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Economics junior wins grant to travel the globe

December 15, 2011

Economics major Leah Luben has been awarded the Circumnavigator travel-study grant to conduct research on the impact of global conditional cash transfers.

Conditional cash transfers are government-sponsored incentives to households conditioned on demonstrated improvements in children's education and health.

Luben is hoping to develop a framework to study the potential disruptions caused by insufficient school capacity and access in countries of varying income. She says that an important aspect of her research is to visit countries with varying income levels and experiences within the cash transfer program to study if regional biases exist.

The $9,000 grant is given to four students in the country each year. Winners are required to circumnavigate the globe, stopping at a minimum of five countries on three continents.

Beginning in May, Luben will travel for twelve weeks visiting program agencies that administer conditional cash transfers in Jamaica, Indonesia, South Africa, Burkina Faso, Brazil and Chile. She will also visit Malawi, which is trying out a program of unconditional cash transfers.

"While conditional cash transfers are being celebrated for its demonstrated success in increasing the number of children in school, the potential vulnerability it faces in reaching high-need populations must be a top priority in research before attempting to scale them into permanent social support programs," says Luben. "Unfortunately, conditional cash transfers may be crippled in the most vulnerable regions of the world because of limited school access and capacity."

Among her many interests, Luben is passionate about helping those less fortunate as a member of the AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps, reaching out to communities in need while serving areas of disaster relief. She spent time in Texas and Louisiana helping provide resources for disaster victims of Hurricane Ike.

“Americorps was very important for me because those experiences led me to have purpose and contacts to my education,” Luben said. “I learned a lot about how multiple organizations work together to rebuild homes and share resources for the common good.”

Luben credits Barrett, the Honors College at ASU for her many successes both academically and personally.

“I’ve experienced a lot of growth by being a part of Barrett. It has been very nurturing and I’ve felt a lot of support from the faculty,” Luben said. “It’s a comforting environment and I feel I have access to a lot of resources that I wouldn’t have otherwise. “

As the director of the student leadership team within Changemaker Central at ASU, Luben is helping develop and cultivate students by providing the opportunities and resources to inspire, catalyze and sustain student-driven social change on a local and global scale.

Luben is sponsored by the local chapter of the Circumnavigators Club, a private organization open to persons who have made a circumnavigation of the globe at some point in their lives. The club meets monthly for a social gathering with speaker; one of the club’s major undertakings is selecting the student circumnavigator and shepherding him or her through the process of the study-travel experience.

Upon returning from her journey, Luben plans to relocate to Chile to finish her studies as part of a university collaboration with ASU. She says that the move will allow her to benefit from hands-on training in her specialization and further continue her field research.