were lifting me up, which is important to the discussion of any accomplishment that I may have had here," Hansen said, adding that an advantage of attending MSU was that from her first year, she was able to do research with professors on meaningful subjects, such as Young's international political economics. "I don't think I would have had such opportunities (elsewhere)."

Boren fellows are required to work for one year following the fellowship at a government job. Hansen eventually hopes to enroll in graduate school.

Unlike Hansen, Wabrek was not already familiar with MSU while growing up, but she knew about academia. Her father is an engineering professor at Idaho State University. Wabrek said she knew from a young age that she wanted to major in engineering. But, her requirements were a little unorthodox.

"I was looking for a school that offered both engineering and fencing," she said. "There are not as many schools with that combination as you might think."

While at MSU, Wabrek has been involved in fencing, although now she primarily coaches rather than competes. She has also served as an Engineering Ambassador, representing mechanical engineering in outreach events, recruitment and student advocacy. Wabrek's undergraduate Boren requires that she be fluent in Spanish. She will return to MSU to get another major in Spanish and has also spent a "glorious" semester abroad studying in Valencia, Spain. .

Wabrek will take courses at a local university while in Chile, will live with a local family and will have an internship in the community. She will graduate next May then she will be required to work for the government for a year in exchange for the scholarship. She eventually hopes to attend graduate school, perhaps majoring in biomechanics, perhaps in the medical field.

Ilse-Mari Lee (406) 994-4689,, Sally O\'Neill, (406) 994-7688,