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Students (from left) Amy Ciminnisi, Elizabeth Habash and
Kate Uray will pursue their greatest research passions as the 2020 class
of Plastino Scholars.
Acceptance into the
Plastino Scholars Program at the University of Delaware is the first
step of a global journey — but, as the Plastino Scholars themselves can
explain, the research ideas that shape their travels are rooted deep in
their own interests and UD experiences.
Whether inspired by their family
history or curious to learn more about a subject outside the classroom,
they have long been building toward taking this next step.
For incoming Plastino Scholar Amy Ciminnisi, a junior in the Honors Program majoring in anthropology,
it was in the fall of 2018 that she first thought about expanding her
studies with a trip to Malaysia.
She was then taking a class on the
people and cultures of Southeast Asia, which piqued her interest around
how Malaysian youth were navigating political change.
“One of the main things that I’ve learned at UD is to always push for
that thing that you feel is unattainable, because you don’t know what
will happen,” Ciminnisi said. “As I kept on studying and researching
different aspects of Malaysian culture, it became more natural to me to
think, ‘I can go there and do this.’”
This spring, Ciminnisi learned she had been accepted into the
Plastino Scholars Program after sharing her research proposal centered
on learning the personal stories and dreams of young people in Malaysia.
For now, that experience is temporarily on hold due to the global
coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, which has also curtailed University
travel. Ciminnisi and her fellow 2020 Plastino Scholars anticipate
packing their bags in the winter of 2021 to explore their chosen
Through the Plastino Scholars Program students are able to explore
their greatest academic research dreams — curiously following their
interests to every corner of the globe, from the peak of Mount
Kilimanjaro to the capital of Estonia. To be considered for the program,
students must propose an experience that will allow the pursuit of a
passionate interest that goes beyond the scope of an academic course,
normal summer job, internship or enrichment program
In traveling to Malaysia, Ciminnisi will gain a deeper understanding
of the people and politics there, expanding upon what she learned in
the classroom. Ciminnisi kept in touch with classmates from that earlier
course — some of whom were based in Malaysia at the Universiti Tunku
Abdul Rahman and joined via video conferencing — and will now be able to
meet them in person.
“I’m just really excited to learn about the personal stories and
dreams of these young people, and how they experience the world and
Malaysian politics,” Ciminnisi said. “It’s something crucial in
anthropology, actually being in the space that you’re learning and
studying about. Otherwise, there’s the possibility for you to make
inaccurate interpretations, because you aren’t in the space and aren’t
actually seeing all the cultural dynamics playing out.”
As a Plastino Scholar, Elizabeth Habash’s research will take her to
Amman, Jordan, where she hopes to gain a better understanding of how
differences in culture, religion and language shape medical care. A
junior in the Honors Program majoring in biology and minoring in Arabic and women and gender studies,
Habash’s career goal is to become a physician for the U.S. Army and
potentially work in the Middle East. However, her trip and research
interests are also based on personal experience.
Habash’s family is from the Middle East and her grandmother, who
suffers from Alzheimer's disease, prefers to now communicate in Arabic. Habash
hopes her experience will help her treat future patients by helping her
better understand the experience of the patient, and how their decisions
are shaped by their own background. She added that the trip is just as
much a learning experience as it is a chance to grow culturally.
“The culture difference and how to navigate those situations, that’s
not something you can learn in a textbook. We kind of learn it when we
shadow doctors in the U.S., but sometimes it can be hard to be aware of
cultural differences if you haven’t interacted directly with patients,”
Habash said. “Understanding the thought process is going to stay with me
forever and make me more sensitive.”
Taking a personal passion and translating it into an opportunity that
will help shape and inform a future career is also at the heart of Kate
Uray’s Plastino Scholar research. Uray, an Honors sophomore pre-veterinary medicine major,
describes herself as “someone who has always loved animals and
wildlife.” Her research will take her to Texas and Costa Rica, where she
will explore the various practices of people operating wildlife
“Wildlife, especially, is a vulnerable population. They don’t
necessarily have someone representing their best interests,” Uray said.
“I feel compelled and find purpose in caring for them and making sure
they are getting the care they need.”
Without the Plastino Scholars Program, Uray said she likely would not
have the opportunity to study abroad. She anticipates her travels will
also help her grow personally. She hopes that, when she returns from her
research, she will be able to speak to UD students with similar
interests, both to share her knowledge and open their eyes to unique
“Words cannot express how excited I was,” Uray said about discovering
she was a new Plastino Scholar. “It was something I wouldn’t have expected for my college experience, but there are a lot of opportunities
that UD has for us. It’s something designed to make a student’s
individual dreams come true.”
The Plastino Scholars Program was established in 2007 by a gift from College of Arts and Sciences alumnus David A. Plastino to help outstanding University of Delaware
undergraduate students realize their dreams by supporting them in
self-designed, off-campus learning experiences that create a difference
in their lives and in the lives of others.
The David A. Plastino Program awards study grants to selected
undergraduate students who exhibit extraordinary talent, promise and
imagination. The grants provide funds that make a transformational
difference in the lives of Plastino Scholars and enable them to pursue a
passionate interest to a degree not otherwise possible.
For more information on the program and the experience of past scholars, visit www.cas.udel.edu/plastino-scholars.
Article by Dara McBride; photos courtesy of Amy Ciminnisi, Elizabeth Habash and Kate Uray
Published June 11, 2020
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