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The 2019 Plastino Scholars, from left, Olivia Mann,
Daniel Schaefer, Drew Sanclemente and Mickey Nguyen, with David Plastino
shortly after finishing their presentations about their experiences.
A Buddhist orphanage in Vietnam. Mount Kilimanjaro. The rural United States.
Every year, a new group of University of Delaware Plastino Scholars
ventures off campus to different parts of the globe with hopes of
transforming society through independent projects. And when they return
home, they often realize they were transformed along the way.
On May 2, at the annual Plastino Scholars Dinner, the 2019 scholars
presented the details of their transformational journeys along with
their personal and academic discoveries to a room full of proud parents,
friends, faculty members, advisers and the newest cohort of Plastino
Scholars who will follow in their footsteps during the coming year.
“Their journeys each year allow them to explore diverse cultures,
broaden their perspectives and cultivate empathy,” said John A. Pelesko,
interim dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. “These journeys are
about personal discovery and life-changing lessons.”
Created in 2007 by a generous gift from UD alumnus David Plastino, who earned his bachelor's degree in chemistry in 1978, the program provides support to undergraduate
students interested in pursuing self-designed, off-campus experiential
learning opportunities. To be considered, students must propose an
experience that will allow the pursuit of a passionate interest that
goes beyond the scope of an academic course, normal summer job,
internship or enrichment program.
Here’s a glimpse at what the outgoing scholars, all members of the Class of 2019, achieved during their
Motivated to better understand the role spirituality can play in
patient care and overall happiness, Nguyen, who is earning an Honors
degree with distinction in neuroscience, spent two months at a
Buddhist orphanage in Vietnam where she was able to dive into Buddhist
philosophy. By studying and interviewing orphanage staff and children,
she observed how despite the hardships the children faced, they were
generally happy living in a deeply spiritual environment filled with
love and compassion.
“What I learned most from my Plastino Scholar experience was how I
could bring those Buddhist philosophy concepts of patience and
compassion and empathy into my future practice as a physician because
that’s how I want to respond to suffering,” Nguyen said.
For Sanclemente, an Honors exercise science student, climbing
Mount Kilimanjaro was much more than a bucket list item. To her, the
mountain was a physical representation of the difficulties she faced
throughout her life.
“This wasn’t just about climbing a mountain, it was about climbing
over my mountain because getting over a physical barrier helps you get
through emotional barriers as well,” she said.
One of her ultimate goals was to collect data focused on making the
mountain more accessible to others so they could utilize it to overcome
traumatic experiences, just as she had. While in Tanzania, Sanclemente
also worked with non-government organizations, interacting with
survivors of sexual violence. Inspired by her Plastino Scholars
experience and the philanthropy she received during her time at UD, she
established a scholarship in Tanzania to help survivors of sexual
violence get the support they need. She hopes to become a physician
after graduation and help put an end to sexual violence forever.
After stumbling upon several disturbing national polls, one that
showed that we, as a society, are losing track of history especially of the
Holocaust and genocides, Mann, an Honors student in art history and history,
set out to Arizona, Nebraska and Tennessee to explore how these topics
are taught and studied in rural and predominantly Christian areas. She
was particularly interested in how Americans, on a local level, can
counter ignorance by expanding mandatory Holocaust and genocide
education throughout the 40 states where it is not currently required.
“With the resurgence of white supremacy, ethnic genocide and
race-based discrimination, now more than ever, we need to recognize
repeating patterns so that we can prevent the horrors of the past from
happening again,” said Mann as she reflected on what she took away from
Her research concluded with numerous findings in each state, such as
how empathy is generally lost when the Holocaust is taught as a solely
historical event out of fear of discussing politics. Mann plans to
pursue a career in public service leadership and hopes to help ensure
historical atrocities are never forgotten or repeated.
Inspired by a historical fiction novel he read in middle school and
its Judaeo-Spanish setting, Schaefer, a linguistics and Spanish major, traveled to Greece
over the summer to learn more about this rare language by conducting
interviews with those who speak it. While he was able to expand his
understanding of the language, his overall experience in Greece was
marred by struggle. Schaefer, who uses a power wheelchair, quickly
realized his surroundings were not as accessible as he had been led to
believe when planning the trip. For example, with many streets lacking
curbs, he had to fight against traffic to get around and none of the
local busses were wheelchair accessible. Schaefer spoke of his
struggles with a positive outlook and excitement about how he plans to
build upon his experience by continuing his research interviewing
Judaeo-Spanish speakers in the United States.
In addition to scholars sharing their stories, the annual dinner
also focused on passing the proverbial baton to the next cohort of
Plastino Scholars. As such, Schaefer offered a few words of advice to
the incoming group during his closing remarks:
“I hope everything goes to plan during your trips, but there are so
many things that you just don’t anticipate happening,” he said.
“Always remember you are not alone. All the Plastino Scholars feel the
same way, that you can talk to us; you can talk to me. We’re a real
Move this whole section up, swapping places with the section above it.
David Plastino (second from right) welcomes the 2020 scholars (from left) Caleb Owens, Rachel Evans and Kelsey Murray.
The celebratory dinner also welcomed the newest group of Plastino Scholars, all members of the Class of 2020. Here's a look at their plans and what they hope to gain from the experience:
Murray, a biological sciences major, will take a six-week road trip through the Northeast, spending multiple days in six pediatric nursing homes
volunteering and interacting with children while interviewing staff to
gain greater insight into patient-caregiver relationships. Her ultimate
goal is to become a physician and open her own pediatric nursing home.
Owens, an Honors student with majors in philosophy, history and English, will spend a month in
Estonia, primarily in the country’s capital, to explore the country’s
e-governance system. He’ll shadow and interview government officials to
further understand the technology and immerse himself in Estonian
society to gain insights on the public’s perspectives on the
Evans, who is majoring in women and gender studies and in political science and international relations, will travel to England, where she will interview
and participate in group activities with young women to learn about
their patterns of consumption. She hopes to discover insights into the
complex relationship of media and food.
For David Plastino, part of what makes the program so special is
how it helps students access opportunities that were not available to
him as a student. He hopes the program enriches their lives and creates a
culture of philanthropy by encouraging scholars to pay it forward in
whatever ways they can.
“I know part of their responses to these incredible experiences will
be to remember them and to give back when they’re in a position to help
others as well,” Plastino said. “It’s all about closing the circle and
Article by Nadine Sabater; photos by Lane McLaughlin
Published May 23, 2019