Flinn Scholar Hailey Dickson receives federal scholarship to study public health in India

August 9, 2016

By Matt Ellsworth

Hailey Dickson_newFlinn Scholar Hailey Dickson has earned a prestigious scholarship through the National Security Education Program, funding a semester of Hindi language study in India, which she hopes will lead to opportunities to make a global impact in public health.

Dickson’s interest and experience studying public health, with a focus on the health of migrants, led to her pursuit of the NSEP Boren Scholarship, a Department of Defense award that sends undergraduates to world regions critical to U.S. security interests where they can study languages less frequently taught in the United States. In return for the scholarship, Dickson must perform one year of federal service after graduation.

For Dickson, a Class of 2014 Flinn Scholar studying at University of Arizona, her return to India this month comes one year after she first visited the growing northern India city of Jaipur, 160 miles southwest of Delhi, and became fascinated and inspired by India and its people.

A graduate of Desert Vista High School in Phoenix, Dickson spent last summer in India as part of the Critical Language Scholarship Program, a Department of State overseas language and cultural-immersion program that introduced Dickson to Jaipur.

“Ultimately it’s what solidified my drive to become fluent in Hindi and now return to India through the Boren Scholarship,” Dickson says.

Before submitting her Boren application, Dickson connected with other Flinn Scholars who had previously been Boren Scholars. Over the past 20 years, Flinn Scholars have been Boren Scholars in Brazil, China, South Africa, Turkey, and several other nations. Dickson says the Flinn community’s support was critical in motivating her to apply.

“The Flinn Scholarship has gifted me with the perspective that international travel is hugely valuable, and I am continually inspired by my peers who embody that,” Dickson says.

Twenty Arizona high-school seniors are selected for the Flinn Scholarship each year. The merit-based scholarship, which covers the cost of eight semesters of tuition, fees, room and board, and at least two study-abroad experiences plus other invaluable opportunities, attracts the state’s highest-achieving students, who pursue their undergraduate studies at Arizona State University, Northern Arizona University, and University of Arizona.

In mid-August, Dickson leaves for Jaipur, the capital of the state of Rajasthan, and begins her intensive Hindi courses. In the spring semester, she will travel to southern India and do global-health coursework and community outreach with the Alliance for Global Education in Manipal.

By the end of her year in India, Dickson hopes to be nearly fluent in Hindi.

Why India?

Dickson’s interest in South Asia started when she spent a high-school summer in Nepal through a global-health program.

“I just wanted to experience a place both geographically and culturally very far from my own home. That transformative experience solidified my interest in global health and sparked my desire to return to the region,” Dickson says.

At the University of Arizona, she decided to study Hindi, the world’s fourth most commonly spoken language. She has already taken two semesters of Hindi at UA and studied at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, earlier in the summer of 2016 to prepare for her Boren Scholarship experience.

“As a rapidly booming economy rich with ancient cultural heritages, India and its people are full of paradoxes and juxtapositions I find endlessly fascinating,” Dickson says. “This complexity invigorates me and draws me to learn more through my travels.”

Migrants and public health

Dickson explains that beyond the language, she is drawn to Jaipur to study domestic migration from the country’s rural areas into the fast-growing city—now among India’s dozen largest—which is putting stress on the city’s limited infrastructure. She says focusing on migrant health in India can provide insights about similar issues faced in Arizona and the United States.

“In our globalized and interconnected world, immigrants blur borders and connect our countries, economies, and health-care systems,” she says. “Better understanding migrant health in India would lend me a fuller perspective on these interdependencies.”

She hopes to gather preliminary research in India for her honors thesis, while also gaining valuable experience that can be used in her public-health work both in the United States and abroad.

At UA, Dickson is majoring in biological anthropology with minors in public health, physiology, and intercultural studies.

She is involved with Arizona Model United Nations, and has served as an opinion columnist for the Daily Wildcat student newspaper. Dickson also volunteers at tu Nidito, a nonprofit that provides grief counseling for children, and has worked as a research intern with bioanthropologists to study breastfeeding practices in southern Arizona.

Such activities seem natural successors to her high-school experiences. Alongside a major commitment to Desert Vista’s marching band and wind ensemble, Dickson volunteered at St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center and participated in Health Occupations Students of America and her school’s Student Anti-Genocide Coalition. In Nepal in the summer before her senior year of high school, she taught kindergarten children and volunteered at a community hospital.

Looking ahead, Dickson says she’s considering a few options after graduation. Following her one year of federal service—which she hopes will be with the Centers for Disease Control or the Peace Corps—she would like to travel on a fellowship, search for a federal job in the global-health sector, or attend graduate school to pursue a master’s degree in public health.

“In whatever work I do, I want to have a global impact,” Dickson says.