By WENDI WHEELER ’06
Katie Edelen ’11 wanted to be a doctor from the time she was five years old. She watched surgery on the Discovery Channel before naptime and begged her parents to let her be present at the birth of her two younger siblings.
It wasn’t until she was in college and working with doctors in India that Edelen realized she did not actually want to be a doctor.
Soon after she arrived at Augsburg, Edelen began looking for an opportunity to volunteer abroad to gain medical experience helping people in war-torn countries. She had been interested in Doctors Without Borders, so she contacted native health non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to find volunteer opportunities. In her junior year, Edelen landed in Chennai, India, where she shadowed doctors in government hospitals and another who brought internal medicine services to refugee camps, slums, and villages.
“What really spoke to me were all the people who had been exposed to water-borne, preventable diseases because of unsafe sanitary conditions,” she recalled. Though she had been interested in environmental issues before traveling to India, there she began to see in a new way the consequences of peoples’ actions on the environment. She saw that issues related to health, education, poverty, and social justice were connected to environmental problems. “That is when I started to become interested in treatment of the systematic inequalities as opposed to putting a band-aid on the problem,” she said.
This experience led Edelen to pursue other opportunities centered on water and its role in society. She took a course on environmental and river politics led by Augsburg political science professor Joe Underhill. She traveled to Uganda and worked with villagers on water access and conservation, even starting a “safe water and hygiene club” in the primary school.
This summer, she will be in Norway on a Fulbright fellowship researching the correlation between armed conflict and water hazards and scarcity at the Peace Research Institute in Oslo. Following her time in Norway, Edelen will pursue graduate work in environmental studies on a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholarship.
A triple major in chemistry, biology, and environmental studies, Edelen said her education and experiences abroad have solidified her desire to work in the area of policy analysis and research. “I really see my vocational work and my background bridging the different realms of sciences and the humanities together to address problems,” she said. “The nexus between science, policy, and society can be messy and convoluted, but that’s what really excites me about it.”
Edelen said her parents instilled in her the importance of taking initiative, encouraging her interest in medicine even before she began grade school. “I’ve always had a desire to make a difference in the world somehow. That’s what really motivates me. I want to use my gifts as a way to help the world.”