Armed with a prestigious scholarship, Alisha Ault is headed back to school to continue pursuing her life’s mission.
A University of Virginia alumna, Ault will pursue a master’s degree in development studies at the University of Sussex’s Institute of Development Studies in the United Kingdom as a Rotary Global Scholar.
Rotary International offers global scholarships for recent graduates to pursue graduate degrees that fit into one of Rotary’s six causes: promoting peace; fighting disease; providing clean water, sanitation and hygiene; saving mothers and children; supporting education; and growing local economies. Rotary International added a seventh area of focus, supporting the environment, this year.
Ault is the eighth UVA alumni to receive a $40,000 Rotary Global Grant Scholarship in just the past four years.
The recipients are selected by Rotary International. Candidates are reviewed first by local Rotary members, who advance two to four candidates to the district level, with selection based largely on the extent candidates successfully articulate how their academic pursuits align with Rotary’s focus areas and their preparedness to succeed in their proposed course of study.
“I have known that I wanted to work in international development since I was an undergraduate student at UVA,” Ault said. “I always planned to pursue a higher degree in a field that would allow me to contribute to the reduction of poverty and improvement of quality of life of those less fortunate than myself, particularly in developing countries like those I had lived and grown up in.”
Ault, who graduated in 2015 with degrees in foreign affairs and Spanish literature and culture, with a minor in Latin American studies, spent a portion of her life in Guatemala and Brazil.
“I saw poverty and inequality on a daily basis in our community and witnessed many development shortcomings firsthand,” she said. “In particular, the favelas on the edges of Brasília sat in stark contrast to the city’s nearby wealthiest neighborhoods, with mansions and private swimming pools. These experiences, coupled with witnessing my father’s career and contributions to global public health as a United Nations officer, sparked my desire to devote my career to lessening inequality and spurred me to study political science, and through it, development.”
After completing her degree at UVA, Ault sought work experience before continuing her education.
“I am happy I made this decision,” Ault said. “My experiences working in local development, at the Alexandria Redevelopment and Housing Authority, combined with internships and work for international organizations, led me to pursue the focus I plan to have in my master’s degree studies – that is, a focus on improving development-focused corporate social responsibility programs.”
Corporate social responsibility programs or policies are developed or adopted by a company to ensure its net impact on society has an economic, social or environmental benefit.
After graduation, Ault spent three months on Bioko Island in the central African nation of Equatorial Guinea, working with the Bioko Island Malaria Control Project, run by Medical Care Development International, a health-focused, non-governmental organization. There, she spent much of her time in rural houses, small towns and urban areas, overseeing a team of 18 local fieldworkers as they surveyed families at risk of malaria by collecting data on community development and health indicators.
Ault thinks the University of Sussex is the ideal place to pursue her corporate social responsibility research because she believes the United Kingdom is a significant actor in international development finance and that British companies have some of the strongest corporate social responsibility programs. She also wants to work with two specific academics at the institute, Linda Waldman and Dinah Rajak, who both have research interests similar to Ault’s.
“The Institute of Development Studies is the top academic institution for the study of economic and community development in the world,” Ault said. “I wish to examine the role of corporate social responsibility programs in international development, specifically those focused on health and the environment, which are common themes in CSR.”
Ault looks beyond the traditional sector-focused approach to development, such as a singular focus on health or education, and wants to instead focus her career on improving existing processes and systemic issues in development projects across a a variety of sectors.
“Community needs have often already been identified and projects have been implemented to meet those needs or mitigate a certain issue in a community,” Ault said. “Where I see room for improvement, however, is in the implementation and efficacy of many of these projects. As long as funding remains a critical need in development, I believe it is crucial to ensure that that each dollar spent is used to its fullest potential.”
Robert Fatton Jr., the Julia A. Cooper Professor of Government and Foreign Affairs in UVA’s Woodrow Wilson Department of Politics, has stayed in touch with Ault since her graduation and sees her as extremely dedicated, curious and intelligent.
“She is truly a cosmopolitan person,” he said. “She has resided in Guatemala, Brazil, Spain and Equatorial Guinea and is fluent in Spanish, Portuguese and English. She has thus experienced firsthand the issues of development, poverty and inequality that she wants to study at the Institute of Development Studies. I have absolute confidence in her success; and I was lucky to have her as a student.”
Fatton said he is unsurprised with her career choices.
“She was always interested in fields dealing with human rights, poverty and housing,” he said. “Her understanding of these issues deepened, as she has learned a lot from her work experiences which were all related to these interests. After Sussex, she indicated that she would like to pursue a career in development policy and analysis. I am convinced that she has the intelligence and skills to excel in such a career. She is well-prepared for it.”
Christopher Elliot, an assistant dean of global affairs and director of the Center for Global Commerce at UVA’s McIntire School of Commerce, is impressed with Ault as a scholarship recipient.
“This Rotary Scholarship gives us a chance each year to meet some of the brightest UVA students, who also share Rotary’s interest in positively impacting our world,” Elliot said. “We welcome the chance to feature such outstanding students pursuing graduate programs outside of the United States, especially at this moment when international and intercultural education are so critical to the advancement of civil society. We wish Alisha all the best in her educational pursuits and welcome her to the globally networked Rotary family.”