Hideko Mitani Shen ’25 Awarded Humanity in Action Fellowship

A photo of Hideko Shen '25, winner of the Humanity in Action Fellowship
Sep 7 2023

Hideko Mitani Shen ’25, has been awarded the prestigious Humanity in Action (HIA) Fellowship. The fellowship will support her intensive research work on environmental and social issues arising from Chile's lithium mining industry, fueled by China’s increasing demand for the metal, a crucial component in electric vehicle batteries and renewable energy solutions. 

Shen, who hails from Santiago, Chile, stumbled upon the opportunity while browsing the Global Awards section of NYU Shanghai’s Academic Affairs e-newsletter. The fellowship's focus on humanities, climate change, democracies in crisis, and human rights perfectly aligned with Hideko's academic interests of international relations and environmental studies. “Climate change, human rights, and democracy are all interconnected,” she said, “and I believe we need a holistic approach to address them effectively."

Shen’s research was inspired by a trip to Chile’s Atacama region where she engaged with tour guides and residents struggling to adapt to constant water shortages and poor living conditions in the desert region. She also delves into the impact of Chile's lithium mining industry on indigenous communities and the environment, highlighting the countries that profit from this extraction, primarily China and the United States. The nationalization of lithium in Chile has sparked concerns among Chinese and American investors, raising questions about fair resource distribution and sustainable practices.

Her research aims to shed light on how such marginalized communities cope with such issues and proposes sustainable solutions, taking into account the perspectives of urban planners, politicians, and the communities affected by these issues. Her ultimate goal is to contribute to the creation of more sustainable and equitable policies in Chile. “I want to introduce sustainable measures and policies that the government can implement to improve living conditions of the area,” she said.

Anna Kendrick, director of Global Awards and Scholarships, has worked with numerous HIA applicants over past years and met with Shen about the application process. “Humanity in Action is a leading fellowship supporting young people committed to a future of social justice around the world,” she said. “I’m inspired by Hideko’s work on environmental social issues and excited to see where she takes her larger research and outreach in the coming years.” 

Shen worked closely with Maria Adele Carrai, assistant professor of China Global Studies, who inspired her to use research as an avenue to share her own perspective on global issues. “Working with Hideko has been a great experience, and also turned out to be a valuable learning opportunity for me,” said Carrai. “Her interest in the Mapping Global China project quickly evolved into an ambitious project of her own, where she successfully dissected the complex relations between China's overseas investments and Chile's mining industry. Hideko demonstrated a rare ability to weave together social, economic, and environmental perspectives into a new insightful narrative.”

A Self-Designed Major with a track in International Relations and Environmental Studies, Shen completed HIA’s highly-competitive, three-week funded fellowship in Copenhagen this summer, where she engaged in climate change and human rights discussions and training sessions with students, young professionals, activists, and scholars of all backgrounds. Now, invigorated by the diverse perspectives she encountered in Denmark, she will spend the upcoming year completing a final Action Project related to her social research.

“What the Copenhagen fellowship showed me is that the best time to start something is when you start it, and we need everyone to be involved,” Shen said. “I was very excited to just be around people who are genuine about addressing and starting conversations around these issues.”

With the Humanity in Action Fellowship in her hands, Shen plans to continue her research and advocacy work, aiming to generate solutions and raise awareness about the pressing global issues she is passionate about. While challenges lie ahead, including her upcoming trip to Chile in December and the prospect of conducting remote interviews due to geographical constraints, Shen remains determined to make a positive impact on the world through her intersectional research and activism.

“NYU Shanghai has been great at allowing me to explore all of my different interests without that limit of choosing or following just one path,” she said. “I think the University really embodies the idea of what it is to be international; it really does have a very diverse community.”