Weinberg senior Elena Barham is the first Northwestern student in 15 years to receive Carnegie fellowship

David Fishman, Reporter

Growing up, most 6-year-olds spend their time watching Cartoon Network, taking day trips to the local Chuck E. Cheese’s or bargaining for a few more minutes on the family GameCube.

But Weinberg senior Elena Barham, who described her childhood as “overstimulating,” was not like most 6-year-olds. Instead, the aspiring political scientist traveled with her parents across the country protesting perceived injustices, which included a family trip to Washington, D.C. to demonstrate against the Iraq War. It was from trips like these, Barham said, that her passion for politics blossomed.

In March, Barham became the first Northwestern student in 15 years to receive a junior fellowship at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a global think tank and research center based in Washington, D.C. The center accepts around 10 fellows a year from a pool of more than 200 applicants. Notable fellowship alumni include U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power and George Stephanopoulos, former communications director and adviser to President Bill Clinton.

Barham, who is studying political science and philosophy, will work under two senior associates — Rachel Kleinfeld and Sarah Chayes — in the Democracy and Rule of Law program.

“It’s a very competitive process,” said Thomas Carothers, vice president for studies at Carnegie who also directs the Democracy and Rule of Law Program. “We look for signs of real curiosity about the world and willingness to take on complex issues related to the evolution both of politics in other countries and also international relations. We are looking for people who have expressed their interest in international affairs through interesting other activities.”

And Barham has plenty of those.

In high school, after Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker cut public school funding, she started a political action committee to recall his appointment. The group, which consisted largely of Barham’s friends, launched ads online and distributed flyers around school.

“We felt that students in particular were going to be really dramatically affected by these political changes and that most students couldn’t advocate for themselves at the polls,” Barham said. “We wanted to give student issues a voice.”

The recall vote, led largely by Democrats and labor unions, ultimately failed, but Barham said the experience defined her final years of high school and helped shape her future in politics.

At NU, Barham does not participate in any political student groups, but instead runs on the cross country team, an interest she discovered during physical therapy after tearing her ACL in middle school.

Head coach ‘A Havahla Haynes called Barham NU’s top runner this year, based on her performance at the 2015 Big Ten Championships. Athletes on the team are expected to practice five to six days a week, Haynes said, a considerable commitment for Barham who splits her time in college between running and finishing her second honors thesis.

Nevertheless, Barham, who described herself as “belligerently hardworking,” said cross country does not detract from her work and instead keeps her focused.

“When (Elena) walks in the room, you know that’s someone you want to talk with — there’s no guile, there’s no whiff of arrogance,” said Sara Vaux, director of the NU Office of Fellowships. “Everything that she does and thinks about comes from her heart. She is brainy, but nothing is forced or manipulated. It’s just like her running.”

Correction: The headline of this story previously misstated the number of years it has been since a Northwestern student won the fellowship. It has been 15 years. The Daily regrets the error.

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