In high school, Betsie Frei ’06 exchanged her tiny hometown in the Sierra Nevada foothills for a city in Venezuela and found a type of poverty foreign to the United States. She began tackling the issue of poverty as a double major in sociology and Spanish at Westmont and studied different levels of inter- national development during a semester abroad in Honduras.
Today she manages and designs international development projects at Management Sciences for Health (MSH). Her research seeks a deeper understanding of the benefits and efficacy of international aid. “I want to go beyond good intentions to determine if a program is helping and, if so, why? I’m learning to be critical and rigorous in addressing poverty and inequality,” she says.
Two months after graduating, Betsie joined the Peace Corps and taught English in rural Benin. “I lacked the skills to survive off the grid, so villagers had to take care of me while I lived in a place with no electricity or running water,” she says. “Field experience is valued and important, but it’s difficult.”
Learning directly from development practitioners, Betsie later earned a master’s in international development at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. She worked on a $200 million USAID HIV and AIDS assistance project at John Snow Inc., compiling best and, if so, what was the last book she practices related to HIV prevention, treatment and care.
Moving to Boston to be near her fiancé, a doctoral student at the University of Massachusetts, Betsie next joined World Education (WE). Fluent in French after living in Benin, she managed small WE projects assisting women and children in West Africa, seeking to strengthen local organizations so they could function independently.
In 2014, she joined MSH to return to public health. “MSH takes a management approach to development,” Betsie says. “We seek to improve health systems by promoting good leadership, management, and governance at all levels of the country’s health care system, from nurses up to hospital administrators and government officials.”
Based in Boston, she researches, designs and implements projects such as malaria programs in West Africa that put nets directly in the hands of individuals. “We know how to treat and prevent malaria, so why do so many people continue to get infected and die?” she asks. “We need to get the right resources in the right places, and I study how to do that.” With her ties to West Africa, Betsie learned about the Ebola crisis right away. “The outbreak revealed problems with health systems in the region,” she says. “New health systems projects in Liberia and Guinea aim to help the countries improve their management capacity, leadership and organizational structure.”
Betsie discovered Westmont for her brother and followed him to campus. A systems control engineer in Oakdale, Calif., Hans ’04 completed the 3-2 engineering program at Westmont and UC Santa Barbara. Their sister, Emily ’10, also attended and works as a junior copywriter for Mering Carson advertising agency in Sacramento.
“Westmont helped me tie strong research to thinking about poverty, and I’m grateful for my time there,” Betsie says.