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Being the “Change Maker”

It does not take long to see the determination behind Jenna Wiegand’s wide smile. As she talks about the topics she is most enthusiastic about, finance and sustainability, it becomes clear that these are expressions of an underlying passion for global change. And in spring, 2014, Wiegand, a third-year Honors College and College of Business student majoring in management and sustainability, was recognized for this commitment with a nationally-competitive Udall Scholarship.

The Morris K. Udall and Stewart L. Udall Foundation was established by the U.S. Congress in 1992 to support scholarship, fellowship, and internship programs that promote environmental and Native American issues. Wiegand is one of 81 U.S. students to receive a $5,000 undergraduate scholarship in the program this year.

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Fittingly, she was notified of her award while at the Enactus United States National Expedition in Cincinnati, Ohio in early April. Enactus, an entrepreneurial organization with teams at universities across the globe, “use[s] business models to promote social change,” Wiegand says. “We go into communities, create an infrastructure of a business, some sort of nonprofit, that we can eventually turn over to the community so we can step out of the way, and they can keep running with it.”

At the national expedition, Enactus teams present their projects from the past year. In 2013, Wiegand and the Oregon State University chapter worked on a new food pantry in Hebo, Oregon; a sports league for children elementary school age and younger who have disabilities; and microloans to Nicaraguan business owners.

This latter project, microloans, is one particularly close to Wiegand’s personal ambitions. Her dream, she said, is to create a microfinance company – a company that gives small loans to residents in developing countries so they can start their own businesses – in Haiti or Jamaica. This summer, she is considering doing an internship with a Nobel Peace Prize-winning microfinance company in Bangladesh, The Grameen Bank. “I’d be a little nervous to live by myself there and do the whole new-currency thing, but my parents are more nervous about it than I am,” she says.

A study abroad trip to South Caicos through the School for Field Studies in fall, 2013 solidified Wiegand’s interest in microloan programs. In South Caicos, she focused on marine resources and problems related to impending development. “It’s a really small island,” she says, “The fishing industry is being degraded at really fast rates, and it’s all they have to support themselves.” Development, she saw, presented cultural and social, as well as environmental, crises. “It really inspired me to see if I could be a change-maker in other places, to see if I could stop them from being totally built-up.”

To Wiegand, one of the key issues in places like South Caicos is making sure that the people who live there have the ability to participate in the changes that impact their livelihoods and environment. “Development is coming, and it’s a little bit ‘like it or not,’” she notes, “but [the people who live there] could have a say in it. It’s important to give them a voice so they can tell their government what they want and don’t want to see on the island.” Microfinance is one mechanism of helping people become economic participants.

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Wiegand is working now on translating her experience in South Caicos into her University Honors College thesis. Parallel to this academic approach, she is also writing a personal reflection of her trip, “how it changed me and made me evaluate myself as a person,” that she plans to publish as an ebook using a program she learned about in a digital humanities colloquium offered through the Honors College.

Though her new title of Udall Scholar comes with a $5,000 scholarship, Wiegand is most excited about the five-day conference for scholars in Tucson this summer. “It will be kind of like [Enactus Nationals],” she says. “It’s being with people who are just as excited and inspired as you are. Even when you’re not doing the same things as them, hearing what other people are doing makes you want to get out there and do more.”

By Jessica Kibler

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