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Kathleen Keough

Kathleen Keough

Boren Scholarships

Milwaukee School of Engineering



A study abroad experience is generally not built into an engineering curriculum. I applied to study in Ukraine through a Boren Scholarship with the STEM summer option so I would not have to take longer than 4 years to complete my degree. Working in STEM fields, it is easy to feel that we need to spend all of our time studying and doing research, but international study opens people up to new ways of thinking and can promote collaboration and innovation. My experience not only helped me discover a love for Eastern Europe and the Ukrainian language, it also led me to my current position with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 

When I began my Boren Scholarship, all I knew of Ukrainian was the alphabet, which I had taught myself from an iPad app. In nine weeks, I went from knowing nothing to being able to traverse the streets of Lviv by myself, order food, go shopping, and talk with people on the street. The feeling of accomplishment I had when I left, and the sense of belonging I felt with the native Ukrainian people, is invaluable. 

Every week day I would ride the mashrutka (Ukrainian bus) to school with the other girls in my house. I would eat a Ukrainian style breakfast. After breakfast we had an intensive language course for about four hours. Next was lunch which was made up of borscht (Ukrainian beet soup.). One-on-one tutoring and homework time followed lunch. In the afternoons, the school would take us on cultural excursions to famous sites in the city. Once that was completed, we would be famished and head to a restaurant to stock up on vereneke (Ukrainian dumplings) and holoptsi (a cabbage dish).

In 2013, I graduated with my bachelor’s degree in bio-molecular engineering and a minor in marketing and entrepreneurship. I obtained a position with the CDC Public Health Associate Fellowship Program. I was drawn to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention because as an agency, it works with various issues that initially drew me to the Boren Scholarship, such as bioterrorism and environmental public health. 

My advice to future applicants is to do your research, allot time wisely, get things done early, and have as many people as possible read your essay (especially your recommenders). Connect with your professors and your Boren campus representative, as they can provide you with more advice and inspiration. Enjoy being abroad, learning new things and meeting new people. This is likely to be one of the best experiences of your life!