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Sita Syal, a WISE RP alumna, was recently chosen as a Udall Scholar. The honor, awarded to only 80 students nationally each year, is given to students committed to careers in the environment or Native American policy. This year, she was the only student from the state of Michigan to receive a Udall scholarship. Here’s what she has to say about the application experience:
I had to first submit my application letters of recommendation to U of M (the PitE department runs this scholarship). Since each university is only allowed to have a fixed number of nominees, the PitE committee went through and picked their nominees to compete for the national scholarship. I was one of 4 nominees from U of M. Then, we were put in touch with former Udall scholars who go to Michigan and they helped us revise our application to compete nationally. It was so helpful to get a perspective from someone who had successfully gone through submitting a Udall application, but it was intense! There was a normal application part where I put my information, activities, etc., but then there was a huge essay section. There were 7 short answer sections that asked us about our career goals and activities we have done that show our commitment to these goals. Although they were separate questions, we had to weave each essay together, almost like it was one big essay. At the end, there was a large essay were we had to read a piece of work by either Morris Udall or Stewart Udall (the senators from which this scholarship and foundation is in honor of) and analyze it.
Becoming a Udall scholar has many advantages, including both a scholarship and networking opportunities. Sita discusses some of these benefits:
I get a nice sized scholarship to help pay for school, and also get to be a part of the "Udall network." There is a really big push to make a community within the scholar group to encourage networking - many of us are likeminded and doing similar things, so it's a really amazing network to be a part of! There is an email group with all the current scholars this year that we use to talk with one another and pass on cool opportunities. I'm also part of the regional Udall network, which is pretty cool. I get to be in touch with people who were probably very similar to me in college, and learn about their lives and jobs. At the end of this summer, they are also flying all the scholars into Tuscon, Arizona, for a mandatory, 4-day scholar orientation, where we will get to know the other scholars, meet scholar alumni, do team building, participate in discussions and educational workshops, and have fun together. It should be a blast!
Sita also recently returned from a semester studying abroad in India where she learned about India’s uses of renewable energy.
I went on a study abroad to India for the Winter 2012 semester (January to April 2012). It was amazing! I was in New Delhi, the capital city, at a college under Delhi University. I took a semester off of engineering to take classes for my International Minor. I took advanced Hindi, a social economics class on India, and a field work class. The field work class was very unique from any other study abroad program I have heard of - each student was placed with a different organization for 6 weeks to study something that they were interested in. I was placed in the federal government with the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE). My project was to study renewable energy policy and then travel to different sites to study the actual implementation. I focused on solar energy during my time there. I spent the first part of my internship in the MNRE office, reading policies, talking with government officials, and learning a lot about the renewable energy activities in India. Then for the second half, I traveled to different places around the country to see solar installations in both rural and urban settings. I also got a chance to talk with the stakeholders to understand their point of view and how the technology affected them and their families. My final presentation was a comparison of solar energy in the residential sector in rural vs. urban settings. It was an amazing opportunity, and also made me more excited to learn about renewable energy.
In between schoolwork and studying abroad, Sita is also very involved with student organizations at the University.
While working on a chemical engineering major and international minor, I am involved in BLUElab and Groove. BLUElab, Better Living Using Engineering Laboratory, is student group that works towards sustainable solutions in developing communities. I was the project leader of a design team under BLUElab called Woven Wind. Woven Wind is working to create wind turbines with the blades made of woven material. We are working in a village in Guatemala with a women's weaving cooperative to co-design this product. I have gone to Guatemala twice with this group! We have made great progress and relationships, and the group is continuing to work on this product. I have transitioned out of being project leader of Woven Wind and will be the incoming president of the overall BLUElab organization for this school year. Along with BLUElab, I am involved in Groove, a percussion performance group. We write our own songs and perform at many events throughout the semester, ending with our own, self-run, show at the end of each semester. Through that group, I play all sorts of percussion instruments (even trash cans!) and electric violin. I love music, so it's a great way to have a creative outlet and meet other people who love music. In addition to BLUElab and Groove, I love hanging out with friends, volunteering, and playing IM and pick-up sports.