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University salutatorian discusses importance of maintaining service-oriented mindset

| Friday, May 17, 2019

Having traveled abroad for three summers working in Shirati, Tanzania, and Masaka, Uganda, serving as the co-president of GlobeMed and conducting research through the Kellogg International Scholars program, class of 2019 salutatorian Annelise Gill-Wiehl fulfilled her belief that “we’re here for more.”

An environmental engineering major and international development studies minor, Gill-Wiehl said she initially wanted to study water infrastructure, but after taking classes within the major and traveling abroad, she began to see the decencies of electricity.

The summer after her freshman year, Gill-Wiehl said she went to Masaka, Uganda, on a Kellogg internship to work for a local agricultural training center, founded by a woman who saw agriculture as an opportunity for families to rise out of poverty. Over the course of her summer there, Gill-Wiehl organized workshops on water conservation and environmental protection and built a water runoff collection tank, but she said her experiences with her host family sparked her passion for energy.

“Because they spoke such limited English, I bonded with them by cooking,” she said. “It became one of my favorite things, cooking with my host sister, cooking with my host mom, learning the traditional foods, but we did it all on fire wood and charcoal stoves.”

The next summer, she traveled to Shirati, Tanzania, to investigate household energy usage, and the next year, she returned to design a pilot study, training local community members to use gas stoves to work with the households in their own neighborhoods to transition to clean fuel.

“The purpose was to really instill a behavior change that’s facilitated by the community itself,” she said.

Her involvement abroad extended beyond her time in Uganda and Tanzania, as Gill-Wiehl also served as the co-president of GlobeMed this past year. Although Gill-Wiehl never considered a career medicine, she said she was drawn to the manner in which the club approaches outreach.

“It was founded on the principle that, as college students, we don’t know what’s going on in rural Laos,” she said. “We’re working in partnership with them to understand what’s actually going on there and what their needs are, and I really loved that example of international development and the idea of being in partnership with organizations and communities rather than being a white donor that’s telling them what to do.”

Gill-Wiehl said she knew she wanted to work in poverty and justice before she came to Notre Dame, and two of her favorite books — “Mountains Beyond Mountains” by Tracy Kidder and “Santiago’s Children” by Steve Reifenberg — have helped her order her time at the University.

“They’ve really formed how I could look at how my career could be, understanding that larger purpose and opening my eyes to international development and a preferential option for the poor and giving me the language around structural violence,” she said.

Outside of academics and research, Gill-Wiehl said she loves running, traveling and drinking coffee. 

“I love having conversations over coffee,” she said. “I think that it’s magical how it brings people together. In Starbucks, it’s nice to just eavesdrop on the great conversations between students or professors and students. So yes, I’ve been known to beat everyone out on coffee consumption for sure.”

Reflecting on her time at Notre Dame, Gill-Wiehl said her Notre Dame education has extended far beyond academics.

“I’ve found the heart of my passions and the purpose of those academics in my research in my extra activities,” she said. “Prioritize your academics, but prioritize the activities that really inspire you and bring you energy and life.”

Gill-Wiehl said she intends to maintain the passions she cultivated at the University long after she leaves campus, and she hopes her fellow graduating seniors will do the same.

“We’re here for more, and we shouldn’t lose that sense that we’re here for more just because we aren’t at Notre Dame,” she said.

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About Serena Zacharias

Serena is a member of the class of 2021 majoring in Neuroscience and Behavior and minoring in Journalism, Ethics and Democracy. She hails from the great cheese state of Wisconsin and is a former ND News Editor for The Observer.

Contact Serena