From the Big Sky to a Much Bigger World

Growing up in Great Falls, Natalie Black’s life was comfortable. Her home, her neighborhood, her family, friends and schools were reassuringly familiar.

Black says it was a great Montana childhood. But then, through a series of new experiences provided by The University of Montana, her focus began to shift, and she began to dream of something bigger than the world she knew.

Her first big step was participating in UM’s TRIO Upward Bound program, spending three summers on campus in Missoula. The program, designed to help first-generation, college-bound students succeed in higher education, became a catalyst for her.

The next step was the turning point. When she enrolled at UM in fall 2011, Black was asked to participate in the inaugural Global Leadership Initiative (GLI) cohort and became one of 110 student participants.

Through her experiences as a GLI fellow, the world opened up for Black, encouraging her enthusiasm for pursuing studies and causes on a global scale.

“Looking back, I realize that I was really closeminded about the things I wanted to do with my life,” says Black. “My perspective was always local, along the lines of what I had always known. But then I started the GLI, and I have changed so much. It’s really the best thing that has ever happened to me.”

GLI students begin with a freshman seminar based on topics affecting all people, and attend and discuss the President’s Lecture Series. In their second year, students remain within the framework of the GLI program, taking additional academic offerings, meeting with leaders from various fields, and attending a GLI retreat. In the third year, fellows are encouraged to study abroad, conduct research, or participate in an internship or service project, with their studies culminating in their senior year with an interdisciplinary capstone project.

Now preparing for her third year as a GLI fellow, Black will travel to New Zealand and Australia for an independent study on Sustainability: Humans, Business and the Environment.

“My interest in global health and sustainable business issues began with the freshman seminar,” says Black. “I had never thought about that before participating in the GLI. Now I don’t want to just do a job, I want to be a leader. I want to make a difference on a global scale.”

Jeanne Loftus, coordinator of the Global Leadership Initiative, says the first class of fellows has been inspiring and exciting to watch. “The program is really catching fire, with 400 students expressing interest in participating this past fall,” says Loftus. “I am proud of the leadership UM is taking to support those students who want to embark on a path of global learning and collaborative problem-solving.”

And if her enthusiasm, energy and sunny outlook on life are any indication, watch for Natalie Black, because she’s on the rise. From the Big Sky Country of her hometown to a much bigger world, she is ready to make her mark.