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Congratulations to the winners of the Mary Roebling International Travel Award

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Congratulations to the four Humanities and Social Sciences students who have been selected for the Mary Roebling International Travel Award, which will provide them with funding for unique academic study around the world.

The award began following a generous gift from Gale Wayman ’70 in honor of her mentor Mary Roebling in an effort to support outstanding students in the HSS department.

Dr. Elizabeth Borland, chair of the Roebling Award selection committee, believes the award encompasses many aspects of TCNJ’s signature experience, such as research, internships and service. After an attempt at reinvigorating the award in 2014, it’s back and bigger than ever.

“Since then, the committee has designated awardees each semester, supporting an array of novel projects,” Borland said. “It is exciting that we can foster the research, internship and service projects of HSS students and recognize their scholarship and other endeavors when they are abroad.”

This semester’s winners are Heba Jahama, a senior English major and history and African studies minor, Sarah Lewis, a senior psychology major and public health minor, Alessandra Testa, a junior international studies major and arabic minor and Mi-Yeon Park, a junior international studies major and women’s and gender studies minor.

Read about where they will be traveling and their hopes for the experience below!


What inspired you to apply for the Roebling Award?

Heba: I was very excited to see that TCNJ offers its students the opportunity to do funded research, and I had been strongly considering traveling to South Africa with Prof. Bender and Prof. McMann in January 2016. I thought it would be very interesting to do on-the-ground research while I was on the study tour as well, and so I applied for the grant.

Sarah: My faculty advisor knew I was traveling to Peru this winter and recommended I apply for the award. I thought the award was a great opportunity and would alleviate some of my financial concerns regarding this trip. 

Alessandra: I know of people who applied for it in the past and received support for endeavors similar to mine. 

Mi-Yeon: I had this idea to help female North Korean refugees in mind since the end of my Freshman year, but I did not know how I would be able to make it a reality without financial support. Luckily, I read about the Roebling Award through Dean Rifkin (the former Dean of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences)’s weekly email, and it was a perfect opportunity for me because I would be able to not only receive financial support for my project but also share my experiences and results with the TCNJ community at the Celebration of Student Achievement in Fall 2016. 

Where will you be traveling to and what will your study project be?

Heba: I will be traveling to South Africa in January 2016 with Dr. Mindi McMann and Dr. Matthew Bender as well as 8 other TCNJ students. The trip is a study tour on the history and literature of Apartheid in South Africa, and we will be spending time in both Cape Town and Johannesburg. My project actually focuses on visual culture and the notion of the memorial, and so my research will center around both apartheid museums and memorials and will involve asking questions about the nature and ethics of memorializing traumatic and violent experiences.

Sarah: I am traveling to Cusco, Peru with the Fair Services organization. They operate an after school program for students in extreme poverty that focuses on three main pillars: education, nutrition, and hygiene. I will be volunteering as an activities coordinator by organizing educational themes and daily activities. I am also enrolled in the Spanish academy. Over the course of two years, Fair Services trains Peruvian single mothers as Spanish teachers and then offers them employment within the organization. I actively sought an organization that offered both volunteering and Spanish lessons yet also focused on enriching the local community. 

Alessandra: I will be travelling to Bologna, Italy, where I will be pursuing mentored undergraduate research. My self-designed project focuses on how the Catholic nonprofit organization Caritas Italia fits into Italy’s Catholic culture and how Caritas functions as a manifestation of the Roman Catholic Church’s presence in modern-day Italian society. 

Mi-Yeon: In summer 2016, I will help empower female North Korean refugees in Seoul, South Korea through workshops on interview skills, résumé-composition, and even public speaking. There will also be tutoring sessions on the English language as well as career nights for student participants to network with professionals in the workplace. 

What do you hope to gain from this experience and how may it help you in your professional career one day?

Heba: I’m very excited to be able to do this research. I have done a good amount of independent research as an undergraduate at TCNJ, but this is the first time I will be able to experience research in a more fieldwork or on-the-ground kind of setting. The majority of my research experience has involved literature and literary theory, so I’m very excited to incorporate a new field–visual studies and visual culture–into my work. I hope to continue my studies in the future at a PhD program, and I think this experience will be very valuable in terms of learning about the research process, specifically, how to formulate a researchable question in literary and visual studies and how to go about answering it.

Sarah: Having volunteered twice in Nicaragua and once in Haiti, I realize that volunteering in a developing country is extremely rewarding. I am always challenged to develop deeper ways of understanding the world and my responsibilities as a member of the global community. I am looking forward to experiencing a unique set of challenges and rewards in Peru. Working closely with the local community in Cusco will also be a valuable contribution to my future goals. After graduating, I intend to pursue a degree and career in global health, and being able to analyze global issues at the community level is vital for creating long-term, meaningful change. I am extremely grateful that the Roebling Award can provide me this opportunity for personal and academic enrichment. 

Alessandra: I hope to develop my independent research skills through doing archival research and conducting in-depth interviews. Besides learning how to navigate my way through unfamiliar cities, challenging myself to think more critically about religious institutions’ role in shaping a country’s history, national identity and political discourse, the  project will help me improve my written and spoken Italian. 

Mi-Yeon: I hope to see the refugee participants improve by the end of the program in their English, etc. and help them go on to be successful job applicants, changemakers, leaders, and role models. I plan to organize the workshops at least once every year in South Korea and elsewhere and one day become the CEO of ‘Remember Her Name’ as a non-profit organization that empowers female refugees from all over the world. 


Interviews and story by Kimberly Ilkowski
Photos by Sarah Ratner


School of Humanities and Social Sciences
Social Sciences Building, Room 302
The College of New Jersey
P.O. Box 7718
2000 Pennington Rd.
Ewing, NJ 08628