Experiences in undergraduate research and cultural exchange begun during their time at West Virginia University have changed the trajectory of two Morgantown residents, both recent WVU graduates’ futures.
How might climate change impact our future water supply? Wilson “Will” McNeil’s undergraduate research experience at WVU asking this very question helped develop his passion for environmental preservation, an area he will continue to research and study in New Zealand in the upcoming year.
Christina White enjoys making connections across cultures and languages, something she believes is invaluable when trying to develop trust in healthcare settings between patients and medical providers. During her time at WVU, White volunteered as an English as a Second Language teacher, an experience that served to further emphasize the importance of understanding and empathy. She will continue this work this year in Mexico.
McNeil will further his studies by attending graduate school and performing research in New Zealand with a Fulbright Research Grant, while White will increase her cultural competency and teaching skills as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in Mexico.
McNeil will begin studying in the Master of Civil Engineering program at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, New Zealand, where he will study the environmental impacts of agriculture and soil erosion by researching hydrological and permeable surface modeling methods.
As an Honors EXCEL student, McNeil performed research with Leslie Hopkinson, modeling water resources of the Monongahela River over time, predicting how climate variation could affect supply and cause unmet demand. A May 2021 WVU graduate with a civil and environmental engineering major and an Honors College student, McNeil is excited to further his education in engineering while working to learn more about environmental preservation.
“The Fulbright provides an opportunity to live and study abroad, while also allowing me to have the honor of representing the US and West Virginia overseas. I chose New Zealand because I lived there in middle school and was captivated by the natural beauty, the Mori culture, and the nation’s commitment to environmental protection,” McNeil said.
White will travel to Mexico and work as an English teacher in the local public schools. She graduated in May 2021 with majors in international studies and biology and a Spanish minor.
White plans to go to medical school and specialize in providing healthcare to underserved populations, whether in rural West Virginia or refugee camps abroad.
She has been teaching English for nearly four years as a volunteer with the Literacy Volunteers of Monongalia and Preston Counties. Beginning last March, she also started offering independent ESL conversation classes, and this summer she completed a four-week online internship with Innova Learning Hub, an English teaching program based in Costa Rica, using funds from her Gilman Scholarship award.
White said teaching English provides a “two-way street of teaching and learning from my students.” She is eager to continue this work in Mexico, while also learning about local cuisine and nutrition, and the health practices of indigenous communities.
“To me, living abroad as a Fulbright Scholar represents intercultural sharing, uncomfortable conversations, and real-life challenges that will make me a more aware and compassionate health professional in the future,” White said.
The Fulbright Program is the U.S. government’s flagship international exchange program, giving students the opportunity to study, teach or conduct research abroad while increasing mutual understanding between Americans and people of other countries.