UA Alumna: 'Passion' Found Studying Abroad
UA graduate Chelsea Halstead found inspiration while studying abroad and, this summer, is heading to Berlin as part of the Humanity in Action Fellowship.

By Eric Swedlund, University Communications
May 22, 2013

Spending a year studying and volunteering in Guatemala, witness to extreme poverty and the nation's ongoing struggle to reconcile the lingering effects of its long civil war, Chelsea Halstead discovered an important aspect of her college experience: passion.


Her sophomore year studying abroad was demanding, exhilarating and life-altering. Halstead returned to the University of Arizona engaged, focused and full of ideas.

She graduated with honors in 2012, began working as a research assistant and now is headed to Berlin on a prestigious fellowship as one of 42 U.S. students and recent graduates awarded the Humanity in Action Fellowship. It will begin May 27 with an orientation with the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, D.C.


"It's really going to be an intense, demanding, but invigorating experience," Halstead says, recalling her year in Guatemala as a springboard to the fellowship. "It's been a snowballing experience that started really small. One step led to another, and now I'm heading to Europe."


In Berlin, Halstead and the other Humanity in Action Fellows will take part in four weeks of lectures and seminars with political leaders, experts and activists, with topics changing daily, and tours of sites like former death camps. Next, the fellows will work to produce original research projects, which will be presented during a conference in Warsaw, with other Humanity in Action Fellows from programs in Amsterdam, Copenhagen and Lyon.


"Germans are still working out how to deal with the Holocaust and how to memorialize it in a way that's respectful and conveys the gravity of what happened," Halstead says, comparing Germany's ongoing reconciliation efforts to what she saw and studied in Guatemala.


A first-generation college student from Flagstaff, Halstead came to the UA in 2008 on an Arizona Assurance scholarship before deciding to study abroad.


"It was a really challenging experience, but I learned a lot about myself, and it made it really clear what I wanted to pursue in life. It was a total wake-up call," she says.


Halstead studied the country's civil war – which started in 1960 and continued until the 1996 peace accord – and how the country is still grappling with that long conflict and its widespread human rights violations.


"It's really powerful to see how they're working through it" she says.


The study-abroad program itself was more rigorous academically than anything she faced her first year at the UA, with a focus on human rights.


"I remember being so intimidated by the level of reading and the amount of work we had. It was intense, but I loved it," she says.


Outside of class, Halstead volunteered, first with a group called Camino Seguro – Safe Passage – which worked getting school supplies and uniforms and providing after-school programs for children facing the most desperate poverty. In the second semester, she volunteered teaching biology to high school students and English classes to adults at night.


"It turned out to be the most formative, amazing experience of my life," she says. "I came back to the UA knowing what I wanted to study, engaged and joined the Honors College."


Also a 2011 Magellan Circle Scholar and recipient of the 2012 Hecht Award for Outstanding Student in Geography, Halstead wrote her honors thesis on humanitarian border activism in Southern Arizona and began volunteering for the Missing Migrants Project.


Her thesis advisor, Elizabeth Oglesby, an associate professor of geography and Latin American studies, says Halstead "sparkles with intelligence, commitment and fellowship in the best sense."


"Chelsea is extremely bright, intellectually curious, thoughtful, mature and self-motivated," wrote Oglesby in recommending her for the fellowship. "Chelsea's approach toward her academic work is always intellectually lively and service-oriented."


Crediting Oglesby and other professors with mentorship, guidance and support, Halstead graduated with a degree in geography and began working as a research assistant at the UA's Binational Migration Institute on a grant from the Department of Justice to improve the identification rates and methods of handling migrant remains along the border.


After the Humanity in Action Fellowship, Halstead will finish out her research contract with BMI and then plans to study for the LSAT. Her ultimate career goal is to work as an attorney advocating for communities that have been exploited, possibly specializing in human rights, immigration or indigenous law.

Extra info

The UA's Office of Nationally Competitive Scholarships facilitates the process by which students compete for national fellowships and scholarships. To learn more, contact Jeff Thibert, scholarship advisor for the UA Office of Nationally Competitive Scholarships, at 520-626-5289 or