Brittany Simington recently received the opportunity to take her first trip outside the United States. Following her December 2011 graduation she spent three weeks completing a research project in Malawi, one of southeastern Africa’s least developed countries.
Simington, an aspiring attorney, focused her research on the struggles that Malawian women face when they pursue a similar ambition. She kept a blog of her findings called “An Aggie in Malawi.”
Simington spent her time abroad interviewing practicing lawyers, students and officials at Chancellor College, which houses the law program at the University of Malawi. According to her findings, women are rarely encouraged to a pursue careers as lawyers.
“Many of these women are not aware a career in law is feasible for them,” Simington said. “Law is seen as challenging, and there are some residual stereotypes that it is more appropriate for males than females.”
Simington also uncovered startling data about the law school admission process in Malawi. The few females who take an interest in legal careers do not receive the same opportunities as their male counterparts.
In her blog, she writes that many of the female applicants to law school do not gain admission. In the current freshmen class at Chancellor College, only four of the 46 students are women. However, Simington said she was impressed by the persistence of those women to go after what they wanted.
“They are some of the most hardworking individuals. They have to fight against huge challenges just to get resources,” she said. “It made me realize that I can’t take the opportunities I have in America for granted.”
Simington was inspired to visit Malawi by the political science professor of her African Politics class, Kim Yi Dionne. Dionne has traveled to Malawi, Tanzania, and Ghana on multiple occasions and brings her experiences into the classroom. She encourages students to study abroad.
“It’s great for students in America to get an idea of what it’s like around the world,” Dionne said. “It helps them to appreciate the material, not just learn it. We all believe that undergraduates get so much more from their college experience by going abroad and especially by doing research abroad.”
Dionne was pleased to learn that Simington had developed an interest in Malawi and recruited the help of the faculty and staff in her department to help make it possible. Kim Hill, the Cullen-McFadden Professor of Political Science, funded part of the trip. The remainder was given as a gift by Liberal Arts alumnus Richard Gamez, who graduated from Texas A&M in 1975 with a degree in economics.
Gamez expressed an interest to the College of Liberal Arts to endow a gift that would help students directly. When he learned about Simington’s research ambitions, Gamez jumped at the chance to help.
Simington returned from Malawi in late January. She plans to spend six months working at a domestic violence resource center on a Native American reservation in South Dakota. There she will be researching reproductive rights for Native American women, working with victims and writing newsletters. She then hopes to spend the rest of the year completing an internship before she returns to school to pursue a career in law.
The experience left Simington with a number of life lessons, but the most important takeaway message for her is to never underestimate the power of perseverance.
“I really got a feel for the amount of determination necessary to succeed,” she said.