When Hannah Van Demark ‘15 accepted an internship in rural Bolivia last summer, she wondered how her assigned task – offering $100 loans to some farmers in the region of Cochabamba – could help them in a meaningful way.
She learned that a few motorcycle tires and a little ingenuity can make a big difference.
“One of the reasons the farmers were struggling was because their irrigation system was always breaking down,” says Van DeMark, who interned in Bolivia for the Foundation for Sustainable Development. “We discovered that if you cut up some motorcycle tires, you could use the rubber strips to decrease the friction on the pumps and make them more reliable and efficient. The farmers were able to buy enough tires for $100 to improve the system.”
Van Demark, a history major with a concentration in international relations from Sioux Falls, SD, says her experience in Bolivia helped her begin to envision her post-Vassar career. Securing a fellowship this summer through the Tananbaum Family Leadership Program for Work and Development will enable her to solidify those plans ever further. She will use the $5,000 fellowship for an internship with the Senate Banking Committee.
“Last summer, I was in the field, learning how things work from the ground up,” Van Demark says. “This summer, I’d like to examine foreign policy from the top down. The strong correlation with human rights and economic stability merits a close examination of financial structures. Working at the Senate Banking Committee will be an incredible opportunity for me to gain a greater understanding today’s major obstacles when establishing long-term U.S. financial stability.”
Van Demark says she is particularly interested in examining how federal legislation, such as the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act, is affecting the domestic economy and “how current events such as the Iran- and Ukraine-related sanctions affect U.S. financial stability.”
She says the political climate she witnessed in Bolivia had spurred her to find ways to help re-shape American foreign policy. “I saw a lot of anti-American sentiment while I was there,” Van Demark says. “President Evo Morales was praising Edward Snowden (the former CIA computer specialist who released classified information on domestic and global surveillance by U.S. intelligence agencies), and there were rumors about the American Embassy closing. That made me want to work in a public policy position.”
In addition to securing funds for their internships, the 21 Vassar juniors who were awarded Tananbaum fellowships are receiving advice and guidance from counselors at Vassar’s Career Development Office on how to create links with Vassar alums and others in their chosen fields. Van Demark calls that assistance “invaluable.”
“The networking that comes with being a Tananbaum fellow has opened a lot of doors for me, and the stipend meant I could ignore the amount of funding the internships have and concentrate on which ones were best for me,” Van Demark says. “It’s a great jumping off point for employment opportunities after Vassar.”