A Montana State University graduate's interest in solving water problems around the world helped her become a Rhodes Scholar on Sunday, the same day she arrived home to wintery Bozeman from Israel.
"From dust storms to snowstorms," said Katy Hansen.
The Rhodes Trust named Hansen as one of 32 American students who will enter Oxford University next October.
Hansen graduated summa cum laude in May from Montana State with a major in industrial and management engineering and a minor in economics, and has been working at the Arava Institute at Kibbutz Kefura, Israel, on water conservation projects between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
The scholarships to Oxford provide all expenses for two or three years of study at the prestigious university in England. The winners were selected from 837 applicants endorsed by 309 different colleges and universities.
Hansen said that at Oxford she plans to get a masters of science in water science policy and management.
"I think water is the central concern of my generation," she said. "I don't believe any solution can be unilateral in the sense that it requires an interdisciplinary approach, and so the technical components of the solution must be buttressed by an understanding of the politics at play."
While at Montana State, Hansen was president of the Engineers Without Borders chapter and led projects in Kenya.
"You see the plight of marginalized populations who are really disadvantaged to an inhuman degree by their lack of access to water," she said. "And water is a distributive problem, not a problem of quantity. It feels like we have this solvable problem that needs to be addressed.
"It would be immoral to ignore the fact that 884 million people lack access to water resources. The cumulative effects are so pervasive in trapping whole societies in poverty."
Hansen said after Oxford she plans to return to working in the field to get more experience before moving into a policy or management role.
"I think it's important to mention that I received this tremendous award on the backs of a great many mentors and friends and supporters," she said. "I feel almost guilty, honestly, that I'm receiving this recognition because there are so many people working so hard on these issues that I care so much about."
That humility has been one of Hansen's lifelong traits, said her grandmother, Carmen Murphy.
"Even as a child she was always concerned about others and not particularly ever very proud of herself," Murphy said. "She's always been a very, very good student and a happy child, happy not just to show off but to be helpful."