Amarachukwu Ifeji spent her spare time in high school in Maine collecting stormwater and studying how storm events impacted the Penobscot River watershed.
Now, her love of environmental science is taking her from Bangor to the United Kingdom. Ifeji, a fourth-year political science student at Northeastern University, is heading across the pond as a Marshall Scholar after she graduates this spring.
The Marshall Scholarship gives full funding to students from the United States to pursue their graduate studies in the United Kingdom. The program — principally funded by the British government — started in 1954 as a nod to former U.S. Secretary of State Gen. George C. Marshall. According to the British consulate, over 2,200 American students have studied through the program since its conception.
This year, the consulate said it received over 1,006 applications. Fifty-one students were accepted, including Ifeji, who hopes to marry her interests in environmental policy, research and sub-Saharan Africa during her time in the U.K.
“I have a very good idea of what I want to do because I’ve been able to take my classroom learning and apply that to the real world and things that I’m working on,” she said. “The U.K. is a very interesting place for me to pursue my studies because it is very similar to the United States in that it has environmental justice issues in the country.”
Ifeji was born in Nigeria and moved to Maryland when she was 3. When she was 9, her family relocated to Bangor, Maine, where she discovered her love of environmental science.
In high school, she did research into stormwater pollution in light of the crisis in Flint, Michigan. She founded and ran her school’s stormwater management and research team that gathered water before and after storms to see how weather was impacting the local watershed.
As much as she enjoyed her work, Ifeji was frustrated by the lack of opportunity to engage the community on her findings. After her favorite high school teacher persuaded her to apply to Northeastern, Ifeji came to the Boston campus and found political science was a way to engage people on scientific findings.
“What I am really passionate about is environmental education, community engagement, sharing procedural justice and (ensuring) that policies are equitable and positively impact those most overburdened,” she said. “I see my time in the U.K. as an extension of the things that I’ve learned at Northeastern. I’m hoping I will be able to better understand how to conceive such policies and positively impact people around environmental justice.”
Ifeji continued in her environmental advocacy even as a political science major. Last year, she helped mobilize a $2 million grass-roots climate education bill that secured funding for a historic climate education program in Maine. She also sits on the Maine Climate Council as its youth representative and works for the Maine Environmental Education Association as the director of policy after starting there as a fellow. Her flexible classes at Northeastern allow her to take on the work.
“Maine is really a leader in environmental policy and programs and initiatives,” she said. “We’re doing a lot of really cool things and I’m very grateful that it’s at this place I’ve been able to explore my passion further. … I really thrive at the intersection of theory and practice, so I’ve been very grateful for the experiential education that I gained at Northeastern. … If not for Northeastern, I really don’t think that I would be where I am at.”
Recipient of Prestigious Marshall Scholarship Will Continue Her Environmental Justice Mission in the UKIfeji planned on going to law school after finishing her undergraduate studies, but after receiving the Truman Scholarship this year, she realized she wanted to explore her passion for environmental social science further. She found many research-based programs in this area in the U.K. and looked into fellowships so she could attend. The Undergraduate Research and Fellowships Office helped her apply once she found the Marshall Scholarship.
“I really did not think that I was going to be selected for this scholarship,” Ifeji said. “I never really saw myself as that, especially in high school where I was in STEM and I was good at research. I was not the best at chemistry or biology. So it has been a really pleasant surprise and very affirming for me to receive something to affirm, OK, I know what I’m talking about.”
Ifeji is still applying, but hopes to go to Oxford, where the school takes an interdisciplinary approach to studying the environment. Oxford also has researchers doing work around African feminist political ideologies, which Ifeji is interested in.
“In the second year, I’m proposing to do African Studies, really trying to grow in my knowledge of the African continent where I am from and thinking about how I can leverage that degree to better both understand and conceive solutions to environmental issues happening in sub-Saharan Africa,” Ifeji said. “I’ve been very fortunate to be able to explore theory and practice, working as a policy practitioner and then also learning about these things in school, and I hope to also have a coupled experience while I’m studying in the U.K.”