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Finding focus in chaos — Corbett Scholar Penelope Lilley

April 11, 2022

The start of 2022 has not been quiet. We are all connected to one another now more than ever. Individuals and groups are taking advantage of our connectivity to manipulate economies, stand up to powerful foes, and to share valuable information for progress. We may be seeing a beginning of a new way of money exchange, technology advances that may cure previously incurable diseases, and new scientific findings that change our very understanding of reality. Among all this chaos, individuals focus into their own world and daily life to cope; to find a refuge; to experience love; to protect their families; to make their own futures; to discover themselves and everything else imaginable!

I find myself thinking about my place in all the chaos. It is so incredibly overwhelming but also exciting. I live in a time where anyone….anyone can make an influence on a worldwide scale. At this point you may be thinking, “what does this have to do with the Corbett Program?” This program opens that door to individuals in our corner of America to see our region intertwined with our Canadian neighbors. That connectivity and interdependence may create a wave of international significance. Anyone who is part of this connection can ride that wave.

During our first workshop I realized very quickly that I have had blinders on for over 30 years. What really separates the area in which I grew up from the area across an international boarder? A line on a map? Our languages? Our cultures? Our governments? Yes, all of those things do create a type of boundary, but boundaries don’t take away our similarities. We share an amazingly beautiful landscape, we have the responsibility to care for the longest North American river that flows into the Pacific, and our economies rely on our relationship for trade.

My childhood home’s location shaped my soul. I lived in an extremely rural valley. My dog and I would hike to the top of that valley and gaze at the magnificence below; I would lay under the stars and wonder what life was all about and I sit and listen to all the evening noises as the sun fell below the mountainside. All this time spent experiencing nature shaped my perspective. Do the fish or the bears know there is a different government agency designed to protect them after they cross a border? I doubt it. Do the waves of the Columbia River ripple into the U.S. thinking, “they don’t speak French here?” I highly doubt it!

However, these agencies are extremely important. Having the U.S. and Canada working together for each other’s interest is beneficial to those bears, fish and the water. It also is important to us, the citizens. Our economies are dependent on our trade relationship, our agriculture on our policies and our advancements on our scientific corporation.

I have just started this program, but I have quickly realized it will shape where I put my focus during all the chaos. As a woman in STEM, I know that when systems are well organized, they develop emergent properties, creating something new that is beneficial to the entire system. It is exciting to think about how the relationship between US and Canada can create something new. Thinking about how this connectivity wave will grow It personally exciting because I get to imagine riding that wave and making a difference.

The Corbett British Columbia-Washington International Exchange Program Fund provides an opportunity for undergraduate students at the University of Washington to spend two semesters at the University of British Columbia or University of Victoria; and for students from the University of British Columbia and University of Victoria to spend three quarters at the University of Washington.