Beth Phillips ’05 has been awarded a Fulbright U.S. Student Program scholarship to study maternal health issues in Nigeria.
“I was in the middle of the bush in South Sudan when I got the email, and I remember being surprised and humbled by getting the grant,” Phillips says. “It seemed like a whole other lifetime ago that I applied for it.”
Phillips, who majored in gender studies and anthropology at Willamette, will leave for Nigeria in March. She will then spend the following nine months working with doctors, nurses, medical students and patients to study treatments for obstetric fistula.
Obstetric fistula is a medical condition in which a fistula (hole) develops between either the rectum and vagina or between the bladder and vagina after severe or failed childbirth. The condition is often seen in women living in poor countries, where adequate medical care is not available.
Phillips is one of more than 1,700 U.S. citizens traveling abroad for the 2013-14 academic year through the Fulbright program. Recipients are selected on the basis of academic and professional achievement, as well as demonstrated leadership potential.
Discovering her calling
While at Willamette, Phillips participated in track and cross country. She was a domestic violence advocate with the Salem Police Department, she studied at the University of Cape Town, South Africa, and she was a Carson Scholar.
She also coordinated the Willamette University Women’s Resource Center for two years and participated in three trips through Willamette’s Take a Break program, which enables students to engage in community-based service projects across the country.
Since graduating from Willamette, Phillips spent five years with the Peace Corps, working in reproductive health in both Namibia and Uganda. She completed her master’s in public health at the University of Arizona and currently works in South Sudan with the Carter Center’s Guinea Worm Eradication Program.
Phillips says she’s been passionate about women’s health since she was a child, attending pro-choice and women’s rights marches with her family in Washington, D.C.
Her interest was nurtured at Willamette University, where she forged strong ties with her anthropology and gender studies professors — many of whom she remains close to today.
Phillips is now focused on continuing her work in maternal health across Africa, and to perhaps advise health policies through the U.S. State Department or the United Nations one day.
“I hope to continue improving my ability to combine research with advocacy and program development,” Phillips says. “I’m curious to see what new things I will learn and experience. Every day, there’s something new, and that keeps me going.”
For more information on Fulbright grants and similar opportunities, contact the Office of Student Academic Grants and Awards.