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Boren fellowship winners in the global governance and human security PhD program
July 20, 2017

Two UMass Boston McCormack PhD students earn fellowships to study languages abroad


  • Boston

Polly Cegielski and Linda Holcombe, both PhD students in the McCormack Graduate School, have received Boren Fellowships to study languages abroad. Cegielski is going to Tajikistan to study Pashto and Holcombe is going to Uganda to study Swahili.

The students’ work will be supported by the National Security Education Program. which funds U.S. college students who wish to study less commonly taught languages in world regions critical to U.S. interests and underrepresented in studies abroad.

Cegielski is focusing on critical military studies in the Global Governance and Human Security PhD Program. She did two tours in Afghanistan as a Department of Defense civilian and one tour as a military contractor.

“The Afghan people really inspired me, especially working with the women there,” Cegielski said. “What they have to deal with every day and then still be able to put a positive face on, whether it’s family members being killed or persecuted by their own people because of how they segregate women, and yet they are still able to rise above, is incredibly inspiring.”

Cegielski’s dissertation work focuses on security forces in Afghanistan, where Pashto is one of the official languages. The Boren Fellowship will allow Cegielski to develop her Pashto skills and speak with Afghan security forces as she completes her dissertation--giving her greater credibility as a subject matter expert on Southeast Asia and preparing her for a potential job in the State Department or at the United Nations.

“I am incredibly grateful and feel amazingly blessed,” Cegielski said. She also said she couldn’t have completed her application without the support of the Office of Global Programs, the Office of Fellowship Advising and Interim Fellowships Advisor Eve Sorum, and the Department of Conflict Resolution, Human Security, and Global Governance.

“For anyone seeking a fellowship, getting past the hurdle of applying is really the make- or-break,” Cegielski said. “But even if you don't get awarded, you have a great essay to build on for the next one and you will keep improving each time.”

Cegielski starts her fellowship in January. She will be serving as a contractor in Afghanistan during the fall semester.

Holcombe, who is from South Windsor, Connecticut, is in the second year of the Global Governance and Human Security PhD Program. She’s also a fellow in the Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship (IGERT) Program. Holcombe hopes to use her nine months in Uganda to work on her dissertation on the phenomenon of wildlife trafficking, the poaching or taking of protected or managed species.

“The wildlife is kind of like the missing link within that understanding the broader context because the same people who are trafficking weapons are often also trafficking wildlife,” Holcombe said.

She also explained the value of Swahili fluency to her research.

“Swahili is kind of the lingua franca of East Africa, so it’s more broadly useful outside of individual country boundaries, and a lot of languages in southern Africa are based in similar languages to Swahili, so even if I can’t speak [all of them], there’s enough similarities I may be able to understand what is happening,” Holcombe said.

Holcombe leaves for Uganda in January, and will be there through October.

After she graduates, Holcombe hopes to work for the U.S. government on national security issues, perhaps in the State Department or the FBI.