Access to education has always been a topic of great — and personal — importance to Meklit Gebru.
Gebru, who was born in Ethiopia, moved to the United States when she was about 8 years old.
“I grew up in a culture where education was less emphasized, especially for women,” said Gebru, a senior in the Honors College at Georgia State University. “My parents told me the reason we came over was for better education opportunities.”
Gebru is graduating in May with a bachelor’s degree in international economics and modern languages from the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies. She’ll combine her interest in public policy and her determination to improve educational opportunities as a 2019 Payne Fellow. She is one of just 10 scholars nationwide selected by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) for the prestigious fellowship.
Gebru will begin a 10-week congressional internship this summer in Washington, D.C. The Payne Fellowship program will then provide Gebru up to $96,000 over two years to earn her master’s degree in public policy from American University. Afterward, Gebru will spend five years in the foreign service, working with USAID as an education officer.
Gebru fully realized her interest in education policy while a Gilman Scholar studying abroad in Costa Rica in 2018. There, she worked on a project examining education equality among local boys and girls.
“I was able to interview the locals and I got responses that, in Costa Rica, they have a good education system for K-12,” she said, “but when it comes to the university level, there isn’t much of a support system for women to continue their education.”
While Gebru’s parents always encouraged higher learning, she said they were not able to acquire the level of education they wanted. Gebru is the first woman in her family to graduate college.
“My mom didn’t go to college because she didn’t think it was an option for her. My grandmother didn’t finish high school,” Gebru said.
Now, her mother is back in school, taking English classes to improve her language skills.
Gebru said she applied for the Payne Fellowship because it would give her the opportunity to serve marginalized communities while on the frontline of education policy-making.
“I want to use my experiences and what I learned abroad to help create education policies,” she said.