Family Heritage Becomes Unexpected Focus of Magellan Travel

Created: March 10, 2016  |  Last Updated: January 4, 2022  |  Category:   |  Tagged:

WASHINGTON, PA (March 10, 2016) – A strong sense of curiosity about her family history and a desire to learn about Catholicism in a foreign country led Washington & Jefferson College (W&J) student Megan DeMartino ’16 to embark on a Magellan Project in which she spent three weeks traveling across Puerto Rico.

DeMartino, a cellular and molecular biology major on the pre-health track, had always been curious about her heritage.

“It was my paternal grandmother that emigrated from Puerto Rico to the United States when she was thirteen,” she said. “My father began contacting relatives he hasn’t heard from in years to begin piecing together her story.”

DeMartino, President of the Newman Club from her freshman year until her graduation in December of 2015, also had an interest in comparing traditions found in Catholicism in Puerto Rico to the practice of Catholicism in the United States. Her initial decision to travel to Old San Juan was based on the religious element of her Magellan.

“I chose to go to Old San Juan because, according to the map, I could find the most churches within walking distance. I then branched out to other parts of the island when my great-aunt and great-uncle could drive me around to see where our family originated.”

Because of unexpected complications, DeMartino had to think quickly and make changes to her plan just days into her trip. “Once I arrived, I found out quickly that the churches listed on the map and on Catholic websites were under construction or closed,” she said. “I had to regroup and decide what the best path was to take to get the most out of the project.”

The change didn't derail the original focus of her project. “It was the second week that we made it to Cabo Rojo, a town that my family founded, and Boqueron, a tower where my ancestor was memorialized,” she said.

While her Magellan had a strong impact on the way she viewed her family’s history, DeMartino had no idea her trip would become important to her family as well. “I finally got everyone on my father’s side of the family to take an interest in learning the history of our roots,” she said. “To be able to share the stories of what I saw of my grandmother’s childhood brought smiles back that had been lost.”

DeMartino believes her trip brought her valuable communications skills that will last her a lifetime, and helped her to stand out in a pool of 100 applicants for Optometry school. “Each of my interviewers brought up the trip and asked countless questions about my Magellan.”

She encourages other students to take a risk and apply for a Magellan. “Being able to open up and meet new people can uncover unimaginable opportunities,” she said.

Read more about Megan's project in her Magellan blog.

About the Magellan Project

Established in 2008, Washington & Jefferson College’s unique Magellan Project extends liberal arts learning outside the classroom by providing scholarship funding for students to spend the summer pursuing independent projects and internships in the United States and abroad. Learn more about the Magellan Project on the W&J website.

About Washington & Jefferson College

Washington & Jefferson College, located in Washington, Pa., is a selective liberal arts college founded in 1781. Committed to providing each of its students with the highest-quality undergraduate education available, W&J offers a traditional arts and sciences curriculum emphasizing interdisciplinary study and independent study work. For more information about W&J, visit, or call 888-W-AND-JAY.

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