By Kate Goodale
Gordon College News Service
May 1, 2012
(This story appeared Sunday, May 13, 2012, on page 7 in the print and online edition of the Boston Globe North section.)
SALEM—As many political science students focus on the country’s presidential campaigns, Kelsey Utne is looking overseas. After graduating from Salem State University (SSU) May 19, Utne, a political science, history and economics triple major, will spend her summer studying Hindi in India through a Critical Language Scholarship, a fully funded language immersion program supported by the Department of State.
For Utne, 26, of Marblehead, global issues are a natural extension of her political interests. A member of Salem State University’s Honors Program, Utne took a few years off before entering college. As a result, she dove into campus life with a candidate’s determination. This year, she is the current president of SSU’s Political Science Academy (PSA), a club that promotes international and domestic political awareness through panel discussions and voter registration drives. She helped form SSU’s first chapter of Amnesty International, an organization that fights social injustices worldwide. And last month, Utne even launched a “Congress to Campus” event where retired Congress members visited campus for a forum, open to both local high school and Salem State students.
“Being older than most students graduating in my class means I approach things differently,” Utne said. “If I’m studying on a Friday night, or going to bed when my friends are ready to go out, I’m okay with that.”
Though she only recently focused her studies on Southern Asian politics, Utne says her international interest began in fourth grade when she read a book called, Zlata’s Diary. In it, a young girl describes the hardships she faced while growing up in the midst of the Bosnian war.
“The girl I was reading about was around the same age I was at the time,” Utne said. “I was struck by the idea that we have no say in the world we grow up in.”
From that point on, her global passions grew. While attending Marblehead High School, she participated in the Model United Nations, an event where students simulate the debates and decisions of UN ambassadors. One of Utne’s teachers there, Michael Horgan, challenged her to confront the wrongs she saw in the world.
She took the challenge seriously and her ambitions and interests deepened along with her responsibilities. She became president of the North Shore Rotaract Club, a youth club sponsored by local rotaries promoting leadership, service, and networking. And this past April, Rotaract partnered with SSU’s chapter of Amnesty International to raise money for clean water in developing countries by showing the documentary film FLOW (for the love of water) at Cinema Salem.
“I formed the Amnesty group in my high school, and I told myself I wouldn’t take that responsibility again with all I’m involved with,” Utne said. “But when I came here and saw that there was no human rights chapter, I had to do it.”
Just before graduation, she’ll hand off the leadership reins for SSU’s Amnesty International chapter to Melissa Carella, of Billerica, Mass., a junior English major who also has a zeal for human rights issues.
“Kelsey and I are both upbeat and work well together,” Carella said. “She’s a woman on top of the world. She cares about a vast amount of issues, and she’ll be implementing huge changes someday.”
On top of a full course load—18-20 credits a semester—Utne also participated in numerous guided studies with Michele Louro, assistant professor of history at SSU and Southern Asia specialist.
“Kelsey also took my Colonial India graduate class as an undergrad,” Louro said. “She was on par with the grad students and set the benchmark for performance in that class.”
When Utne isn’t taking a graduate class or coordinating an event for the PSA, she’s giving a tour around the Salem Maritime National Historic Site. Utne is a park ranger who leads historic walks through the Salem harbor and works in the visitor’s center.
“Besides being an exceptional student, Kelsey is very active and cares for her local communities, whether it’s the North Shore or Salem State,” Louro said.
And it doesn’t look like she’ll slow down any time soon. Utne has been accepted to a master’s program at the Jackson School of International Studies at Washington University in the fall, and is on the waitlist as an alternate for a Fulbright Scholarship where she hopes to take that opportunity if accepted. She plans to pursue her Ph.D. in order to one day teach at the college level.
“I like to do the background work in order to implement change and make a difference,” Utne said. “I’ve had a lot of great teachers and mentors in my life, and I want to do that for other people.”