Not so long ago, Laura Huober
M.E.M. ‘15 thought the doors of higher education were closed to her. It’s not that she didn’t do well in high school. She simply was never enrolled.
Brought to the U.S. from Germany when was she was eight, and home-schooled in a home she describes as unconventional, Huober realized at an early age that she was missing out on a real education. Most of what she learned, she says, was self-taught. And at 17, she moved out and took a job as a nanny.
Although lacking a high school diploma or GED, she eventually heard about the open door policy of community colleges and enrolled at Santa Monica College in southern California. That led to a transfer to Amherst College, where she found a passion for environmental issues while completing her bachelor’s degree.
Last month, Huober’s self-reliance and academic accomplishments earned her the prestigious Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowship for New Americans
, which provides $90,000 grants to immigrants or children of immigrants pursuing graduate degrees.
The Soros grant will support her ongoing studies at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, where she is studying industrial ecology and e-waste management.
Each year, the Soros program recognizes “new Americans who are contributing to society and their fields and shaping the American landscape in a positive way,” said Craig Harwood
, the director of the fellowship. This year, the 30 fellows were selected from more than 1,200 applicants. Huober is the first student at F&ES to receive the fellowship.
“Laura’s story is a really remarkable story,” Harwood said. “Traditional education wasn’t valued in her family, but she valued education.”
uober attributes much of her success to supportive and welcoming educational institutions. “It was really thanks to Santa Monica College, which made education so accessible to me, that I was able to begin to envision another future for myself,” she says. “Suddenly, a door opened that I thought had been shut.”
After thriving in the classroom at Santa Monica for two years, she was accepted by Amherst in early 2008, and moved to western Massachusetts that fall. The course load was rigorous, but she adapted quickly. “I relished the opportunity to spend my days developing my own knowledge base, without having to worry about paying the bills,” she wrote in her Soros application.
After studying abroad in Niger, she became interested in issues related to waste management, eventually researching solid waste management infrastructure in Accra, Ghana.
She coordinated her own internship with Ghana's Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development, an agency that had no previous relationship with Amherst, says Katharine Sims
, an assistant professor at Amherst and Huober's thesis advisor. In Ghana, Huober arranged multiple field visits and interviews to investigate waste management challenges, meeting with government officials, NGOs, industry, and local workers.
“Her senior thesis synthesized the extremely rich set of information she had collected from these interviews in the field, as well as secondary local sources and academic literature,” Sims said. “Based on the depth of her independent field work and her thoughtful writing, I would put Laura’s thesis in the very top tier of environmental studies theses I have been involved in advising at Amherst.”
fter graduating from Amherst, Huober spent two years working on sustainability issues in the private sector before enrolling at F&ES. At Yale, she has focused on e-waste and the challenge of managing the rare metal resources that are so critical in the modern tech economy.
While she is eyeing a career in environmental management, Huober says she can also see herself working with community colleges in some capacity. She’s spending this summer working for the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office, helping to identify skills training gaps in the system’s workforce training programs geared toward the energy sector.
“Going through the process of applying for the Paul and Daisy Soros Fellowship really made me reflect on what I appreciate about this country,” she says, “and how I can give back what it has offered me.”