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Recent U alumnus Matthew Kirkegaard reflects on his undergraduate career and upcoming journey to the United Kingdom as a Fulbright Scholar.

By Chanapa Tantibanchachai

Since he was young, Matthew Kirkegaard knew he wanted to get involved in politics. His father put him in the habit of reading newspapers’ opinion pages with him and connecting the topics to their everyday lives. Just what area of politics he liked best, though, Kirkegaard didn’t discover until he attended the U.

Kirkegaard, a recent U graduate who received an honors bachelor’s degree in political science and a bachelor’s degree in sustainability studies, spent much of his undergraduate career studying water security and governance, particularly transboundary water politics. He recently received a Fulbright scholarship to study at the University of East Anglia in the United Kingdom, where he will pursue an M.Sc. in water security and international development.

Kirkegaard describes water as a “paramount environmental issue” because it’s intertwined with so many aspects of the world, including the economy, snowpack, and territorial law.

“The need for environmental diplomacy is increasing around the world as the effects of climate change become more severe and food availability decreases,” explained Kirkegaard.

But climate change is just one aspect contributing to the increased need for environmental diplomacy, Kirkegaard said. “Water becomes a diplomatic issue immediately when it crosses a border.”

“I’m interested in studying how people will manage water in the future. Defining that future and making sure it’s a future of cooperation, not conflict, is a human imperative,” said Kirkegaard.

During his freshman year, Kirkegaard participated in a study abroad trip with the U’s Bennion Center to Costa Rica. A few years later, Kirkegaard returned to conduct more research and stayed for four months, focusing on water security and community development.

He also participated in the 2012-2013 Honors Praxis Lab “Ecosystems Services and the American Dream” that focused on environmental conflict resolution and water resources along the Wasatch Front. The experience narrowed Kirkegaard’s political focus on water and was the first major turning point in his academic career.

The second major turning point occurred when Kirkegaard received the Boren Scholarship, which he used to spend a year in southern Brazil studying international water politics in the La Plata Basin.

“That experience challenged me to, for the first time, frame water issues into the context of national security. I was always intuitively interested in those issues, but this was the first time I got to see them in action firsthand,” said Kirkegaard.

In reflecting on his journey at the U, Kirkegaard said he had an unequivocally incredible experience.

“I’ve had the opportunity to meet amazing faculty members that were always supportive and available to me. Dean [Sylvia] Torti has been my biggest supporter; without her, I couldn’t have accomplished all that I have. I’ve also received generous financial aid from the Eccles Scholarship and Udall Scholarship. That aid allowed me to focus on my studies and make the most out of my time as an undergraduate student.”

To other students who want similarly make the most out of their time at the U, Kirkegaard advises them to be open to any experience, and to think more broadly about themselves and their interests.

Chanapa Tantibanchachai is an associate science writer at University Marketing and Communications. If you have an interesting story idea, email her at