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ASU junior wins around-the-world study award

December 18, 2009

Cole Wirpel, a 20-year-old ASU junior who already has spent more time abroad than most people do in a lifetime, has won an around-the-world study trip next summer from the Circumnavigators Club Foundation. The $9,000 grant is given to only four students in the country each year.

Wirpel spent last summer teaching English to 60 students in a school in Shanghai, China. The summer before, he traveled through Hungary and Romania, then lived in Istanbul, Turkey, for a month, studying the Turkish language and meeting with human-rights organizations.

Currently he is in Turkey for a year, studying at Bogazici University under a National Security Education Program scholarship.

A global studies and political science major in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Wirpel came to ASU as a Flinn Scholar with an intense curiosity about the world and a desire to make a difference.

He enrolled in Barrett, the Honors College, and almost immediately got involved in Community Outreach and Advocacy for Refugees (COAR), a student-founded organization. For two years Wirpel mentored a young refugee family from Eritrea, teaching them English and helping them navigate the American culture.

He also became vice president of AIESEC Arizona, a chapter of a global nonprofit that creates international internships for college students. These activities – and his coursework in global studies – whetted his interest in global affairs, and he decided to study the challenges of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) funded by grant programs for his thesis. Now he’d like to make it his career.

“I am fascinated by how decision-making in development is moving from bureaucrats and Western experts to grassroots NGOSs and local governments,” says Wirpel. “Yet there continue to be problems, and no researchers have studied how individual agencies are trying to implement community-driven development – which ones are having success and why.

“My hope is that conducting in-depth analyses of partnerships between aid institutions and NGOs and gaining personal experience observing various projects will guide me toward two successful careers: as an official in the U.S. Agency for International Development, and later, as an administrator for a global nonprofit institution.”

Wirpel's project itinerary for next summer will allow him to study community-driven development projects in Anapolis, Brazil; Skopje, Republic of Macedonia; Israel, the West Bank and Gaza: Bangui, Central African Republic; Dar es Salaam, Tanzania; Nepal; and Chengdu, China.