Prepared to make the world a better place

July 18, 2017
Marin Phelps at her graduation ceremony

In May, Marin Phelps became the University of Minnesota’s first student to graduate with a master’s degree in human rights—a joint program of the Humphrey School of Public Affairs and the College of Liberal Arts.

Phelps, who grew up in rural Nebraska and South Dakota, traveled to Kenya twice to conduct research, and now plans to move to Africa to focus on human rights work there. Last summer she was part of a group examining the implementation of Kenya's new constitution. She and another student returned over winter break to study methods to promote women’s participation in the political process in one county in Kenya.

She said her lifelong interest in human rights was inspired by her grandmothers, who instilled in her a "servant's heart." Their message to her from an early age was: “There are so many injustices in the world that if you can effect change, you have the responsibility to do it.”

“A lot of what we already do at the Humphrey School fits into human rights,” says Associate Professor James Ron, Harold E. Stassen Chair for International Affairs and co-director of the new program. “Human rights issues are addressed by changing policies. Any improvements have to be made through the policy process, so not studying human rights through a policy lens is a mistake.”

Phelps says she’s grateful for the hands-on opportunities she was given in the human rights program at the Humphrey School.

“The freedom to be able to do real applied projects with clients and get some ‘real-world’ experience, while working with faculty who have their own experiences working out in the field, was very valuable,” she says.