Sociology major wins Fulbright for masters degree in England

by Jennifer Johnson,

One of the most prestigious grant programs in the nation is helping Kalie Weninger ’15 learn new ways to combat homelessness. 

Kalie Weninger Headshot

She’s earning a master of science this year in governance and public policy at the University of Manchester in England through a UK Fulbright grant, one of the most competitive offered by the international education program. She was among 1,038 total applicants vying for 41 spots in the UK.

Weninger’s dissertation has current relevance. The city of Manchester has vowed to end homelessness by 2020, and she’s examining the effort by Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA), a collective of local councils, to craft policy that addresses homelessness — at a time when state and local authorities are trying to pull more power away from Parliament. 

Weninger, who was a sociology and women's and gender studies double major, chose Manchester because she knew it had innovative policies and a history of cross-sector collaboration, she said. But it also allowed her to continue an interest she picked up at Willamette. 

In 2014, she volunteered with Family Promise of the Mid-Willamette Valley, which serves families experiencing homelessness. After she graduated, she worked there full-time and even traveled to Washington, D.C. to advocate for a bill on behalf of the organization. 

“Homeslessness and housing policy was not a big interest of mine as an undergraduate,” she said. “But I volunteered at Family Promise to experience the world in a way I could not on campus, and my interest in the topic really developed.” 

At Manchester, she’s been juggling her full-time degree program with grant recipient responsibilities, which include attending conferences, preparing occasional presentations and serving as an ambassador on behalf of the Fulbright Commission and the nation. 

Many of the university events she’s participated in have been strongly community-based. At one event run by London newspaper The Times, she helped coordinate 100 voters from across Britain and Wales who discussed their opinions on labor rights, crime and other issues in the run up to the 2019 election. She drafted policies with the university's politics department — reducing homelessness, supporting the city’s push to be carbon neutral by 2038 and encouraging equitable growth in the city’s burroughs — and pitched the proposals to local policymakers. Soon she’ll be interning with the GMCA for the summer to join their policy strategy team. 

After she’s completed her masters degree, she hopes to work for a policy think tank or as a consultant in the U.S. or United Kingdom, she said. 

Weninger is one of three Willamette grads last year to be awarded a Fulbright. The experience has been extremely valuable to her in so many ways, she said — she’s been able to further her formal and informal education within the university and beyond. 

“I’ve met and collaborated with students from all around the world, which has broadened my perspective immensely and provided insight I never would have had in the United States,” she said. “It’s also challenged me to try new things and be open to new experiences. It’s encouraged me to say ‘yes’ to every opportunity I can.” 

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