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Rachel Brulé '03: Policy Maker in the Making


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Senegalese say that wearing a necklace made from the seeds of the baobab tree will bring good luck. Sporting one certainly didn't hurt Rachel Brulé '03, who owns just such a piece of jewelry. But rather than luck, it was smarts--as well as pluck, planning, and a passion for making a difference in developing countries--that brought about the Mount Holyoke senior's latest academic triumph. Last spring, Brulé received a prestigious Truman Scholarship, an award of $30,000 for graduate school leading to a career in government or public service. In December, the international relations and African studies double major received word that she had also won a Marshall Scholarship, placing her in an elite group of forty college seniors from across the United States who were selected for graduate study at a British university of choice.

Marshall Scholarships, which reward intellectual distinction and leadership potential, are worth about $60,000 and are financed by the British government. The scholarship will enable Brulé, beginning this fall, to pursue a master of science degree in forced migration at Oxford University's Refugee Study Center. During the 2004-2005 academic year, she will earn a second master of science degree, this time in development management, at the Development Studies Institute of the London School of Economics.

Brulé then plans to return to American soil to work for a nongovernmental organization for a few years before putting her Truman Scholarship to use, pursuing a Ph.D. in public policy, and later securing a regional posting with an international organization such as the United Nations. "My ultimate goal, she says, "is an appointment to a U.S. presidential administration that would allow me to realize my dream of advising and enacting U.S. foreign policy toward the developing world." While Brulé's plan is ambitious, it seems entirely doable for a young woman who began planning young--choosing the language (French) she would study as an eighth-grader with an eye toward visiting Francophone Africa one day.

Through academics, myriad on-campus activities, and internships in this country and abroad, Brulé has focused on exploring the role of state development policies in preventing the circumstances for conflict leading to forced migration. Her concentration on Africa developed through course work at Mount Holyoke and the University of Massachusetts, Amherst (through the Five College exchange), where she has worked closely with Ralph Faulkingham, the chair of the anthropology department. "Rachel's combination of insightfulness, humanity, and intelligence is wonderful and rare," says Faulkingham. "She ranks among the top five students I have worked with in thirty years of teaching." Readied by her studies with Faulkingham and other faculty, Brulé felt that to understand the problems that cause groups to stay or leave their homes, she needed to experience a developing country firsthand. Her choice was the College's program at the Université Cheikh Anta Diop in Senegal, West Africa. She spent her junior year there, studying African institutions, Islamic philosophy, and Senegalese history, literature, and language.

Immersing herself in the culture of Senegal, Brulé soon realized that, as a Westerner and a white woman, she would never "fit in." "I was overwhelmed by my own incomprehension of so much: the laughing tones of the Wolof language, the strength of the Saharan sun, the accusing stares I attracted in the market's jostle," she says. "I was not an equal member of Senegalese society, and I had to acknowledge that I had traveled for purely my own educational benefit." Still, she grew accustomed to Senegalese ways and put her status as an observer to good use. "My place outside the traditional community allowed me to question Senegalese perceptions of everything from Senegal's regional and religious politics to U.S. policy. I viewed individual experiences of dislocation as personal illustrations of how high-level policy is locally meaningful."

Back from Africa since summer, Brulé is focusing on synthesizing what she experienced in Senegal and writing an honors thesis based on her research there. To understand major trends in sub-Saharan economic development, she is examining linkages in Senegal's textile industrialization through a study of how cotton cloth is produced and sold there. To learn about the cultivation of cotton, Brulé talked with cotton growers. She studied production, following cotton through the stages of its harvest, processing, and sale to various middlemen, then its spinning and weaving into cloth, then its printing and wholesaling to traders, and on to its retail sale to consumers in Senegal and beyond. She even worked as an apprentice in a cloth market.

Taking a break this winter from considering worldwide concepts of home, Brulé enjoyed a homecoming of sorts of her own. As a child, she first learned about the joys of travel and service to those in other countries through stories told to her by her grandparents, who lived and worked for extended periods in the Philippines. In January, Brulé's childhood imaginings about that country were brought to life when she made her first trip there, accompanied by her grandfather. During their three weeks together, he was eager to teach her all he knew about Philippine culture. And, as always, Rachel Brulé was equally eager to learn.

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Copyright © 2003 Mount Holyoke College. This page created by Don St. John and maintained by Office of Communications. Last modified on July 21, 2003.

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