Two SIA students receive Penn State Graduate School award for excellence

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Two Penn State School of International Affairs (SIA) students recently received the Professional Master’s Excellence Award. The SIA students, Megan Soetaert and Adam VanGorder, were among the more than 30 graduate students to receive nine awards in recognition of outstanding achievement at Penn State’s annual Graduate Student Recognition Ceremony.

Soetaert and VanGorder are both second-year SIA students with a May 2022 anticipated graduation.

“On behalf of the entire SIA community, I would like to congratulate Megan and Adam on receiving the Professional Master's Excellence Award,” said Elizabeth Ransom,  SIA interim director and associate professor of international affairs. “They have made significant and valuable contributions to the school during their time at SIA and their work, in and out of the classroom, has been exceptional. We are proud to have them as part of the SIA family.”

Soetaert is completing a Master of International Affairs degree with a concentration in human security. She currently serves as a research assistant in the SIA Office of Development and Alumni Relations, where she helps to update and centralize alumni records and develop student-alumni mentoring initiatives. Previously, she was a project associate for Visiting Assistant Professor Mumbi Kimani, providing support to Kimani and her course, “Global Cultures and Leadership,” and helping first-year SIA students absorb and understand the course material.

In summer 2021, Soetaert completed an internship with the Equal and Opposite (E&O) Foundation, an international development organization based out of England. As part of her work with E&O, she partnered with Development Support Initiative (DSI), a recently established nonprofit in Tanzania that promotes sustainable agricultural practices, empowers marginalized groups, and improves economic opportunities in the Kagera region.

Megan Soetaert   “It is a great honor to receive the Professional Masters Excellence Award in recognition for my work as an NGO development intern with the E&O Foundation and Development Support Initiative,” Soetaert said. “I am very thankful to Dr. Ransom, [SIA Career Services Director] Grant Littke, and my internship supervisors for nominating me for this award and supporting me throughout my time at SIA.”

VanGorder is completing a Master of International Affairs degree with concentrations in international energy development and sustainability management and policy. He has a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering and plans to merge his two degrees toward a career path in sustainable energy at an international organization. While at SIA, he has served as a project associate for Kimani and a research assistant for Wei Peng, assistant professor of international affairs and civil and environmental engineering.

As a graduate student, VanGorder has completed several internships, including as a programs office intern at Inter-American Foundation, a climate and energy security intern at American Security Project, and a project associate at Partnership International. In the latter position, he led a team of interns in the creation of key deliverables for development projects such as the construction of affordable housing units in Accra, Ghana; small-scale run-of-river hydroelectric plants in Mulanje Massif, Malawi; and the application of the CTi Cavitation Unit as a water purification system in South Africa and California.

Adam VanGorder   “I am humbled by this award. I really enjoyed working with Partnership International this summer, where I got to put into practice some of the concepts I have learned about international development,” VanGorder said. “To me, this award highlighted that I am going to be a capable professional and I am looking forward to what the future brings me.”

The Professional Master’s Excellence Award recognizes individual student excellence in a professional master's degree program under the Penn State Graduate School, in any discipline, based upon the student’s academic record in the graduate program and the quality and impact of the student’s culminating experience, including creative works, performance, and projects conducted in a professional setting.

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