W&J Distributes Record Number of Magellan Scholarship Awards

WASHINGTON, PA (June 25, 2013)—Summer at Washington & Jefferson College (W&J) is synonymous with travel, opportunity and memories that last a lifetime.

A proprietary offering for W&J students, the College’s Magellan Project provides scholarship funding for students to spend the summer months pursuing independent projects and internships that extend liberal arts learning outside the classroom. Established in 2008, a record 91 students applied and 65 accepted for Magellan scholarships this year.

Among the applications received this year: include a student who is conducting research on the cultural impact of Scottish castles. Another is analyzing patient care and healthcare systems in England. A third, a sophomore, is studying the history of Sicily. And don’t forget about the junior in Argentina studying sustainable living on organic farms or the senior in Greece studying the impact of Greek mythology on the development of rhetoric and theatre in Athens.

The W&J Magellan Project is now firmly established, says Brianne Bilsky, Ph.D., a 2005 W&J graduate and the College’s Magellan Project coordinator.

“It really takes about five years for a program like Magellan to become rooted in a community. The students who participated in the first year or two were seen as pioneers, as the exception, not the rule,” Bilsky said. “But now that we are starting to graduate classes that have never known W&J without Magellan, more and more of our students see the program as a natural part of their college experience. Students who haven’t done a Magellan yet hear their friends talking about these amazing, life-changing experiences, and they are inspired to put together their own project.”

These conversations often happen informally in classes and in the residence halls, Bilsky said, but students also are invited to share their experiences with a wider campus audience through the Magellan Speaker Series, sponsored by the Office of Residence Life.

“By designing and completing their own projects on issues like child care in India, fortified churches in Transylvania, street art in Paraguay or art education in Japan, students put their knowledge and skills to work in the larger world while learning civic responsibility and developing values as global citizens,” said W&J President Tori Haring-Smith, Ph.D. “When they embark on their travel, these students recognize major problems facing our world. When they return, they feel empowered to help solve these problems.”

Haring-Smith initiated the Magellan Project and, she said, “generous gifts from Board members, faculty and alumni have funded more than 215 Magellan Projects, allowing all W&J students—affluent or not—to have access to global learning opportunities that enrich their lives, build their self-confidence, and help them stand out in the job market and in seeking graduate school admission.”

Bilsky said Magellan scholars to date have traveled to 26 states and 54 countries spread across six continents. W&J’s policy of not capping the number of students who are awarded Magellans each year prompts more students to step up.

“Our policy is to fund every legitimate proposal,” Bilsky explains, “so students aren’t applying for a limited number of spots. Instead of competing with the person sitting next to them in class, they’re competing with themselves to see if they can come up with a project, put in the work, and follow through.”

Senior Jordan Reiner, a baseball player at W&J, is the first Magellan scholar to ever travel to Australia. The business administration major is in Cairns to go SCUBA diving around the Great Barrier Reef to study the underwater ecosystem, particularly the two prevailing predators of the coral reefs, the lion fish and the crown of thorns starfish.

“Not only will this Magellan project allow me to learn much about how to try and help save the underwater environment, but it will also allow me to experience the greatest and most fascinating collection of coral reef systems in the world,” Reiner said.

Joseline Cortez, a sophomore international studies and Spanish major, is in Italy and Spain studying the Latin American population there. Her parents are from El Salvador. They immigrated to the United States as newlyweds in the late 1980s.

“Hearing all about my parents story and the struggles they faced growing up in the midst of a war and immigrating to the United States, makes me feel incredibly blessed and lucky for all of the opportunities I’ve been granted thus far. Being first generation in the States has taught me two things; to learn how to fit in into two cultures at once, and knowing that your identity and where you come from is crucial in defining who you are,” Cortez said.  “I will get the opportunity to visit both Italy and Spain and study Latin American immigration. One of the main things I want to learn is their reason for leaving their homeland and their struggles as they moved to a completely different country. As I interview different people, I’m going to find different stories that define who they are.”

Bilsky added, “We’ve had a lot of students who go out on job interviews, then come back and tell us their interviewer didn’t want to talk much about the resume, but they wanted to talk about this thing on it called Magellan. You can spot someone who has won a Magellan when you see them on campus. They have a wonderful sense of self-confidence and worldliness about them. It is an accomplishment.”


2013 Graduate and Magellan Scholar Whitney Sims-Rucker