Choosing His Own Adventure
CLASS graduating senior uses time at UI to do research, explore passions and start a charity
Tristen Beaudoin wants to help people.
The Lewiston native’s passion for those living in poverty began in middle school, when he first began sponsoring the education of an impoverished child in Thailand.
But, it didn’t end there.
In 2014, the University of Idaho student launched his own registered 501(c)3, Curing Wendigo, with $2,000 leftover from his college savings fund. This spring, he will graduate with a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the College of Letters, Arts and Social Sciences. In the past three years, he has raised more than $26,000 to help impoverished people around the globe.
“I wanted to make a difference now — a real, tangible difference,” Beaudoin said.
After graduating, Beaudoin is traveling to Rwanda with the Peace Corps to teach English to children. He has been interested in the Peace Corps mission since high school and minored in teaching English as a second language at UI to prepare him for his travel.
Curing Wendigo with Charity
As a graduating high schooler, Beaudoin was named a National Merit Scholar. UI offers substantial scholarships to National Merit students.
“After I found out that the National Merit scholarship would cover the majority of my expenses, I decided to dedicate some of my college savings — about $2,000 — toward a good cause,” Beaudoin said. “After doing some research, I realized that my small donation would have the greatest impact if I invested it toward raising even more money for charitable causes.”
With that extra money, Curing Wendigo was born. The term ‘wendigo’ is based on the Cree Native American term describing greed—hurting others to advance oneself.
His commitment to activism has left a strong impression the UI community.
“I was blown away that a young undergraduate went through the legal and IRS hoops to start his own charity, and I was even more impressed by Tristen’s philosophy underlying his philanthropy,” said Steffen Werner, associate professor of psychology. “He doesn’t want to travel to Africa to help people because that would be a wasteful use of the money he raises. Instead he is looking for the most efficient way to direct as much of the funds he receives to projects that demand the least overhead and administrative costs associated with them.”
Beaudoin has collaborated with existing charities to make good work of the funds he’s raised, including Charity: Water, Planting Peace, and Action Against Hunger. Donations have sponsored sustainable clean water projects in Ethiopia, Cambodia and Tanzania, helped an orphanage in Haiti, supported nutritional programs for dozens of malnourished children and paid for medical treatments for over 100,000 children suffering from parasitic intestinal worms.
He hopes that Curing Wendigo will one day grow and spread awareness about the disparity of wealth between nations, shining a light on humanitarian causes around the world.
Exploring a Variety of Interests
“’When I started out at the University of Idaho, I wasn’t really sure what major or career I wanted to pursue. I had a lot of diverse interests, ranging from poetry to psychology,” Beaudoin said. “I wanted to get involved in research, teaching, and environmental and humanitarian activism.”
And, he did.
Beaudoin spent two years assisting Brian Dyre, associate professor of psychology, in his psychophysics laboratory on a research project aimed at developing more reliable and accurate measures of pain.
“This work requires extremely careful and supportive handling of human research participants. Tristen demonstrated to me very early on that he had the emotional maturity, intellectual ability and social skills needed to handle this difficult work,” Dyre said. “He is the lead student researcher on the project, handling all testing of human research participants, and has made critical contributions to the research that are well beyond what I expect from undergraduate assistants.”
But his academic interests did not stop there.
Beaudoin’s scholastic appetite led him to try his hand at creative writing, where his poetic skills earned two of his poems nominations for the University of Idaho Banks Award. A third original poem was selected for the “Intersections: The Poetics of Jim Dine” art exhibit/poetry presentation at Washington State University.
In addition, he has taught a lab section of Biology 102, served as president of the Ecology and Conservation Biology Club, volunteered with the Friends of the Clearwater advocacy group, tutored student-athletes in psychology courses, and was the vice president of community service for the UI chapter of the National Society of Collegiate Scholars.
“Many of my interests reached beyond the classroom. I had to find creative ways to pursue each one,” Beaudoin said. “Looking back, I’m very grateful for the many opportunities I stumbled upon, as they have all greatly enriched my undergraduate experience.”
After serving with the Peace Corps, Beaudoin plans to pursue his doctorate in experimental psychology, with the ultimate goal of teaching and conducting research at a university. His research interests include cognitive psychology, neuroscience, sensation and perception. However, if the opportunity arises, he would also be happy to turn his humanitarian work into a lifelong career.
“So many people have far more than they need, myself included. If we have the means to spread that wealth, I believe we have the responsibility to do so,” he said.
Article by Laurien Mavey, College of Letters, Arts and Social Sciences