Lacey funds to support public health studies in Nepal

Scholarship recipient Alexyah Dethvongsa ’22 changes plans from India to Nepal due to SIT program's COVID concerns

December 16, 2020
Mark Tarnacki
Staff Writer

Supported by funds from the Brian Lacey ’72 International Fellowship in Social Justice, Saint Michael’s College junior Alexyah Dethvongsa ’22 — an international relations and public health double major with a minor in peace and justice — will spend a semester living, learning and serving in Nepal during the coming Spring 2021 semester with a focus on public health issues, after COVID concerns canceled her original plans to study similar issues from India.

Alexyah

Alexyah Dethvongsa ’22

“Alexyah Dethvongsa will be a stellar Saint Michael’s representative while abroad in Nepal,” said Peggy Imai, the College’s director of study abroad, in announcing this year’s Lacey Fellowship recipient. She emphasized how important Lacey’s support continues to be for Study Abroad and to the College in general.

Dethvongsa, whose hometown is Laconia, NH, originally enrolled in an SIT Study Abroad program based in New Delhi, India, but learned in recent weeks that, due to COVID concerns, the program was moved to Kathmandu. “Alexyah was naturally disappointed, but she soon came to appreciate what Nepal has to offer,” said Imai. “While many aspects of the program will need to change, the basic academic rigor and focus of the program remains the same.”

In her application for the scholarship, submitted soon after learning that her studies would be in Nepal rather than India, Dethvongsa wrote, “I believe I have a lot to gain from studying Nepali culture and the relationship that gender, caste and community action can have on public health. While looking at Nepal, there are many social factors that can create long-lasting societal norms and biases, and when abroad, I hope to look at how these factors impact various policies.”

Each Lacey scholarship is for $2,500 to be used for intensive academic and experiential learning about cultures, language immersion and activities that promote social justice in their respective study-abroad locations.

Dethvongsa explained what that will mean for her and her family. “The funds would be used to help offset the cost of my program,” she wrote. “While it has always been a goal of mine to go abroad, the financial considerations have often had an impact on my ability. I am a First Generation college student, with a single parent and three other siblings, so finances have always had an impact on what I have been able to experience.”

She said she is able to attend Saint Michael’s in the first place because of scholarships from the school and outside donors. “I have been saving since my freshman year to go abroad, and with the help of this scholarship, I would be able to pay for this semester abroad,” she wrote. “I hope to use it to help pay for the tuition of this program.”

After returning from her experience, Dethvongsa would plan to write articles through outlets such as HER Campus and campus student media about what she learned. She also would hope to speak to the social justice clubs on campus with which she is already active, such as the Peace and Justice Club and the United Nations Association-USA campus chapter.

“I am learning that it is not one person making one giant effort that is going to change the world, but rather millions of people putting in an effort to make the world a better place,” she said in her application. “It takes understanding, compassion and determination to create a system or reform a system …”

Dethvongsa said she first acknowledged the importance of social justice and charity in the summer of 2010, “when my house burned down and various charities, people and donations were what helped my life get back to normal.”

“These groups and organizations helped me understand that the little things are what is important,” wrote Dethvonsga, who became active in her high school community service and social justice clubs and came to love the work, attending conferences and creating fundraisers on such issues as clean water access, public health and homelessness and working with vulnerable populations in her community. It was in her Saint Michael’s anthropology classes that she learned about the concept of “holism” and the importance of being perceptive with fresh and open perspectives and a “mindset of understanding and compassion” while being in a new place, without undue influence from preconceived cultural biases, she said.

After Saint Michael’s, her goal is to apply for a Fulbright grant and later work with public health, refugees, clean water and human rights, she said, promoting international cooperation to solve international issues such as climate change, the refugee crisis and women’s education.

About Lacey Fellowships

The Brian Lacey International Fellowship in Social Justice is designed to encourage and honor students who have demonstrated superior academic achievement as well as a dedication to a deeper understanding of issues and social-justice. This merit-and need-based award is intended to recognize students who show initiative, imagination and motivation to apply their academic skills to the betterment of humanity.

The fellowship is offered once each semester. They are funded through gifts from Brian Lacey ’72 — president of Lacey Entertainment, a New York-based worldwide television marketing, production and distribution company. Lacey is also founder and director of the Kilkea Foundation, a non-profit organization that encourages and honors excellence in the humanities, arts and sciences. This benefactor also has established the Henry G. Fairbanks Endowed Chair in the Humanities at Saint Michael’s through the Kilkea Foundation.

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