Interdisciplinary studies leads HC student into chemical weapons field

By Nick Somoski

Combining science and political interests, Fokel Ellen has used the flexibility of the Honors College to pursue her “dream job” – becoming an expert in chemical weapons.

“I want to work in the prevention of chemical weapons proliferation,” Ellen said.Fokel Ellen

Ellen, a sophomore majoring in chemical physics and international relations, with a minor in Arabic, said it was a career path she stumbled upon by simply trying to combine her areas of specialization, but one about which she has grown passionate.

The job involves “analyzing the movements of weapons, or how terrorist groups and other people can obtain the materials required to make them.”

“It’s a really specific goal to have because there’s not many of these jobs in the world, but it combines all of my interests: science, math and international relations,” Ellen said.

Ellen first came to Michigan State University in the fall of 2013. Born in the Netherlands and raised in Australia, she was offered a Tuition Grant from the Honors College and, with the recommendation of her uncle who lives in Michigan and spoke highly of MSU’s honors program, she decided to make the journey.

Her love of exploring new cultures influenced her decision to take on a second major in international relations through James Madison College.

“International relations is something I’ve always wanted to do,” Ellen said. “It fascinates me how different countries interact, with different ideas and cultures and ways of living.”

She also grew aware of how critical international relations is to the job of chemical weapons expert. With more flexibility in her general education requirements, Ellen says it was easy to expand and cultivate a unique, personalized program.

“It was important that I learn both the science aspect and the political aspect of it,” Ellen said. “The more research I did on this job, the more I realized just how [many disciplines] it covers.”

Her interest in the Middle East led her to pursue Arabic as a minor. Ellen will be using a study abroad scholarship she received from the Honors College on a semester-long program in Azerbaijan, which is organized through James Madison College.

“It’s an exchange program, so I’ll be enrolled in the university over there for the semester,” Ellen said. “I really enjoy traveling and learning about new cultures, so I’m so grateful to have the opportunity to fit this into my program.”