Scholarships awarded to recent WVU grads to study climate change, teach abroad


Dramatic image of Woodburn Hall at West Virginia University or WVU in Morgantown WV as the sun sets behind the illuminated historic building

Two recent graduates from WVU have decided to take their passions abroad after experiencing research and cultural exchange opportunities during undergrad.

During his undergrad at WVU, Wilson (Will) McNeil developed a passion for environmental preservation after asking the question, ‘how might climate change impact our future water supply?’ He will continue to pursue this area of research and study in New Zealand in the upcoming year.

Christina White enjoys making connections across cultures and languages and has learned that it is invaluable when developing trust in healthcare settings between patients and medical providers. During her time at WVU, White has volunteered as an English as a Second Language teacher, an experience that, for her, reiterated 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.

Will McNeil, from Morgantown, 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 Dr. Leslie Hopkinson, modeling water resources of the Monongahela River over time and 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 Māori culture, and the nation’s commitment to environmental protection,” said McNeil.

Christina White, another Morgantown native, 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 minor in Spanish.

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. She also has experience teaching ESL in independent conversation classes which she began last March. Using funds from her Gilman Scholarship Award, she also completed a four-week online internship this summer with Innova Learning Hub, an English teaching program based in Costa Rica.

White reflected that 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.

“This was an unusually competitive year for Fulbright awards, as the applicant pool increased nationwide. That makes Will and Christina’s wins even more impressive,” said Cate Johnson, assistant director of the ASPIRE Office and WVU’s campus Fulbright Program advisor. “We know they will take their knowledge, skills, and energy to their Fulbright placements and make West Virginia University proud.”

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.

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