Newswise —

Northwestern University senior and Associated Student Government President Christina Cilento will spend the year after she graduates learning about impacts of climate change in Asia as a Luce Scholar.

One of 18 future leaders to be named a 2017-18 Luce Scholar, Cilento will continue her education after she departs in June, from Northwestern -- where the 21-year-old native Pennsylvanian discovered her passion for environmental policy.  

“While we continue to debate whether climate change is real in the U.S., low lying nations in Asia are being swallowed by rising sea levels,” Cilento said. “What drew me to the Luce Scholarship is my desire to gain a more global perspective on climate change.”  

During her undergraduate career at Northwestern, Cilento has been a leading advocate for sustainability. But she did not fully grasp how the U.S. fit into international climate conversations until she traveled to Paris in 2015 to observe the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 21) as one of 10 student journalists invited to report on the conference.

“I was full of hope that I would be present for a Woodstock moment -- that my children would one day ask me, ‘Where were you during COP21?’” she said.

Instead, Cilento quickly came to learn that progress is slow.

“I started to think about what it would mean if politics and activism were fused – what could be accomplished if the people protesting at COP21 were the ones invited to the negotiation table,” Cilento said in her application. “It is this question that has led me to aspire to a career in environmental law and policy, through which I can gain access to the table.”

Cilento is the 18th Northwestern student to win the Luce Scholarship, a nationally competitive fellowship program created by the Henry Luce Foundation in 1974 to enhance the understanding of Asia among potential leaders in American society. Luce Scholars are provided stipends, language training and individualized professional placement in Asia.

Armed with a major in learning and organizational change from Northwestern’s School of Education and Social Policy and a minor in environmental policy and culture from the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, Cilento is hoping to work at an NGO or nonprofit that does policy work around deforestation in Laos, the Philippines or Indonesia.