Laurence Deschamps-Laporte graduates UNC-Chapel Hill this May with a wealth of achievements to her name: she is a Morehead-Cain scholar, a Phi Beta Kappa inductee, and now, a recipient of the prestigious Rhodes scholarship to Oxford University. And those are just the accomplishments listed on her resume. She is also an intelligent young woman with a passion for international development.
Laurence, originally from Repentigny, Quebec, enrolled at UNC-Chapel Hill for a liberal arts education that would allow her to explore her diverse interests in human rights, the arts, and international development.
“I felt the humanitarian call,” Laurence laughed in early April at her former, more naïve, desire to save the world by helping impoverished communities.
She quickly found an academic home in the curriculum in global studies—then international and area studies—where the breadth of the program allowed her to craft a course of study meaningful to her interests.
“You get a lot of support from the curriculum,” Laurence said. “And they don’t make you take statistics,” she laughed. “No, really, they are focused on the student experience.”
But the student experience has not always been easy for Laurence. “I had an apartment, a car, a boyfriend and a job in Canada. Then I had half a room in Hinton-James,” she joked. After high school, Laurence attended a CEGEP—a pre-university college required for university admission in Quebec. She was older than many of her peers and unused to the intensely campus-oriented atmosphere when she first arrived at UNC-Chapel Hill. “I felt suffocated,” she said. It was only after she began to take higher level courses and focus her area of study—development and the Middle East—that she found the community she’d craved.
With the financial support of the Morehead-Cain scholarship and the encouragement of the global studies curriculum, Laurence supplemented her academic scholarship with real-world experiences that shaped how she thinks about her role in international development today. “Studying abroad allowed me to move beyond the traditional curriculum,” Laurence said.
Laurence traveled to Masaka, Uganda in 2008 to work for “Women Together for Development.” In Masaka, she performed needs assessments, wrote grants and built networks for the non-governmental organization, helping them to fundraise for and arrange a project to harvest rainwater, which eventually reached over 450 households. In 2009, following a semester abroad in Syria, she worked closely with a UNC alumnus at the Middle East foreign affairs desk of La Presse, before participating in the Junior Summer Institute, aimed at developing young leaders, at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School. On an alternative Spring break to Michigan, she helped Arab immigrants complete legal paperwork. Last year, she conducted honors thesis research in Senegal and Mali.
Inspired by a course on Islamic law, Laurence investigated the role of religious bodies in family planning in Senegal. Working closely with local NGOs, she interviewed women on the family and reproductive healthcare they received. Her thesis on the significant impact of traditional healers rather than Imams in sub-Saharan Africa received highest honors.
Her research and coursework in the curriculum in global studies transformed her understanding of the dynamics of development. She no longer sees governments and NGOs saving the world through international aid. With this new appreciation for the social and political complexities of the field, Laurence now hopes to discover fresh ways to make aid a process of collaboration and exchange. A goal she will be able to pursue next year at Oxford University.
And after that?
“I would like to get some ‘hard skills,’” she said, “either in the field or through a technical degree.” With such skills, she will be able to put her learning into action, and have a tangible and positive impact on communities both abroad and at home.
But first, Laurence plans to graduate.