Rebekah Emanuel ’07 was named the national winner of the Simon Fellowship this week, an award of $40,000 to recognize and support her “noble purpose.”
Each year, the William E. Simon Fellowship for Noble Purpose designates one $40,000 recipient and two $5,000 recipients from among a pool of over 1,000 current college seniors nationwide. Emanuel, who has spent time in Uganda working on AIDS care, submitted a proposal to help Ugandan family caregivers maintain their work and education plans instead of abandoning their goals to care for sick family members.
Enza Loera, director of education fellowships for the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, which established the Simon fellowship, said the organization looks for individuals who have clear, developed ideas of how they want to impact the lives of others.
“The goal of the fellowship is to inspire and recognize noble work in young people, not just to fulfill a quota for volunteer hours or resumes, but actually to do good things in the community and to honor service,” she said.
Loera said Emanuel’s consideration of the many logistical aspects of her project and her sincere interest in helping others made her proposal stand out. When her application came up in front of the final panel of judges with the nine other finalists, Loera said, Emanuel was almost unanimously declared the winner.
Emanuel took time off between her junior and senior years to spend time at an AIDS hospice in Uganda doing research for her senior thesis in Ethics, Politics and Economics. Accompanied by her younger sister, who took a year off between high school and college, Emanuel studied the lifestyles of Ugandan families impacted by illness. There is a poverty trap in Uganda, she said, as family members usually leave school or work in order to care for relatives. The project she is planning with her Simon Fellowship money will target that problem both by creating day care centers for the ill and by creating jobs and income-generating projects for the caregivers, she said.
Emanuel, who was also awarded the Fox Fellowship and Gordon Grant and turned down a Fulbright Scholarship in order to accept the Simon, said a large part of her motivation to spend time in Uganda was her desire to use her academic experience in the context of the real world.
“I kept on feeling like my books were segmented from my life, and I really believe the things I learn in school need to have a full impact on the way I live and the way I think as a human being,” she said. “I felt that since my to-do list was so long, I was just trying to get through stuff, and it wasn’t a good way to live or learn, so I decided I wasn’t going to do that. Over the year [in Uganda], that choice came back to be a very positive one.”
Emanuel and her sister also spent time with a group of silent nuns and with a community of rural Jews, and both experiences helped her to connect with and better understand her Jewish background, she said. She and her sister wrote a book together about their experiences in Uganda in the form of a series of vignettes, including some local recipes.
Emanuel is still working with advisers on the time frame and specific implementation of her proposal, she said, but hopes to commence her plans for day care centers and caregiver training in the near future. The money will also go toward setting up infrastructure for the program and funding progress studies, she said.
Sociology professor David Apter, who taught Emanuel in an EP&E seminar and wrote one of her recommendations for the Simon, said she stands apart from most of the other students he has met throughout his career.
“She has an extraordinary combination of enthusiasm and commitment to social projects,” he said. “She not only mobilizes ideas, but people as well; she organizes people in the most amazing way.”
Jennifer Wood, who is Emanuel’s dean in Ezra Stiles College and wrote her a recommendation, said her impressive array of accomplishments and involvement — including her work as a freshman counselor and senior interviewer for the Yale Admissions Office — made her particularly well-qualified for the Simon.
Emanuel also helped to develop the Bulldogs in Uganda internship program in collaboration with the President’s Office and Undergraduate Career Services.
The Simon Fellowship was established three years ago by the investor Sir John Templeton to honor former U.S. Secretary of the Treasury William E. Simon. Last year, Elizabeth Ashamu ’06 was awarded a $5,000 grant.