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Donor David Plastino (far left)  and UD President Dennis Assanis (far right) with 2018 Plastino Scholars (left to right) Olivia Mann, Drew Sanclemente, Mickey Nguyen and Daniel Schaefer.
UD alumnus David Plastino (far left) and UD President Dennis Assanis (far right) with 2018 Plastino Scholars (left to right) Olivia Mann, Drew Sanclemente, Mickey Nguyen and Daniel Schaefer.

Globe-trekking Blue Hens prepare for transformational journeys

Photo by Jessica Eastburn

Celebration welcomes students to 2018 Plastino Scholars Program, honors previous class

When deciding if she should apply to the Plastino Scholars Program at the University of Delaware, Drew Sanclemente, Class of 2019, was reminded of something her parents had always emphasized: “To whom much is given, much is expected.”

As a 2018 Plastino Scholar, Sanclemente will  take the sentiment with her as she travels to Tanzania, where she will try to climb to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa, and study the effects of altitude on those completing the grueling trip. She will then switch to another research topic of personal importance, and spend 10 days meeting with non-government organizations to learn about the impact of sexual and physical violence on women in Tanzania.

There, she will speak about her own experience with sexual violence and forming her Delaware nonprofit, Hope. Sanclemente said her goal is to learn from the challenges Tanzania faces as a country with a high rate of sexual violence and bring her message of hope to survivors there.

“Honestly,” Sanclemente said, “I think they're going to have a bigger impact on me than I'm going to have on them.”

Established in 2007 by a generous gift from David Plastino, Class of 1978, the Plastino Scholars Program encourages undergraduates to pitch an off campus, self-designed learning experience. Should a student make it through the competitive selection process, they then have the opportunity to pursue their transformational journey far beyond UD’s campus.

On May 10, Sanclemente joined other current and former Plastino Scholars at an annual celebration dinner. Proud family members, faculty mentors and Plastino himself listened as four incoming scholars were welcomed and the seven University of Delaware undergraduates, who traveled to various cities around the world as 2017 Plastino Scholars, recounted their experiences, ranging from studying the sustainable urban landscapes of Singapore to women’s health in Bangladesh.

Just as the journeys inform the lives of the Plastino Scholars, they also inform benefactor David Plastino, who remarked that hearing from the scholars makes him more thoughtful and introspective. During the celebration dinner, he called the Plastino Scholars Program “one of the most rewarding and enriching things in my life.”

Plastino said he hopes his own decision to launch the program – spurred by learning about a similar program at another university – will encourage students to continue the cycle of giving back.

“We all need to stop and reflect every day on our lives on how we can, in the smallest of ways, influence others’ lives in a good fashion, for no other reason than we just want to be a nice guy and do something positive,” Plastino said in his remarks at the dinner.

Already influencing the next group of Plastino Scholars is Kira Smith, Class of 2018. As a 2017 scholar, Smith returned to her birth country of China to visit government-operated and private orphanages. When she returned to campus, she encouraged Mickey Nguyen, a friend she met through UD’s medical fraternity, to apply to become a 2018 scholar.

This summer, Nguyen will spend two months in a Buddhist orphanage in Vietnam to study mindfulness.

“I'm following in her footsteps,” said Nguyen, a neuroscience major from Philadelphia in the Class of 2019.

Nguyen explained that the genesis of her project came from taking a Buddhism philosophy class in hopes of learning more about her own family and then wanting to dig deeper into meditation and the value of compassion as a future physician.

Smith encouraged her to apply to the Plastino Scholars Program, but to select a topic with a certain question in mind: “How is it going to teach you something about yourself and about the world?”

Nguyen already has an idea of the personal impact her travel this summer will bring.

“I think this project is a huge step into becoming the type of doctor that I want to be,” Nguyen said.

About the 2018 Plastino Scholars

The 2018 cohort of Plastino Scholars includes:

  • Olivia Mann, an honors art history and history major from Long Island, New York, who will visit Holocaust museums and memorials in the U.S. next Winter Session to investigate the nuances of Holocaust and genocide education in rural, predominantly Christian areas.

  • Mickey Nguyen, a neuroscience major from Philadelphia, who will spend two months in a Buddhist orphanage in Vietnam to study mindfulness.

  • Drew Sanclemente, an honors exercise science major from Middletown, Delaware, who will travel to Tanzania, Africa, to climb Mount Kilimanjaro and then spend 10 days with non-government organizations to learn about the impact of sexual and physical violence on women in Tanzania.

  • Daniel Schaefer, a linguistics and Spanish major from Middletown, Delaware, who will travel to Thessaloniki and Rhodes, Greece, to study Judeo-Spanish.

For more information on the Plastino Scholars Program, click here.

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