| by Jason Warburg

News Stories

Gabe Albright
Gabe Albright MAEPM ’24 used his Boren Award to study Mandarin while conducting research on “floating solar” policy in Taiwan.

Two environmental policy students recently had the opportunity to gain paid professional experience abroad before they even finished their degrees.

Middlebury Institute students Gabe Albright MAEPM ’24 and Alex Christodoulou MAEPM ’24 recently completed fellowships in Taiwan and Ghana through the Boren Awards program. Boren provides up to $25,000 in funding for graduate students to learn “less commonly taught languages in world regions critical to U.S. interests,” while conducting research related to national security.

Full Language Immersion in Taiwan

During his fellowship in Taiwan, Gabe Albright conducted research on policy issues surrounding so-called “floating solar” projects while refining his Mandarin. Many countries with limited land have experimented with putting floating solar panels on waterways, which also reduces evaporation.

“Being on a university campus means there are a lot of students to talk to,” he said. “A fair number of my language classmates don’t speak English, so Mandarin is our only shared form of communication.”

“If you’re willing to get away from touristy areas and talk to strangers, you can have some interesting conversations,” said Albright. “The other day I talked with a guy about local grapes. The week before that I met someone at a bus stop who wanted to tell me about their vacation to Florida. Those kinds of low-stakes conversations are a fun way to practice language skills.”

Albright’s advice to fellow students is “Don’t underestimate yourself.”

He didn’t initially think that he could win this award.

Don’t underestimate yourself.
— Gabe Albright MAEPM ’24

“The advice and support that I got from past applicants from the Institute, faculty, and the Fellowships team were helpful in building a more cohesive and professional application. I can’t guarantee you’ll get the award, but you’ve got a lot of great resources available to you, so start early and start confidently,” he said.

Exploring Conservation Issues in Ghana 

Meanwhile, Alex Christodoulou studied conservation issues in Ghana while learning the local Akan language dialect of Twi

“I use my Twi all the time in Kyebi, mostly during everyday life, buying food at the store or things like that,” said Christodoulou. “It has been really helpful in making friends and connecting with people.” 

While in-country, Christodoulou worked an internship at the NGO A Rocha Ghana while pursuing research on natural resource conflicts around conservation zones. 

“I have conducted policy analysis for my host organization, engaged in education initiatives, and worked with cacao farmers on our sustainable agriculture initiative,” he said. “I was lucky enough to join a team of botanists deep into the Atewa Range Forest that was led by Dr. William Hawthorne of Oxford University, one of the foremost experts on the botany of West Africa. Joining that team was a true privilege, and I learned a lot from Dr. Hawthorne and his students.” 

Ghana market
Alex Christodoulou MAEPM ’24 took this photo of a bustling market in Ghana while studying the local Akan dialect of Twi and conducting research on local conservation issues.


He has some very practical advice for other students. 

“These fellowships often get romanticized during the application phase,” said Christodoulou. “I absolutely recommend applying for Boren, Fulbright, etc., but I would say remember you’re going to experience a lot of challenges throughout your studies. Periods of anxiety, depression, or aimlessness do occur, and talking to people about how you are feeling is really important. Also, talk with David Wick and the Fellowships team. They were a massive part of me winning the fellowship in the first place.”  

Boren Awards are an initiative of the U.S. Defense Language and National Security Education Office. Students who accept the awards also commit to working for one year in public service in the U.S. government.

To fulfill the service component of his award, Christodoulou plans to explore opportunities with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and the Department of the Interior

“I want to come back to where I am from in the San Francisco Bay Area, while also maintaining an environmental policy focus to my work,” he said. “Working with these agencies would allow me to work in a space that I feel excited about while also being based near family and friends.”