On her first trip to Nicaragua in high school, Clara Wool '13 (Environmental Design/Middle Eastern studies), who is also a Commonwealth Honors College student, discovered her passion – environmental issues, planning and international development. Her interest only grew when she participated in several additional social action trips to Central America before she even started college.
In Nicaragua Wool volunteered on construction projects that helped prevent erosion, repaired roofs to protect against acid rain, and worked in kitchens to curb women’s health problems from smoke inhalation. She also taught at Escuela de Educación Especial, a special education school near the Honduran border and assisted a team of medical students from Tufts University at a medical clinic.
Then, as an intern at Cultural Survival in Cambridge, MA, Wool worked on a community radio project, which helped to promote environmental conservation, human rights and the preservation of indigenous cultures and languages for citizens of Guatemala. In 2009, shortly after transferring to UMass from Seton Hall, where she studied Diplomacy and International Relations and Modern Languages, Wool enrolled in a service learning class that had her translating documents into Spanish and researching community development at “Enlace de Familias” in Holyoke.
All of these experiences were eye-opening. “I started to see ways that US Foreign policy and poor environmental planning affect people's lives,” says Wool, who expects to work in urban planning, with a focus on water management, innovative urban greening strategies, and urban agriculture after graduation.
Fluent in Spanish, Wool has a fascination with languages and their ability to contribute to cultural understanding and promote cooperation between diverse groups of people. Having developed an interest in the Middle East and the complicated relationship it has with the U.S., she began to study Arabic (in addition to her minor in French and a smattering of Swahili).
“I am interested in exploring the connections between environmental security and regional stability in the Middle East,” Wool says. “In particular, I will use Arabic to work in climate change planning and water diplomacy, addressing international resource and environmental issues—issues that lack borders and affect the health of all humans equally. By focusing professionally on science and sustainability issues I hope to facilitate a positive interchange of ideas between U.S. and Arab countries and promote peace through environmental cooperation. This could help the U.S. avoid more hard power strategies in their relations with the Middle East.”
Wool isn’t letting any moss grow under her feet. Already she has spent a summer in Morocco, studying Arabic and Moroccan culture while teaching English at a school for children with disabilities. She did a winter term internship at Massar Crossing Borders in Amman, Jordan this past year, conducting research on environmental and gender equity issues, writing grants, and assessing the suitability of sites for permaculture and grey water projects or ecovillages. During this period she also worked at an orphanage, tutoring the staff in English and leading the orphans in a world-mapping project.
In June Wool attended a scholarship program in Jordan for an intensive study of Arabic, and then stayed on for the fall semester to attend the CIEE Language and Culture program, funded in part by an SBS Dean’s Opportunity Scholarship. “Studying abroad is expensive,” she says, noting that this semester ran upwards of $15,000 just for tuition and housing. “It was my dream to study in Jordan and thanks to this scholarship I have been able to do that! Besides achieving functional fluency in Arabic, I expect to enhance my knowledge of regional affairs, through coursework, events, and interaction with the community.”
Wool credits her parents for helping her find her calling and for encouraging her to seek out and take advantage of the “endless possibilities,” UMass has to offer. “The school doesn't hand everything to you, but you can gain respect and recognition through hard work and not being afraid to ask questions,” she says. “You have to be proactive. Professors, despite the fact that they have oodles of students, are always willing to give a little extra help to students who put in extra effort. You can do just about anything you want to at UMass.”
Tyler Manoukian '13 (journalism) is a communication intern in the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences Dean's Office.