Over half of Gettysburg College students complete research with a faculty mentor over the course of their four years here. For Lynn Porta ’19, becoming a Kolbe Summer Fellow allowed her to refine her passion for hydropolitics—the politics of water—in the Middle East.
The Kolbe Summer Fellows Program is geared toward students who are interested in conducting interdisciplinary research within the arts, humanities, and social sciences fields. Over the course of 10 weeks, students pursue their own research interests under the direction of a faculty mentor.
Porta’s journey started in an academic department in which she did not originally envision herself: environmental studies.
“I picked Gettysburg in part because of my general interest in global politics. I thought I was going to study international relations or political science,” said Porta. “I wasn’t necessarily expecting to become a political science and environmental studies double major.”
Yet Prof. Monica Orgra’s “Environmental Science and Society” course made her curious to learn more. It was her first foray into studying environmental issues, and she found herself swept up in the class. So much so that Porta decided to pursue a major in environmental studies.
Prof. Stephen Stern’s “Religion and Politics in the Middle East” course and Porta’s involvement with the Eisenhower Institute were two other experiences that impacted her first year. During an experiential learning trip to the Middle East, she began to discover how to connect her interests.
“It provided a place for me to combine my interests in political science, environmental science, and the study of the Middle East in one place,” said Porta. “I credit the program for helping me to find my niche.”
During Porta’s sophomore year, Prof. Salma Monani’s environmental humanities class was another key to refining her interests. “It revealed to me how politics, environmental resource management, and Middle East studies are interconnected,” she said. Within her courses, Porta took every opportunity to build her knowledge and skill set in the specific area she wanted to be in: environmental and political issues in the Middle East.
Porta’s global study experience during her junior year at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem was another piece to the puzzle. The most impactful course she took abroad was called “Challenges of Regional Cooperation.” During that course, she wrote a paper that examined international cooperation over bilateral treaties between Israel, Jordan, and the Palestinian Liberation Organization. That paper ultimately became the foundation for her Kolbe research proposal.
“I couldn’t really dig my teeth into the topic when I was abroad,” said Porta. “I applied to the Kolbe Summer Fellows Program because I wanted to use what I had learned in that class abroad and apply it to a practical project.”
With the support of her mentor, Stern, Porta spent 10 weeks doing exactly that. Her Kolbe project, titled Transboundary Water Narratives in the Middle East: Sources of Understanding for the Politics of a Scarce Resource, used literature, reports, treaties, and data to develop an understanding of how effective the policies are between countries in the Middle East.
“Lynn is a bold, dynamic scholar who appreciates the epistemic narratives underlying the science at hand,” reflected Stern. “She is an agile, conscientious thinker with a grasp on the particular and how it connects to trans historical narratives.”
Porta’s work and culmination of experiences — from Ogra’s course during her first-year to the Kolbe fellowship — have continued to make waves. Porta is continuing her research, which has turned into her environmental studies senior honors thesis. The paper that she wrote for the Kolbe fellowship is currently under review for a publication. Her research also served as material she submitted to graduate school — she will be attending Oregon State University for her master’s in water resources policy and management in the fall.
In addition, Porta is currently a participant in the Institute’s Environmental Leadership program, this year’s theme being watershed management across districts in the United States. Her experience in the program provided her another opportunity to analyze water policy and public policy.
“I think if I was at a big research institution where I was one of 50 or 100 in a classroom, the exception to pursue my interests would not have been made,” said Porta. “The ability to pursue multidisciplinary interests is something that’s been very unique to my liberal arts experience at Gettysburg College.”