It can be hard to stare at the future -- with ascending gas prices, roiling national politics and continuing world conflict -- and not feel a bit cynical.

Then you meet Addie Ryan. And maybe the future is in pretty good hands after all.

Ryan, a 22-year-old native of St. Paul's West Side and a recent graduate of Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, has been awarded a Fulbright Scholarship for the 2008-09 academic year. She will research the impact of microfinance -- providing loans to poor women in Morocco -- on reducing poverty and stabilizing the local economy.

For this incredibly energetic, hyper-involved and high-achieving student, the upcoming year in Morocco is just another step in changing the world -- and changing the world's view of the U.S.

"It's just a wonderful opportunity. I've been so blessed," said Ryan. (Her first name is actually Allison, but everybody calls her Addie). "My ultimate goal is to do something meaningful."

Ryan said she wants to travel to all the continents of the world. She's made a good start. There was the trip to Tanzania with a church group when she was 15 and a student a Henry Sibley High School in West St. Paul. She went to Guatemala during her freshman year of college. She's also been to the Caribbean. Last spring, she spent a semester in France and then travelled all over Europe before crossing into Morocco for a few days. Turns out, that little detour to North Africa was a scouting trip in preparation for her Fulbright application.

She came to Gustavus leaning toward a major in global studies. But that morphed into a double major in French and international management. It was through a course in economic development and world resources that she became interested in Morocco. Henry Hays, an economics professor who has mentored two other Fulbright scholars at Gustavus, said he quickly zeroed in on Ryan as one with Fulbright potential.

The program was established in 1946 to foster understanding between the people of the U.S. and other countries through the exchange of people, knowledge and skills.

"She had a curiosity about things in the developing world. I thought she was just a good fit for applying for a Fulbright," Hays said. "You have to work with a student ahead of time, develop their proposal. She was willing to go back, rework things and go through a number of iterations before coming up with a good final proposal."

One key to Ryan, Hays said, is her persistence.

"You have to be a person with a desire to work hard and not give up. You have to be willing to believe that you can achieve," he said. "She's the kind of person who will really be the kind of ambassador that Fulbright wants."

Ryan's work will include the study of Arabic and other courses at Dhar el Mehraz University in Fez, Morocco.

While Ryan graduated in January with a 3.9 grade point average -- after a tour of China with the Gustavus orchestra (she plays the cello) -- she has plenty to do between now and the start of her Fulbright work in the fall.

She's worked on the college's IT help desk in past summers and plans to do so again this summer. She also works one day a week for a nonprofit in Mankato. She is a volunteer tutor for a middle school student. In addition, she hopes to continue playing in the orchestra and being active in several organizations, including Gustavus' French Club, Geography Club, Students in Free Enterprise, and Action Supporting All People, a social justice organization.

Ryan, the oldest of four children in her family -- her mother works with crime victims in Ramsey County and her father is an account analyst for a printing company --said more schooling is in her future. She is interested in Arab studies, public policy and international law.

"This [Fulbright] is just a wonderful opportunity for personal growth," Ryan said.

And, after all the studies and all the travel, Ryan admits that her views of the world have evolved and grown. It's a process she's looking forward to continuing in the fall.

"With the experiences that I've had, I've seen how similar people who live in a different place, a different part of the world, are," Ryan said. "The real hope that we can find peaceful solutions to the world's conflicts is through understanding."

James Walsh • 651-298-1541