A USC first: Alumnae receive Fulbright-Clinton Fellowships

Laura Wang focuses on Samoa’s environment while Abigail Gregg covers the risk of natural disaster in Southeast Asia

August 25, 2015 Susan Bell

USC alumnae Laura Wang MA ’12 and Abigail Gregg ’13 are the university’s first graduates to receive Fulbright-Clinton Fellowships.

Wang, a Trustee Scholar who earned a master’s degree in environmental studies from the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, will go to the Polynesian nation of Samoa to take up a 10-month placement as a special assistant in the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment. That’s where she will focus on climate adaptation and access to international climate finance.

Gregg, who earned bachelor’s degrees in anthropology and English (creative writing) from USC Dornsife, is in the Southeast Asian nation of Timor-Leste, where she is working as a special assistant for the Ministry of Social Solidarity. There she is focusing on natural disaster risk and preparedness in Timor-Leste’s conservation areas and exploring options for joint conservation and resilience initiatives.

The J. William Fulbright-Hillary Rodham Clinton (Fulbright-Clinton) Fellowship is a component of the Fulbright U.S. Student Program. Inaugurated in 2012 as the Fulbright Public Policy Fellowship, it was renamed in 2013 to honor former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. Fulbright-Clinton fellows serve in professional placements as special assistants in foreign government ministries or institutions and gain hands-on public sector experience in participating foreign countries while simultaneously carrying out an academic research or study project.

Helping Samoa adapt to climate change

Wang is particularly interested in how Samoa navigates the international agenda after the 2015 Conference of Parties in Paris, where an international climate agreement is expected to be reached.

There is a very small window to act on climate.

Laura Wang

“There is a very small window to act on climate,” Wang said. “The 2015 Paris agreement is absolutely needed if we are going to do something in time to prevent catastrophic warming.”

Her aim is to implement the National Climate Change Policy, with a focus on accessing available international climate financing to assist Samoa’s efforts in adaptation.

“Funding means finding a way to mobilize all these existing resources to best benefit my country of placement, and that’s what I’m hoping to do over the next year,” Wang said.

“Climate change is not just about environmental issues — for many of these small countries it’s also a justice issue.”

Wang said she gained a better understanding of these issues at USC through her involvement with Asia Pacific American Student Services, where she served as program coordinator for the Critical Issues in Race, Class and Leadership Education program.

“Growing up outside Seattle, I was fascinated by the outdoors, and especially the ocean, from a young age, but it wasn’t until I arrived at USC Dornsife that I realized I could make a career out of doing something I loved,” she said.

Wang said her interest in climate change issues was first piqued during a Problems Without Passports (PWP) course to study marine conservation issues in Guam and Palau. In her senior year, she conducted a research project with the Wrigley Marine Science Center at the USC Wrigley Institute for Environmental Studies, scuba diving off Catalina Island to study sea grass.

After graduating, she took up an internship at the White House Counsel on Environmental Quality in Washington, D.C., where she worked on National Environmental Protection Act oversight issues. She then moved to Sacramento, serving as the executive fellow for renewable energy and climate in Gov. Jerry Brown’s office.

Wang currently works as a research associate at the Center for Clean Air Policy, an international think tank in D.C., focusing on climate issues. There she specializes on renewable energy policy in Southeast Asia.

“I’ve been able to work closely on the ground with a number of developing countries, which has helped me gain a broader understanding of how countries approach the issue of climate change in different ways,” Wang said.

“Long term I’m hoping to make a lasting career in renewable energy and climate policy,” Wang said.

“For me, the challenge is how any one person can enact a change greater than his or her own actions.”

Conservation areas in Timor-Leste

Gregg is also excited about the work she will do.

“I chose Timor-Leste because of my interest in conservation and natural disaster management in the region,” she said. “These issues are particularly important because Timor-Leste is home to a number of diverse and delicate ecosystems, and is part of the Coral Triangle, the global center of marine biodiversity.”

At USC Dornsife, Gregg gained experience in conducting fieldwork in South Los Angeles, Cambodia and Brazil. Her work in Los Angeles explored food security and environmental health issues, and community response to these problems.

She traveled to Cambodia as part of the PWP program. There she worked with the USC Shoah Foundation — The Institute for Visual History and Education, and the Documentation Center of Cambodia, recording testimony from survivors and perpetrators of the Cambodian genocide.

In her junior year, she traveled to Brazil where she completed an independent study of the life and letters of the American poet and author Elizabeth Bishop and conducted ethnographic research on the social and economic role of street food vendors.

“My education at USC helped prepare me for this fellowship by encouraging me to pursue academic opportunities at home and abroad,” Gregg said. “It also introduced me to a number of highly supportive, invested faculty, who mentored me and with whom I am still in touch. They continue to be an invaluable resource for both my academic and professional life.”

Gregg holds a master’s of public administration in development practice from Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs. She is a wilderness emergency medical technician certified by the Wilderness Medicine Institute of the National Outdoor Leadership School.

Most recently she was a research fellow for the Advanced Consortium on Cooperation, Conflict and Complexity at Columbia, where she was part of a research team addressing Papua New Guinea’s mining sector.

Following her Fulbright-Clinton Fellowship, Gregg said she would like to continue working on environmental management and disaster preparedness in the developing world.