April 29, 2013

William Shlah earns human rights scholarship

by Andrea Hahn

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- A Southern Illinois University Carbondale student is one of two recipients of the 2013 Alice Rowan Swanson Fellowship, a scholarship that pairs human rights projects and study abroad.

William Shlah, a senior from Calgary, Alberta, Canada majoring in political science, will return to Vietnam where he studied In 2012 through SIT Study Abroad’s Vietnam: Language, Culture and Development program.

He’ll leave for Vietnam in early July for a three-week project in the Mekong Delta region.  During his prior trip Shlah and his classmates worked with a local community to implement a sustainable bio-digester system known in Vietnam as a VACB.  On this trip, he will be involved from start to finish in installing a similar system for a family in need.

The system converts animal waste into cooking gas, fertilizer and fish food.  In addition, the system keeps contaminants out of the nearby waterway and surrounding environment.

“I was initially drawn to Vietnam because of its tumultuous recent history,” said Shlah in explaining why he chose Vietnam for his study abroad experience.

“The country has undergone a dramatic recent history including colonialism and the subsequent anti-colonial struggle, war, reconstruction and development, market liberalization, and many other dynamic developments that make it an interesting case to study in order to learn more about the influences of these factors and others in terms of politics.”

Shlah believed the bio-digester system project was one worthy of funding within the context of the competitive scholarship -- particularly because he has firsthand experience with the system and an understanding of the practical benefits it provides.

“Because there is a limited supply of fossil fuels, and increasing demand, there is a need to increase efficiency and gradually to move towards resources that are more renewable,” he said.

In addition to the SIT Study Abroad-funded project, Shlah will teach English at a private university in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) for nearly a year.  He plans to pursue a graduate degree in the future as well.

The scholarship is in honor of Alice Rowan Swanson, a former SIT Study Abroad student who died in a bicycle accident.  Her family keeps her memory alive by promoting human rights projects, which was a particular interest to Swanson.

SIT Study Abroad is part of World Learning.  World Learning is a not-for-profit organization that seeks to promote education, and world citizenship and leadership.