UC Berkeley senior and water rights advocate wins scholarship

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Minutes before walking into her international conflict resolution class in November, UC Berkeley senior Rebecca Peters received a phone call from a blocked number.

It was the British consulate, congratulating Peters on being one of 35 recipients of the prestigious Marshall Scholarship for 2014, an award that finances American undergraduate students seeking a graduate degree in the United Kingdom. Peters was selected for the scholarship due to her research and advocacy for water rights.

“I saw the call and didn’t really know what to expect,” Peters said. “My reaction was utter shock.”

The Marshall Scholarship is just the latest in a series of honors the senior, a double major in international development policy and economics and society and environment, has garnered over the last year. Other awards include the Udall Scholarship and the Harry S. Truman Scholarship, both of which she received last semester.

Peters’ passion for water and human rights has taken her all over the world while making her a leader on campus. In her sophomore year at UC Berkeley, after transferring from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, Peters became president of the Berkeley Water Group and began teaching a DeCal on water and international human rights that will continue for its fifth semester this spring.

In addition to her work on campus, Peters has also engaged in water advocacy in countries such as Guatemala and Bolivia, completing part of her fieldwork for the global poverty and practice minor in the latter.

Currently, Peters is researching the connection between gender and access to water and its potential effects. For example, in Bolivia, Peters looked at the disproportionately negative effect that lack of water access has on women.

“The specific research and advocacy work I’ve done in Bolivia looks at the way water in schools impacts girls, and specifically girls’ hygiene issues, like menstruation,” Peters said. “If girls don’t have access to pads or tampons and don’t have the water resources at school for hygiene practices, it makes them less likely to attend school during that time.”

To her mentors and professors, Peters’ research on these unique problems is especially impressive.

“The most exciting thing to me about her work is that she’s working on subjects that aren’t popular and that aren’t all over people’s Twitter feeds but are fantastically important,” said Khalid Kadir, a UC Berkeley lecturer and one of Peters’ mentors. “She’s making space for something that isn’t often considered or looked at.”

After she graduates, Peters intends to work for the U.S. Agency for International Development before pursuing two master’s degrees back to back, one in poverty and development at the University of Manchester and another in water science and policy at Oxford University.

When she completes these degrees, Peters hopes to return to UC Berkeley to work on a doctoral degree with funding from her Truman Scholarship.

“I think Rebecca’s story should serve as motivation for other undergraduates to pursue what they’re passionate about,” said Fermin Reygadas, another mentor of Peters and a UC Berkeley doctoral candidate in the Energy and Resources Group. “Although it takes time and perseverance, undergraduates should not be shy about striving to change the world.”

Contact Chloee Weiner at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @_chloeew .