EWC’s USSP and USTL Alumni Play Vital Roles in their Countries’ Development


USTL and USSP student fellows meet with Julia Findlay in the U.S. State Department’s Office of Academic Exchanges.

Students are rising to leadership positions after participating in the US- Timor-Leste (USTL) and US- South Pacific (USSP) Scholarship Programs, which the East-West Center has administered for more than a decade. The U.S. State Department-funded scholarship programs provide a unique opportunity for select students of capacity to obtain graduate or undergraduate degrees in fields that directly contribute to their country’s political, economic, and social development.

As part of their educational experience in the United States, participants undertake internships related to their field of study at organizations or government agencies in the Washington, D.C. area. While there the student fellows also engage in cultural enrichment activities ranging from visits to the White House and the U.S. Supreme Court to tours of the national museums and memorial sites.  This year’s fellows recently concluded internships with organizations ranging from the National Science Foundation, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Environmental Protection Agency, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, to the International Monetary Fund, the International Center for Journalists, and the Embassy of Timor-Leste, among others.

Following Timor-Leste’s independence in 2002, the country faces the challenge of building a strong democracy and vibrant economy. EWC’s USTL alumni are taking an active role in bringing about the positive change that is needed in the country.  Currently, several USTL alumni are serving in key government positions including President Taur Matan Rauk’s Chief of Staff, Fidelis Manuel Magalhães, who graduated in 2006 with a degree in political science. Also serving in the Office of the President is Director of International Public Relations Isabel Antónia Da Costa Galhos, a recent graduate in psychology; Chief Researcher Guteriano Nicolau Soares, a 2011 graduate in political science; along with the President’s advisors, both bioengineering graduates, Filipe Da Costa and Carlos Dos Reis, who also serves as the leader of the EWC’s Timor-Leste (Dili) alumni chapter.  

In other Timor-Leste ministries, Lucas Serrão Lopes, a 2007 graduate in education, serves as Chief of Staff for the Secretary of State for Culture; and Agustinho Caet, a 2009 graduate in international education, serves as the National Advisor for Language in Education. Impacting civil society, Nelson De Sousa Carvalho Belo, a 2007 political science graduate, established and directs the NGO, Fundasaun Mahein, which monitors the security sector of Timor-Leste and works to increase their legitimacy and capacity through citizen participation in the development of relevant legislation, policies, and budgets. With the recent parliamentary elections in Timor-Leste, other USTL alumni are poised to assume key roles in the government as well.

The USSP Fellows have also made an impact throughout the Pacific islands.  Solomon Kantha, a 2007 political science graduate from Papua New Guinea, now serves as the National Program Officer in the U.N. office of the International Organization for Migration. Also in PNG, 2006 graduate Muse Opiang, a noted biologist focusing on ecology and conservation, co-founded and co-directs the PNG Institute for Biological Research (PNG-IBR). He has embarked on scientific expeditions in the rainforests of Papua New Guinea’s highlands and discovered a rare new marsupial species, the Bosavi silky cuscus. He is also the leading expert in the world on another endemic PNG mammal, the long-beaked echidna. His research efforts focus on ways to protect the unique wildlife in these remote communities. In the Solomon Islands, EWC alumnus Ronney Kenitahana works for the World Health Organization as the Country Coordinator of the Pacific Open Learning Health Net. In Fiji, Ashwin Raj serves the Deputy Vice Chancellor at the University of the South Pacific as the manager of a major academic restructuring. The Development Bank of Samoa benefits from the expertise of Jude Kohlhase, who serves as the Assistant Chief Executive Officer of the Planning and Urban Management Agency in the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment. Many more alumni are also breaking new ground in their respective fields throughout the region and they attribute their inspiration and success to their experience as a fellow at the East-West Center.