Shane Lee Shares Valuable Experiences Serving as a Gilman Scholar in South Africa

PPE major and Fall 2022 graduate, Shane Lee, shares his experiences as a Gilman Scholar in South Africa.

Shane, can you tell us about your role as a Gilman Scholar, conducting research on energy inequality in South Africa (summer 2022)?

This past summer, I served as a Gilman Scholar in South Africa analyzing environmental justice issues. As a scholar, I analyzed solar panel deployment in Zululand, South Africa, from the post-apartheid perspective. My research provides insight on how solar panel deployment can remedy South African load shedding to alleviate energy inequality. Through my research, I learned that load shedding disproportionately affects Black South Africans due to South Africa’s coal-powered system and solar barriers that exist for Black communities. Since I have come back, I am continuing my research of solar energy in South Africa through my research class. I am currently working to publish my work on energy inequality in South Africa and building upon my recent conference presentation at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Conference for Undergraduate Scholarship (MARCUS) by presenting at the Network for Undergraduate Research in Virginia (NURVa) and the National Conference on Undergraduate Research (NCUR).

How did you learn about this opportunity?

Throughout my four and a half years at Virginia Tech, I have been trying to make plans to study abroad in South Africa. But with classes, clubs, and COVID, I kept running into different scheduling conflicts that made studying abroad challenging. Earlier this year in March, I was able to find the Sociology of Social Justice Summer Program in South Africa. With help from the Study Abroad Office and my advisor, I was able to send in an application quickly, and I can’t be more grateful that I did. I truly learned a lot about clean energy and post-Apartheid issues, and made life-long memories!

What experience did you gain as a Gilman Scholar?

I am truly appreciative of the Gilman Program because of the financial support they provided me for my trip. It was a seamless application process and I truly recommend other students to apply for it. Because the scholarship is selective, I felt compelled to make an impact during my month abroad. I worked to understand how South Africa has and hasn’t changed since Apartheid was abolished by simply talking with the locals who lived through it. I learned a lot about the environmental injustices that are occurring in South Africa, and what steps are being taken to fix them. Being a Gilman Scholar has allowed me to build upon my desired career path in the clean energy space, so I will always be indebted to the Gilman program for that.

How do you think the PPE program at Virginia Tech has prepared you for this opportunity?

Without the PPE program here at Virginia Tech, I would not have been as motivated to explore environmental justice issues through a global perspective. As a truly global degree, PPE has given me the tools to be a global scholar through understanding different ideas and norms. As a program, PPE has always pushed me to think outside of the box and to challenge myself to think bigger. Understanding post-Apartheid environmental issues in South Africa required me to do both things, so without PPE I would not be where I am today. Also, the varied coursework in PPE allowed me to understand complex issues in South Africa, so I felt more than prepared as a PPE student abroad.

Is there any other information that you would like to provide to current and prospective PPE students?

Definitely apply for study abroad scholarships! Money is out there for students to travel abroad, so try your best to make it happen! PPE is super dope, so anyone reading this thinking about being a PPE major, just do it. You won’t regret it.

To learn more about the PPE major, please follow this link.

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