NAU Fulbright student scholars awarded opportunities abroad

Two Northern Arizona University students—one a graduating senior and the other a 2015 alum—have been selected as prestigious Fulbright student scholars about to embark on an immersive, year-long overseas experience.

Savannah Tjaden and Cassie Achzenick were accepted to the Fulbright U.S. Student Program. Tjaden is a hydrogeology major who graduates this May. After graduation, she will spend a year in South Africa conducting independent research with the South African Water Research Commission. Achzenick, a May 2015 graduate in international relations and German, has been accepted for an English Teaching Assistantship in Germany.

“Recipients of Fulbright grants are selected on the basis of academic or professional achievement, as well as demonstrated leadership potential in their field,” said NAU Fulbright Program Advisor Melissa Riggs.

For Tjaden, the Fulbright award comes on the heels of a two-year fellowship and $50,000 grant from the Environmental Protection Agency. The grant funded her undergraduate research on how forest management practices affect water quality.

student Savannah Tjaden

Tjaden’s Fulbright project focuses on climate change and adaptive management policies in the Lesotho Highlands Water Project near Pretoria, South Africa. Her research will help guide the integration of science and policy as the water project transitions to a more adaptive management approach to managing water resources in South Africa.

“Climate change and water resources issues are high-stakes and controversial,” Tjaden said. “To be able to spend a year studying climate adaptation strategies in trans-boundary water management is incredible and makes me believe that people around the world are not shying away from hard, complex problems.”

Tjaden added that being a Fulbright recipient in one of the most competitive countries—only 1,900 applicants out of 10,000 are accepted each year in the United States—is a great honor.

Recognized across the globe as a leading international educational exchange program, the goal of the Fulbright Program is to build peaceful relationships between the people of other countries and the United States. The program is funded by the U.S. Department of State and awards grants to students who are interested in international engagement and willing to address critical global challenges like sustainable energy, climate change, public health and food security.

Tjaden spent her junior and senior years at NAU researching the effects of tree thinning and other forest management treatments on water quality. The results from her undergraduate research help fill a critical information gap in the Southwest. According to Tjaden, her experiences at NAU largely shaped and influenced her research interests and career goals.

“My research at NAU has given me the technical skills and knowledge needed to build practical solutions to complex problems,” she said. “The social and political science classes I took outside of my major pushed me to consider human rights issues associated with water resources management.”

After her Fulbright year, Tjaden plans to pursue a Ph.D. in water diplomacy and ultimately sees herself working in water conflict negotiations on a national level in semi-arid developing countries.

student Cassie Achzenick

For her participation in the Fulbright Program, Achzenick will take on a different role than Tjaden. Instead of conducting independent research, she will work as an English Teaching Assistant in Germany. Achzenick spent three semesters studying abroad in Germany and plans to apply that experience, plus her experience in the travel industry to teach English in Germany. She said she hopes to inspire her students to travel and explore.

“Being a student of international affairs gives me a unique world perspective that I can bring to the classroom in the hope that I can help my students understand Germany’s relationship with the U.S. and the U.S.’s role in the world,” Achzenick said.

The Fulbright Program was established 70 years ago in 1946 under legislation introduced by Sen. J. William Fulbright of Arkansas. As future Fulbright alumni, Tjaden and Achzenick will join a community of more than 360,000 Fulbright scholars who have achieved distinction in many fields, including Nobel and Pulitzer prize winners and heads of state or government.