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Grassroots Efforts in Bolivia

October 31, 2016 – by Ohio Wesleyan University

Matthew Mehaffy ’17 worked in Bolivia to help address issues of resource inequality. The experience, coupled with additional independent studies at Ohio Wesleyan, has helped him decide to pursue a doctorate in economic geography. (Photo courtesy of Matthew Mehaffy)

Ohio Wesleyan Student Works to Help Address Resource Inequality 

Name: Matthew Mehaffy ’17
Major(s): Latin American Studies and Spanish
Hometown: Burlington, Iowa
Experience: Theory-to-Practice Grant, “The Right to Live: Impact of Water Privatization on Bolivian Inequality”

Mehaffy worked for three months as part of a grassroots effort to try to minimize resource inequality within a specific area in Cochabamba, Bolivia. His work included helping to raise $2,000, which has helped the neighborhood to create composting toilets.

Lessons learned: “This opportunity allowed me to learn practically how grassroots efforts work among different NGOs to promote change on a local level and, specifically, the challenges and strategies necessary for promoting local change.

“Academically, this experience helped shape the interests I have regarding what academic topics I want to explore through my senior thesis research. … Therefore, I continued to study resource inequality and grassroots efforts to reduce it afterward in Argentina, Brazil, and Colombia. …

“Professionally, I now know what topics I want to explore in graduate school. My initial classes with Professor [Nicholas] Crane, which inspired my Theory-to-Practice Grant application, made me want to go to graduate school for a Ph.D. in economic geography.

“However, I did not know exactly what I wanted to study in economic geography, and, by being able to expand my interests and gain practical experience in how local communities address resource inequality, it … helped clarify my professional interests to eventually be a professor of economic geography with a specialization in learning from collective efforts (social movements) to address resource inequality.”

Why I chose OWU: “I learned that OWU had an abundance of opportunities for me to get real world experience in my career to prepare me for life after college. I always really enjoyed meeting people at OWU and visiting the campus. … I was impressed by the classes that were offered, [which] were relevant to my career.

“Finally, I wanted to attend a smaller college where I would have a better chance of getting to know my professors, which I feel has been very helpful for getting more out of my classes educationally.”

My plans after graduation: “Conduct more research while in affiliation with different universities or research institutes. After a bit of time conducting more research, [I] eventually [want to] go back to graduate school to pursue a Ph.D. in economic geography and become a professor of economic geography.”