Three UM Students Receive Prestigious Philanthropic Awards

July 25, 2019

MISSOULA – Three University of Montana graduate students have received substantial awards from the Philanthropic Educational Organization Sisterhood for their impact on international relations, psychology and public health.

Sofia ReisSofia Reis, a graduate student in UM’s International Educational Leadership Program in the Phyllis J. Washington College of Education, earned a second-year renewal of PEO’s International Peace Scholarship for $12,500.

Reis, from Lisbon, Portugal, received a bachelor’s degree in international relations from the University of Lisbon and a master’s degree in sciences of education from the New University of Lisbon.

For two decades, she served as associate director of the Portuguese Association of Private and Independent Schools and collaborated with the European Council of National Association of Independent Schools. In ECNAIS, she regularly worked with educational organizations, visiting schools in 24 European countries. Next fall she will take the exam to complete her dissertation proposal and begin her research.  

Reis said she wants to focus on sustainable growth and organizational development within schools and center her research on education and democracy, educational leadership and internationalization.

“I plan to continue the work I have been pursuing for the past two decades, equipped with more sophisticated research tools, such as analytical frames for comparative education, identification of world best-practices and the possibility to network at a global scale,” she said. “I believe knowledge is a resource that can be shared. Therefore, I am determined to actively engage in educational knowledge’s production and circulation.”

Hana Meshesha Hana Meshesha, a graduate student in UM’s Department of Counselor Education in the education college, also received a PEO International Peace Scholarship Award for $11,000.

Meshesha, from Gondar, Ethiopia, earned her undergraduate degree in psychology from University of Gondar and a master’s degree in special needs education from Addis Ababa University – both in Ethiopia. She will begin UM’s Ph.D. program in counselor education and supervision this fall after completing her master’s degree in clinical mental health from UM’s Department of Counselor Education.

Meshesha has been working as a professor at the University of Gondar in the past 10 years. She also was engaged in midlevel administration activities at the university. She wants to give her future students hands-on experiences in mental health issues prevention and treatment.

“My main goal is to provide a constructive, feedback-based education where students feel welcomed and accepted,” she said. “For my future students in Ethiopia, I would like to create the space so they will feel comfortable in being vulnerable to learn and personally grow. I am determined to be there to guide them through the process.”

Maja Pedersen, also a UM student, is one of 150 doctoral students in the U.S. and Canada selected to receive a $15,000 Scholar Award from PEO. The PEO Scholar Awards were established in 1991 to provide substantial merit-based awards for women pursuing a doctoral-level degree at an accredited college or university. Scholar Award recipients are a select group of women chosen for their high level of academic achievement and their potential for having a positive impact on Maja Pedersen society.

Pedersen is a Ph.D. candidate in public health at UM’s School of Public and Community Health Sciences. Her dissertation is a community-based participatory research project that addresses health disparities in chronic disease through promoting routine physical activity among American Indian and Alaska Native older adults living in rural communities.

Pedersen is from Fairbanks, Alaska. She holds a bachelor’s degree in health and fitness management from Pacific Lutheran University and a master’s degree in health and human performance from UM. Pedersen has been awarded a Fulbright Research Scholarship to train at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology and was a 2018 UM Bertha Morton Scholar. Her dissertation research is funded by the American Indian-Alaska Native Clinical and Translational Research Program under the National Institutes of Health.

The PEO Sisterhood is an international, U.S.-based organization dedicated to the advancement of women. Learn more at


Contact: Dr. Tony Ward, chair and professor, UM School of Public and Community Health Sciences, 406-243-4092,; Dr. John Matt, chair and professor, UM Department of Educational Leadership, 406-243-5610,; Dr. Veronica Johnson, chair and associate professor, UM Department of Counselor Education, 406-243-4205,