Newly accepted Minerva Fellows prepare for their exciting journeys


By Katelyn Billings

Each year, Union sends a group of seniors to countries all around the world in hopes of bettering communities, healthcare and the lives of the inhabitants.

The Minerva Fellowship is an esteemed and competitive program and has just released the names and destinations of this year’s Fellows.

They will be traveling to the Middle East, Africa, Asia and South America, each destination involved with a different organization committed to improving life in impoverished societies.

The Fellows stay in their assigned country for about nine months, living and working right after graduating from Union. This year’s Fellows have expressed their desires to explore and aid the places they will visit, while simultaneously discovering more about themselves.

Billy Phillips and Ilyena Kozain will be traveling to southern Uganda to work with Engeye, a non-profit organization devoted to improving health and education in rural Uganda.

Based primarily out of the small community of Ddegeya Village, Engeye is partnered with Engineers Without Borders and aims to improve sustainability in clinical healthcare, and increase educational opportunities in southern Uganda.

When asked for their reactions on being selected for the program, Kozain and Phillips both expressed excitement and wanderlust.  “I’m incredibly excited for all of the adventures I will have next year in Uganda with my partner, Billy.  I’m so grateful for the chance to be part of this meaningful fellowship and I know it will be a challenging, but amazing journey,” Kozain stated.

Phillips remarked, “I’m excited to go explore. One of my goals in life is to never stop exploring, whether it is physically or mentally.  I bet this trip will give me the opportunity for both.”

Gabriella Romero and Samantha Muratori have been selected to travel to Ecuador together to work with the Yanapuma Foundation. Founded in 2006, Yanapuma aims to improve social and environmental conditions in Ecuador.

The Fellows will be involved in the community of Estero de Plátano, helping children with schoolwork. Most families cannot afford to send their children to high school, and most kids finish formal education at 12 or 13 years old.

“I have heard that Estero de Plátano is like an untouched paradise, although very different from the developed city of Montevideo.  I am very eager to experience the different environment,” explained Muratori, who stated that the build-up to hearing about her acceptance was extremely nerve-wracking.  “When I found out, I was ecstatic.  I went abroad to Montevideo, Uruguay on the pilot program last spring, and fell in love with Latin America.”

Romero stated that she and Muratori were roommates before being placed as partners in the same program, and she is very excited to be working with her in the Yamapuma program.

She explained that the Ecuador fellowship is a bit different than the others, in the sense that it is more flexible with what the Fellows want to do.

“Our duties are going to mainly be centered around teaching English to children at the local school and working with and tutoring scholarship high school students.  What is great about the fellowship in Ecuador is that it’s very open to the idea of the Fellows. Sam and I are really excited to get there, find a need, and make a lasting impact,” stated Romero.

“The Yanapuma Foundation gives the Fellows a great deal of freedom to connect with the village and match our skill sets with what is needed in the area,” said Muratori.

Seniors Brendan Callanan and Miriam Hammer will also be helping with underprivileged children in Cambodia through the Global Child Program.

Established in the Siem Reap, Global Child perseveres to provide deprived children with the opportunity to obtain a quality education, by utilizing a form of micro-financing.

Many families in Siem Reap are below the poverty line, and their children are forced to beg on the streets for a dollar a day. The Global Child provides impoverished children not only with an education, but also with life skills, a cultural understanding of their country and its tradition and training for employ- ment and citizenship.

“I’m very excited to be heading to Cambodia to work The Global Child Program.  There will undoubtedly be a great deal of challenges that I will confront; however, I believe that ultimately I will learn about both myself and also the entrenched hardships that the people face in developing countries such as Cambodia,” said Callanan.

Hammer even reached out to former Minerva Fellows in order to learn more about the Siem Reap community she would be living in.

“I have been in touch with many of the past Fellows and they have been so helpful, not only in preparing me for the inevitable challenges that exist when living and working in a developing country, but also in reinforcing that this is going to be a wonderful and life-changing experience.

“I cannot wait to be immersed in a new culture, give my love and guidance to a new community and let them change me for the better,” said Hammer.

Unlike the other Fellows, Joseph Maher will be traveling solo to KwaZulu-natal in South Africa to work with the NGO Siyavuna.

He will be carrying his passion for sustainability here at Union over to Africa in order to help farmers expand their business and get more customers.

“I really encourage people to get involved in campus sustainability because it provides a rewarding experience,” said Maher.

His work with Ozone and the campus sustainability projects have prepared him to work with the organic farmers in Africa, and he is very excited to begin. “I was incredibly excited, honored and surprised when I found out.  I really hope to gain a better perspective on life — I feel pretty sheltered growing up here in the States, but I try to look at things with a wide lens, and this will definitely help me to grow more as a person,” said Maher.

Heading to China to work with autistic children at the Shandong Huihe Autism Education Center are Danielle Lussier and Forrister Ross.

“I’m grateful for the opportunity to represent Union on the other side of the world by helping autistic children in Jinan, China. I’m excited to work within such an important organization and for the opportunity to leverage my musical talents along with knowledge I’ve gained from psychology courses at Union,” said Lussier.

Her stories and photos from the trip will be available on

Each of the Minerva Fellows has expressed his or her excitement and desire for personal growth, intellectual enrichment and openness to new experiences.

Most of them have been looking forward to the possibility of becoming a Minerva Fellow since their start here at Union.  “Being a Minerva Fellow has been a hope of mine ever since I came to Union, and I am beyond excited to be awarded this incredible opportunity,” said Hammer.

The challenging ­­­courses here at Union have prepared the fellows mentally, but their journeys will require spiritual and psychological preparedness. We all wish the 2014 Minerva Fellows success and enlightenment on their journeys around the world!


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