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Victoria Herrmann: “It’s important to protect those in need.” Courtesy William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board

Growing up in Paramus, Victoria Herrmann knew that someday she would work to further human rights.

Now, as a junior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the recipient of a Fulbright Scholarship in International Relations, she will have the opportunity to do just that.

“I was always very interested in human rights,” Herrmann said, noting that she was inspired to care about others by her grandfather, the late Sigfried Herrmann of Fair Lawn.

“My grandfather was an Auschwitz survivor, the only one from his family to survive,” she said. “He came here with nothing, but despite it all he taught me less from his experiences in Germany and more from the person he became after that.

“He still cared for humanity. He taught me that it was important to volunteer in the community and to make a difference in the world.”

In addition, she said, “he taught me that it was important to protect those in need, regardless of whether you have a personal connection with them. It was a powerful message.”

Herrmann, who is a member of Temple Avodat Shalom in River Edge, said that she had been president of her high school’s Habitat for Humanity chapter, and while she was in high school she went to Germany “to challenge myself past personal prejudices.”

In her work at the Carnegie Endowment, Herrmann is doing research on policy in the areas of energy and climate, “so most of what I’ve done is trying to figure out policies that can confront the rapid urbanization occurring throughout the world,” she said, citing transportation and the migration of people into cities as areas of interest.

She applied for a Fulbright scholarship in October and was notified in June that she had received one. Her project, she said, will fill a gap in existing research, exploring how indigenous communities in the Arctic ““ and in Canada generally ““ have been affected by climate change, “and how they are using the human rights implications of climate change to create a voice for themselves in the international community.”

For example, Herrmann said, “each year the United Nations has a conference on climate change, and indigenous groups worldwide have been creating a space for themselves at those conferences. They’re not a legal entity but a minority group that’s hugely affected. They are using their local experiences [to show] how their basic rights are not being upheld by their domestic governments when it comes to natural disasters and the changing environment around them.”

Herrmann said she went into college with the expectation of going into human rights work, mainly because of the stories she heard from her grandparents. A graduate of Lehigh University, where she majored in international relations, she noted in her online college profile that “on my wrist I wear a bracelet engraved with the Hebrew phrase, ‘whatever will be, I will make a difference.’ With my studies of international relations, I fully intend to do so.”

While she was at college, she became interested in the environment and climate change, and she found that the two passions intersected.

“Climate change will have a huge impact on humanity and human rights,” she said. “It’s a new enemy. It’s not about nationalism or other human rights violations.

“There isn’t anything going on in this field,” she continued. “The U.N. and other international organizations have laws and treaties but nothing to address the water scarcity issues that come to fruition with climate change.”

The Fulbright scholarship not only provides financial support for Herrmann’s research, but also gives her access to academic resources in Canada, where she will partner with a university and learn to speak the Inuit language. She already speaks Arabic and French.

“I really want to bring this issue to people’s attention and to learn more about it myself, so I can handle it later on,” she said. “I want to be able to do interviews no one has done before, and get personal stories and hard data to make the case to the general public that this is a real issue that needs to be tackled.”

Ultimately, Herrmann said, she wants to get into the policy community, “propelling myself into making policy that’s well-informed.”

According to a statement from the United States Department of State and the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board, Herrmann is one of more than 1,700 U.S. citizens who will travel abroad for the 2013-2014 academic year through the Fulbright U.S. Student Program. Grants, awarded on the basis of academic and professional achievement as well as demonstrated leadership potential, are designed to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries.

The statement further notes that “since its establishment in 1946, the program has awarded … approximately 318,000 students, scholars, teachers, artists, scientists and other professionals the opportunity to study, teach and conduct research, exchange ideas and contribute to finding solutions to shared international concerns.”