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Graduate student wins Boren Fellowship, plans study in Haiti

There’s no procrastinating for Elizabeth Louis this summer.

Heading into her fourth year of a five-year doctoral program in counseling psychology, Louis recently learned she is the winner of the prestigious Boren Fellowship. Offered through the National Security Education Program, the award provides funding for graduate students to study less-commonly taught languages that promote national security.

As a result, Louis is putting her dissertation research and defense on the fast-track, condensing what is usually a yearlong process into a few months so she can leave this fall to spend 10 months studying and working in Haiti through her Boren award. Her Boren proposal includes teaching a trauma course and helping with psychology student supervision at the University State of Haiti; spending time working with Partners in Health, an organization that trains health and mental health professionals in its teaching hospital; and volunteering once a month with Soulaje Lespri Moun, a nonprofit that provides disaster prevention education.

“I’m hoping to conduct preliminary research over the summer and defend in August. I just want to get a lot of things done before I leave,” says Louis, a student in the University of Georgia College of Education’s department of counseling and human development services. “When I’m in Haiti, I just really want to focus on my proposal I submitted for the Boren Fellowship.”

Her summer data collection will also be assisted by funding from the UGA Latin American and Caribbean Studies Institute and the UGA Graduate School.

Louis is no stranger to Haiti. Previous projects include engaging in humanitarian relief work with the Man Dodo Foundation after Hurricane Matthew and taking part in a mental health training program for Haitian teachers. Her last trip to the island was in December, where she worked with Global Trauma Research to spend a week training Haitian professionals in practical mental health skills while addressing some of their community needs.

“We do a lot of training,” she says, “There is a need and a desire to learn about mental health, and we work to eradicate that stigma.”

The Boren Fellowship supports studying languages in areas that are critical to U.S. interests, which is why part of Louis’ proposal for the fellowship includes taking additional courses in Haitian Creole.

“We can do an internship, we can do clinical work, we can do research,” she says. “However we want to tailor our year abroad, with the idea that we’re taking courses within that country, we’re being exposed, immersed and connected to the locals.“

As a Haitian-American, Louis says learning about the resiliency of the population is inspirational. Her dissertation focuses on how the perceptions of mental health professionals can positively or negatively influence how they serve others in disaster settings.

She is one of three UGA students who received the Boren Awards this year.

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