Pictured are (from left) Cristian Vitale, Jocelyn Moore,  UD alumnus and benefactor Dave Plastino,  Becky Bronstein,  Elana Berk and Mark Rucci.    

Plastino Scholars

Event recognizes accomplishments of Plastino Scholars, welcomes 2014 cohort

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12:07 p.m., May 19, 2014--The three University of Delaware Plastino Scholars from last year presented their life-changing experiences and welcomed the five new 2014 award recipients at a recent celebratory dinner.

Supportive faculty, family, previous winners and David Plastino, the benefactor himself, congratulated these passionate students.

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Established in 2007 by a generous gift from Plastino, a 1978 graduate of UD’s College of Arts and Sciences, the Plastino Scholars Program awards grants to undergraduates to support self-designated, off-campus projects of their passion.

These awards give students a chance to discover and follow their interests, Plastino has said. “It takes a self-motivated individual, but any undergraduate at UD has the opportunity to become a Plastino Scholar,” he added.

One of this year’s recipients, junior Mark Rucci, turned his interest in studying education policy in low-income neighborhoods into a Plastino project. He will research programs across the country that provide students with free meals, using the information to create a similar proposal for the school district in his hometown of Wildwood, New Jersey.

“I’ve had a lot of opportunities to study abroad and travel, but for me to design a project and have the University and Mr. Plastino find it valuable is incredibly empowering,” said Rucci. “It’s amazing that as a 21-year-old they believe in me to go do this.”

One of last year’s winners, Alexandra Davis, a senior international relations and public policy major with a minor in economics, used her Plastino experience to learn about underprivileged, marginalized communities and entrepreneurship in South Africa, working closely with a nonprofit and a renowned think tank.  

“No other traditional study abroad or internship of the sort would be as transformative and educational an experience,” said Davis. “I haven’t looked back since I got this award. I’ll never stop thanking Dave.”

Next year, Davis is continuing on at UD to earn a master of arts degree in urban affairs and public policy. She has just been named UD’s inaugural Littleton and Jane Mitchell Fellow for Civil Rights and Social Justice. She will return to South Africa for six months to conduct research on economic and community development in the country’s townships.  

“What makes these students remarkable, and what makes them Plastinos, is that they have energy and brilliance to put great ideas to work and to create change in the world around them,” said Patricia Sloane-White, the Plastino Scholars faculty adviser. “But it is Dave’s sponsorship that makes that happen. Year after year, Plastino students tell me that everything they’ve accomplished started with the experience they gained from their Plastino project.”

2014 Plastino Scholars

Elana Berk, a junior hotel, restaurant and institutional management major with a minor in advertising, from Pennsylvania, will spend her six-week Winter Session in New Mexico teaching Native American artists and craftsmen the skills to start their own online businesses. In her project, called “Beyond the Blanket,” Berk plans to help Native Americans in Santa Fe become autonomous entrepreneurs using sites such as Etsy and Ebay and social media to promote and sell their products on a global scale.

With the unemployment rate on reservations as high as 50 percent, Berk hopes to empower artists in the community and give them an incentive to preserve their traditions.

Becky Bronstein, an environmental science major with minors in geography and environmental humanities, will follow her passion for sustainable living by getting hands-on experience from four of the most renowned sustainable communities in the world. This summer, Bronstein will work on a permaculture garden at an ecovillage in Iceland, learn from another ecovillage in Scotland, and volunteer with the first sustainable town in Ireland. In January, she will visit the Seneca Treehouse Project in South Carolina, a sustainable community and learning center. As a member of Newark’s Down To Earth Co-op, Bronstein plans to bring what she learns back to her own community.

“This award is a dream come true,” said Bronstein. “It’s an incredible opportunity to have something like this funded and I’m very grateful. “

Jocelyn Moore, a junior organizational and community leadership major from New Jersey, will further pursue her interest in human trafficking policy by volunteering at three different anti-trafficking organizations this summer. During each three-week stay, Moore will be part of the team, helping with planning and executing events and initiatives.

Her goal is to gain a better understanding of how these organizations function, with a focus on victim care, policy advocacy, public relations, and fundraising.

Mark Rucci, a junior public policy major, created the School Nutritional Awareness Consortium for his Plastino Scholarship – a group of faculty, staff, students and parents that is strategizing policy initiatives to offer public school students free breakfast and lunch and healthier meal options in school.

Rucci will spend the month of June conducting research in five different school districts throughout the country that are part of a program that funds two free meals for students. Rucci will visit Illinois, Kentucky, West Virginia, Ohio and Massachusetts to collect data, talk to administrators and interview families. He will use his research to create a similar program with the superintendent of the Wildwood school district, where more than 46 percent of students are living in poverty.

Cristian Vitale, a junior fine arts major and anthropology minor from Newark, Delaware, plans to spend his Winter Session in Cambodia for a cultural experience and a journey of self-discovery. On Vitale’s first trip to Cambodia this past January, he started to learn about Buddhism, which helped him come to terms with the emotions following the loss of his mother. On his upcoming trip, he will immerse himself in the culture to further understand what influences his own artwork. 

He plans to meet and learn from Buddhist monks, study Cambodian art and architecture and help underprivileged children turn their personal struggle into artwork. He will document his experience with writing, photo-journals and drawings that will culminate with a show at UD.

“Because of the struggle of my upbringing I like to find power in the powerless situations,” said Vitale. “Like Dave says, he’s giving back to us, and I want to give back to others through my artwork.”

Article by Danielle Brody

Photo by Evan Krape

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