UW Students to Study in Hungary, Liberia Through Cheney Fellowship

May 29, 2008

Learning from some of the world's eminent mathematics professors and helping a war-torn country develop a waste management system will highlight a study abroad opportunity for two University of Wyoming students.

Daniel Peterson of Cheyenne and Jeminie Shell of Portland, Ore., (by way of Sheridan and Buffalo) are the latest recipients of the Dick and Lynne Cheney Fellowships for Excellence in Study Abroad. In its second year at UW, the highly-competitive fellowship was created by Vice President Dick Cheney and his wife Lynne to promote study abroad opportunities. Awards are presented to both an undergraduate and graduate student.

Peterson, a senior studying mathematics, will spend the fall semester participating in the Budapest Semesters in Mathematics in Hungary. Shell, a UW graduate student in both environment and natural resources and international studies, will be in Monrovia, Liberia, this summer taking part in an NGO (non-governmental organization) internship in waste management. She received her B.A. degree in anthropology from Yale University.

Peterson says the Hungarian mathematics program is one of the world's strongest, most notably in the field of combinatorics -- a branch of pure mathematics concerning the study of discrete (and usually finite) objects -- and particularly in extremal graph theory.

"These topics are typically left out of an undergraduate education in American universities. The Budapest semester will supplement the education I've received at the University of Wyoming," Peterson says.

When he returns to UW, Peterson will work on a project supervised by UW Department of Mathematics Associate Professor G. Eric Moorhouse and funded by the Wyoming NASA Space Grant Consortium. Peterson plans to use extremal graph theory to optimize satellite networks in space.

"Learning a great deal of exciting mathematics from some of the world's eminent professors will be an experience like none other," Peterson says. "Rounding out my mathematical background will help me as I pursue a doctoral degree in mathematics. The experience will likely make the adjustment to graduate school much easier."

Anne Alexander, director of UW International Programs, says both Peterson and Shell will gain valuable experience through the Dick and Lynne Cheney Fellowships for Excellence in Study Abroad program.

"It's hard to overstate the significance of what Daniel will be doing through his studies in Hungary. He will be able to study in the subject area of some of the greatest mathematicians in the world," Alexander says. "Daniel's gold-standard academic abilities and enthusiasm for working with colleagues across borders are legendary among his UW professors, and he will be an excellent ambassador for the university."

"I am very grateful to Vice President Dick and Mrs. Lynne Cheney. The Budapest semester is one of the most highly-regarded experiences available to undergraduates in mathematics and this will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience," Peterson adds. "This award has made it much easier to deal with the financial realities of studying abroad."

While in Liberia, Shell will put in to practice the most basic environmental quality -- waste management -- which has been demonstrated to positively influence economic development.

Shell will use the fellowship to help fund an unpaid internship with DUCOR Waste Management in Monrovia. Some of her duties will include public health education and outreach to promote proper trash management, safe water storage and treatment and the development of community litter prevention initiatives.

She will incorporate a small research project into her internship, which will look at how behavior change is best accomplished in the areas of solid waste management and water storage.

"Successful behavior change in these two areas directly affects the public health gains that can be made through implementation of community solid waste management programs. Because solid waste problems impact the poor disproportionately, the related environmental and public health problems can be viewed as serious human rights issues," Shell says. "This is a glaring reality in Monrovia, where approximately half of Liberia's population has sought refuge and jobs since the end of the civil war in 2003."

Shell plans to join the Peace Corps in January as part of her master's international program. She says the experience in Liberia will prepare her for the challenges she will face in the next phase of her career.

"I appreciate the generous support for international study experiences that the Cheneys have offered UW students. I am especially excited to use this fellowship to help support the people of Liberia as they slowly recover from their devastating civil war," Shell adds. "I believe this is the kind of work and experience the Cheney Fellowship encourages. I am impressed by the wide range of funding available at the university for study and travel abroad."

Alexander says Shell's work ethic influenced her selection as a fellowship recipient.

"Jeminie is one of the finest students we have at UW, with a double graduate major of international studies and ENR. She has amazing enthusiasm, raw intelligence and a roll-up-your-sleeves mentality," Alexander says. "After years of brutal civil war, Liberia is finally finding its way and Jeminie is just the right person to assist in their efforts."

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