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Life-changing learning experiences await the first 12 student recipients of VCU’s new Baldacci fund

The College of Humanities and Sciences students are pursuing internships, research and study abroad experiences

VCU student Lisa Day, one of 12 inaugural recipients of awards from the Baldacci Student Experien...
VCU student Lisa Day, one of 12 inaugural recipients of awards from the Baldacci Student Experiential Learning Fund, will travel to South Africa this summer to study paleoanthropology and human evolution.

Thanks to a new fund in the College of Humanities and Sciences that supports Virginia Commonwealth University students interested in pursuing internships, research and study abroad experiences, Lisa Day, an anthropology and history double major, will travel to South Africa this summer to study paleoanthropology and human evolution.

“We will be visiting museums and fossil sites in South Africa to learn about the history of the present-day country as well as its distant past,” said Day, a senior and president of VCU’s Anthropology Club. “We will also be going on [a] safari to think about the environments in which our early ancestors evolved.”

Day is one of the inaugural 12 recipients of awards from the Baldacci Student Experiential Learning Fund, which provides grants of $1,000 to $5,000 to academically promising VCU students from diverse areas of study and backgrounds to allow them to pursue internships, conferences, research, domestic or international study abroad, and social entrepreneurship opportunities.

“I am just extremely excited to be awarded funds from the Baldacci Student Experiential Learning Fund,” Day said. “I probably would not have been able to participate without it, and I am looking forward to this summer as well as my future.”

The fund was made possible because of a gift to VCU from bestselling novelist and political science alumnus David Baldacci and his wife, Michelle, last fall.

“The generosity of the Baldacci family brings experiential learning opportunities to our students, anchoring the liberal arts mission of the College of Humanities and Sciences,” said Montserrat “Montse” Fuentes, Ph.D., dean of the College of Humanities and Sciences. “This gift offers to our students opportunities for world-learning experiences.

“The Baldacci experiential funds are allowing us to introduce learning through reflection on doing, while promoting entrepreneurial training that creates the tools and means that bring positive sustainable results to our community and society,” Fuentes said. “This is a venue to enhance and promote a transformational education to the distinctive student population of the College of Humanities of Sciences.”

Bethanie Constant, senior director of development for the College of Humanities and Sciences, said the college has “extraordinary students who care deeply about our local and global society and feel called to apply their talents and passions to make this world a better place.”

“The students selected for the inaugural year of the Baldacci Student Experiential Learning Fund are a sampling of 12 such students,” she said. “Due to the generosity of David and Michelle Baldacci, every year students will be able to apply to receive financial support for experiences that are exceptionally valuable but financially challenging. We are most grateful for their support and can’t wait to see the outcomes of the experiences represented in this year's cohort.”

Maryum Elnasseh, a sophomore mass communications and political science double major, is another student in the first round of Baldacci fund recipients. Elnasseh will take part in the “Going on Assignment in Prague” study abroad program this summer, in which journalism students are instructed by established journalists working for international media outlets.

“This study abroad course mainly focuses on foreign reporting and is meant to prepare students who, like myself, dream of working as activists, advocating for resolutions to global issues,” she said. “Additionally, the course provides students extensive coaching, access to interpreters, and detailed feedback so we can pursue real stories on the streets of Prague and end up with publishable pieces to launch our journalism careers.

“As a student double majoring in journalism and political science with a concentration in civil rights, this sounded absolutely perfect to me,” she added. “My interest was even more deepened when I saw the topics in the course curriculum, which included ‘sexism in journalism and politics’ and ‘reporting under conflict.’ … I’m sure this course will provide me with very valuable experiences to help achieve my career goals.”

Rafael Hernandez, a junior psychology and philosophy double major, will attend a conference of the National Latina/o Psychological Association this fall in San Diego. “I am honored to have been counted as a finalist to receive the Baldacci funds,” he said. “It makes me excited because through them I will be able to attend my first national conference concentrated in Latinx psychology.”

Sarah Golding, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Department of Biology, led the award process as a fellow in the College of Humanities and Sciences Dean’s Office.

“With this being the first year of funding, we were unsure what to expect. But when given a sense of financial security, the students really blew us away with the unique and innovative ways they proposed to explore their interests in the real world, beyond the bounds of a traditional classroom,” Golding said. “The Baldacci experiential learning experiences will literally be life-changing for these students, creating the kind of memories they will share with their grandchildren.”

The full list of recipients of the Baldacci Student Experiential Learning Fund awards includes:

Leslie Bolda (chemistry and foreign language, Class of May 2020) will study abroad and student teach in chemistry in Granada, Spain, with the American Institute for Foreign Study this fall. 

Caitlin Cain (forensic science and chemistry, Class of May 2019) will be conducting chemical research on how the selectivity of a separation changes by varying the ratio of chemically bonded ligands on the stationary phase research, and will present her research at the Pittsburgh Conference & Exposition (Pittcon), the leading annual conference on fundamental analytical chemistry.

Lisa Day (anthropology and history, Class of May 2019) will travel to South Africa this summer to study paleoanthropology and human evolution.

Kristina Donnally (anthropology and history, Class of May 2020) will take part in a study abroad program in Israel for excavations at the site of Khirbet Arai this summer.

Maryum Elnasseh (mass communications and political science, Class of May 2020) will take part in the Going on Assignment in Prague study abroad program this summer that allows journalism students to be coached by established journalists working for various media, including Reuters, The New York Times, the BBC, and Radio Free Europe.

Rafael Hernandez (philosophy and psychology, Class of May 2019) will attend the biennial National Latina/o Psychological Association Conference (NLPA) in October  in San Diego.

Sean Hubbard (biology, Class of May 2020) will participate in an expedition as a research assistant in Guyana, led by Operation Wallacea, which will journey to a protected reserve called Iwokrama in the undisturbed primary rainforest of the Guiana Shield region.

Cheyenne Johnson (psychology, Class of December 2018) will attend and present at the annual Convention of the American Psychological Association (APA) in San Francisco in August on health disparities focused research she conducted that reports on access to and successful utilization of mental health care services by sexual minority individuals.

Vanessa Mba (health, physical education and exercise science, Class of December 2018) will participate in a service-learning study abroad program in Negril, Jamaica, this summer that focuses on promoting health awareness and implementing plans for aid to assist vulnerable populations who live in the region.

Samantha Moon (biology, Class of May 2019) will study abroad, taking courses in evolutionary palaeobiology and creative writing at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia, this summer and fall.

Madeleine Murphy (foreign language and political science, Class of May 2019) will participate in the VCU World Languages Curations + Modules Project including the creation of modules for VCU coursework, travel to France this summer for fieldwork, and present her findings at the Foreign Language Association of Virginia (FLAVA) conference in Williamsburg in October.

Christopher Richardson (political science and product innovation, Class of May 2019) will participate in the Asia-Pacific Innovation Academy (APIA), a four-week program focused on entrepreneurship and innovation in Shenzhen, China, with participants from more than 25 countries.

Cain, Elnasseh, Hubbard and Moon are members of the VCU Honors College.