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Still Making Unexpected Connections

Honors Alumna Wins Gates-Cambridge Award

Congratulations to Honors alumna Madeleine Hahne who has been named a Gates-Cambridge Scholar for 2020! The prestigious Gates-Cambridge Scholarship Program selects students with outstanding intellectual ability, leadership potential, and a commitment to improving the lives of others. Hahne met these qualifications with ease and is one of 28 scholars selected from the United States.

Perhaps one of the most remarkable things about Hahne is how her interdisciplinary interests have shaped her education. Hahne studied International Relations for her undergraduate degree, while completing a political science Honors thesis, and then studied Muslim-Jewish relations for a Master’s program at Cambridge. For her PhD, Hahne plans on studying Geography. Her varied interests have informed her academic career, and offered Hahne an opportunity to make unexpected connections in her field.

Hahne explains that while she previously focused on subjects within the Social Studies, her interest in nature and the physical world around her started from a young age. “As a young child in Los Angeles, I spent every moment I could in nature. I brought botany and zoology books with me up into the hills around my home to study the natural world around me. As a home-schooled teenager, I became a wildlife rehabilitator. I cared for everything -- bobcats, coyotes, great horned owls -- and found joy in helping sick and orphaned animals heal and return to the wild. I later regularly crewed brigantines sailing the Los Angeles coastline and Channel Islands, teaching youth from inner city schools teamwork and leadership through traditional sailing. These experiences inspired my passion for the natural world and catalyzed my dedication to preserving it.”

During her time at BYU, Hahne found several opportunities to expand her knowledge and contribute to academia. “The Honors Program gave me access to some of the most extraordinary faculty on campus. I rarely took a class which wasn’t engaging and rigorous. To meet the Honors Thesis requirement, I joined the Pembroke-King’s Summer Program to study at Cambridge University. My neo-gothic room in King’s College overlooked the Cam River and a courtyard bursting with summer roses. I researched Muslim-Police relations in the United Kingdom through spending days at the local Sunni Mosque, and hours interviewing police officers of the Cambridgeshire department. I also studied writing and the intellectual history of Romanticism and the Enlightenment. My research resulted in my Honors thesis and later formed the basis for my Master’s degree.”

“I treasure and miss my time at BYU. At first, I had a difficult time adjusting... Fortunately, my freshman hall teemed with the most extraordinary women I have ever met. I made a tight group of inspiring friends, all of whom continue to be major forces in my life today. With them, I began to flourish." Hahne studied at the Jerusalem Center and also served an LDS mission in the North Adriatic Mission, Slovene speaking. Living in regions which had been “riven by sectarian conflict deepened [her] fascination with the power of religion to shape our world” and continued to inform her research interests. “I majored in International Relations so I could immerse myself in understanding the complex political, economic, and cultural forces that shape our world. I minored in Philosophy so I could learn to question the fundamental assumptions of human behavior, and decide for myself how to act.” Hahne graduated cum laude and with University Honors in April 2014.

Before she started at Cambridge that next Fall, Hahne spent four months sailing the Chesapeake aboard a Baltimore based topsail schooner replica from the War of 1812. “When I began Cambridge, my palms had become so sandpaper rough that people visibly jumped when we shook hands.” Hahne studied Muslim-Jewish Relations for her Master's degree, and focused on how UK counter-radicalization policy has affected Muslim communities in Northern England for her Master’s thesis. That process included spending weeks doing fieldwork interviewing individuals hailing from these communities, members of the House of Lords who had designed the policy, and police officers who implemented it. During her time at Cambridge she also sang with the Magdalene College Chapel Choir, rowed with the Sidney Sussex College Crew, and helped run a philosophy society. Hahne fondly remembers those activities, saying “[those] experiences made the rigors of my academic work so much more fun, and enriched my life enormously.”

“BYU equipped me incredibly well for the rigorous intellectual world of Cambridge. I never felt outmatched, and discovered I could compete on an equal level with my new academic peers... The dynamic exposure I had to so many different fields helped me see where I could carve my own interdisciplinary path going forward.”

After graduating with her Master’s, Hahne spent time working for the British Home Office, and in September of 2016 started working for the White House Office of Presidential Correspondence in the “Review” department. After that administration ended, she got a job at the National Democratic Institute, an organization dedicated to working for democratic processes throughout the world. As a Program Officer for both the Lebanon and Iraq teams, she helped design and implement large scale programs in both countries. Her assignments ranged from an International Electoral Observation Mission for the Lebanese Parliamentary Election, to campaign training for Kurdish parliamentary candidates in Northern Iraq. After witnessing the devastating consequences of environmental neglect in both countries, Hahne wanted to find a solution. “In Lebanon, government gridlock resulted in an overflowing Beirut landfill dumping into the sea, poisoning the Mediterranean waters. In Iraq, the ongoing war and political corruption meant citizens went without air conditioning in 120 degree heat, and often without access to clean water – a deadly combination. I realized I could channel my passion for religion and nature toward doing good, and began to consider a PhD on this topic.”

After making the decision to return to University, Hahne applied to the Gates-Cambridge Scholar Program. She had first been prompted to apply and made aware of the scholarship program by BYU Professor Donna Lee Bowen, from Middle Eastern Studies. “I didn’t take her up on it then, feeling inadequate, but her nudge to action rattled around in my mind for years and ultimately inspired my recent application." Hahne also credits another contribution from BYU that helped her succeed- the BYU’s Prestigious Scholarship Office. “I am deeply grateful for the help of the BYU Prestigious Scholarship Office. They supported my application from the moment I first contacted them, and were particularly helpful in preparing me for the grueling Gates Cambridge Interview. Through the mock interview process, I got a good sense of what an interview would be like and how to provide concise, thoughtful answers. I am positive their contribution made a significant difference in the outcome.”

Currently, Hahne is living in Abu Dhabi where she works for a British non-profit based out of the House of Lords, and volunteers teaching English to the children of Syrian refugees. Her husband, a former Naval Officer, is currently consulting for the UAE military. They are expecting their first child in August, and the Gates Cambridge scholarship and University of Cambridge’s generous family-first policies have allowed Hahne to take a year of maternity leave.

Hahne will begin her doctorate program in October 2021. “During my PhD, I will study the complex dynamic between religion and the environment, particularly how religious action or inaction can change environmental outcomes. Using my own faith background as a starting point, I will seek to understand how theological narratives around ecology are formed, and how they can transform behavior. I hope to advance the cause of unity and peace throughout my career, and am honored to join a community of other Gates Scholars who are devoted to serving others and creating a healthier world for us all.”