Rees ’12, Wilkerson-Melnick ’12 win inaugural Dalai Lama fellowships
Amanda Rees ’12 and Gabrielle Wilkerson-Melnick ’12 are among the first Dalai Lama Fellows ever selected. Currently in its inaugural year, the Dalai Lama Fellowship will award the pair $10,000. Rees and Wilkerson-Melnick said they plan to spend the money on a social entrepreneurship and sustainable energy project in Tanzania.
Recipients are expected to complete year-long projects addressing cross-cultural understanding, income and wealth inequities, violence and environmental sustainability.
Rees and Wilkerson-Melnick said they plan to go to Tanzania for two months over the summer to teach a class on the environment, energy and entrepreneurship at an all-girls high school to empower girls and help them start their own solar microfinance project.
They will also bring a set of 20 solar lanterns to the high school to help the students jumpstart the project. The lanterns can plug into cell phones and radios.
“This really just stemmed from a class we were taking in science, technology and African development,” Rees said. “[It combined] sociology, engineering and microfinance and, because I’m an engineer and Gaby is in [anthropology], it helped us realize interdisciplinary [possibilities].”
The terms of the fellowship also expect recipients to integrate their projects into life on campus when they return to school, and Rees and Wilkerson-Melnick said they plan to continue their work next school year by creating a documentary based on their experiences this summer and maintaining connections with the Tanzanian students through “video pal” relationships.
“It’s exciting because nobody’s done this kind of project, and [it’s] something we’re definitely interested in doing,” Rees said.
Wilkerson-Melnick is an anthropology major with a certificate in African studies and a member of Business Today.
Rees, a chemical and biological engineering major pursuing certificates in sustainable energy and dance, helped plan the TEDx talks on campus this fall and is interested in social entrepreneurship, engineering and microfinance.
They are both from Los Angeles, Calif. While they didn’t grow up together, Rees said, they had met before coming to the University and have been friends ever since.
“We’re a really good team,” Wilkerson-Melnick said. “I’ve got [experience on] the business side, and Amanda’s more science, entrepreneur-like.”
Rees and Wilkerson-Melnick first found out about the fellowship application through emails from both the Office of Religious Life and their respective departments.
After spending last weekend at the Clinton Global Initiative University in San Diego, they interviewed for the Dalai Lama Fellowship last week and learned of their acceptance the following day.
In addition to Rees and Wilkerson-Melnick, fellows were selected from Amherst College, McGill University, New York University and Stanford University.
“We’ve got a conference in June and we’ll meet the students from the other schools, and I think the Dalai Lama will be there too,” Wilkerson-Melnick said.
Due to incorrect information provided by the fellowship winners, this article contained inaccurate information about the nature of the award. The funding for the prize does not come from the Dalai Lama's 1989 Nobel Peace Prize award, as originally stated, and he is not scheduled to attend the program's June conference. This article has been updated to reflect these changes. The Daily Princetonian regrets the error.