Rochester Student Wins Study Abroad Facebook Photo Contest

Center for Study Abroad – University of Rochester junior Mary Pilarz was recently selected as the winner of an IES Study Abroad photo contest.  From March 30 through April 5, IES Abroad asked their Facebook fans to help them choose the 2013-14 comprehensive catalog cover photo. Five cover options were posted to Facebook and fans voted by “liking” their favorite.

Pilarz’s photo of students riding camels in the Sahara Desert during a field trip with the IES Abroad Rabat program in Morocco received the most votes, with 487 likes. A native of Buffalo, NY, Pilarz spent the fall 2011 semester on the IES program in Rabat. She is double majoring in music and biology.

One Facebook user commented that “just seeing this on the cover of IES brochures would make me study abroad!” Another student who participated in the Rabat program shared a fun fact about Pilarz’s attempt to take the winning photo, noting that a sandstorm damaged her camera as she snapped the picture.

Another University of Rochester student, Nicole Socash, also was one of the five finalists in the competition for a photo she took while studying with IES Abroad in Christchurch, New Zealand.

IES Abroad is one of the nation’s oldest and largest study abroad providers and enrolls more than 5,500 students from 185 U.S. colleges and universities annually. With nearly 100 high-quality academic study abroad programs and internship opportunities in 34 cities, the organization is dedicated to fostering cultural immersion and intercultural development. Since its founding in 1950, nearly 80,000 students have participated in IES Abroad programs around the world in Europe, Africa, Asia, South America, Australia, and New Zealand.

Article courtesy of Jacqueline Levine, director of the Center for Study Abroad & Interdepartmental Programs. Photo courtesy of Mary Pilarz.

Theater in England: A New Perspective over Winter Break

Univ. Communications – Theater has long been a vibrant and visible element of students’ academic and extracurricular experience at the University of Rochester. Through the International Theater Program productions at Todd, classes in the English department, student groups like The Opposite Of People (TOOP), Drama House, and many other avenues, students here have the opportunity to engage in all levels of the production and research of drama and the performing arts. But perhaps the jewel in the school’s theatrical crown is the annual Theatre in England course which has, for the past twenty-one years, brought students to London over winter break for the ultimate theater-going experience.

The course, which has been taught by Professor Russell Peck since the late 1980s, combines a condensed study abroad experience with a four-credit workload and one to three play attendances per day. “The students sometimes feel lonely if they saw only one play that day,” said Peck with a laugh. This year, twenty-two students collectively attended thirty-five plays.

Each morning starts off with breakfast and a class at the Harlingford Hotel, which has been the London home base for Peck’s group for years. The previous day’s plays are discussed, scripts sometimes read, and performances are evaluated on everything from technical execution to metaphysical issues.

“It’s really nice to be in a room with thirty intellectual people who have all seen the show and to be able to have a multifaceted conversation about all the different aspects of it,” said Jessica Chinelli ’12, an English major with a concentration in theater. Chinelli was formerly the artistic director of TOOP and has worked on Todd productions in both a technical and performance capacity.

After class, the students have a few hours to relax and explore the city before the matinee performances begin. Peck schedules as many plays as he can, some mandatory for all students and many optional, providing a range of choices for each day. Seeing such a large number of plays can be overwhelming, but ultimately the program pushes students to make connections and develop perspective that cannot emerge from seeing just one play.

“The course really builds on itself,” Peck explained. “It’s always good to see several plays together, whether they have anything to do with each other or not.” Though he does not plan the program based on any particular theme or common element, the students quickly begin to weave the connecting threads on their own.

“I think that probably more than any course it helps people to see and to recognize how visually oriented their mental activity is,” Peck said. “They learn to see and judge things from different points of view.”

The students participating come from all academic backgrounds. This year, less than half were English majors. Some have been interested or involved in theater for years and others enter a theater for the first time in their lives when they arrive in London.

“It’s probably one of the greatest experiences that I will ever have in my life,” said Dongdong Han ’12, who is majoring in molecular genetics and had no knowledge of theater prior to the trip. “I know that the theater majors that went, and the folks who are interested in theater really got a lot out of it, but for somebody like me it was a tremendous learning experience.”

Though he plans to pursue graduate school and a further career in research, Han believes that it is vital for scientists to develop interests beyond the lab. “I know a lot of my science and engineering friends have a thing, kind of this unnatural fear for the humanities and I think this is the best way to get someone into theater with no background and it’s one of the best ways to learn,” he explained. “I’ve always believed that the scientific field itself is not meant to stand in isolation. In other words, if you look at all of the top scientists, all of them cultivate [an interest for] something that’s not in the sciences.”

For chemistry major Jonathan Raybin ’12, the program was such a fruitful experience in his freshman year that he went this year for a second time. Since the program of plays is different every year, the course has the advantage of offering a unique experience to every group of students. Raybin has always loved theater but his major curriculum afforded little time to become more academically involved. Nevertheless, he finds that theater enriches his scientific studies. “The analytical skills you use watching are completely applicable. It’s also just…it can be a relief to not be thinking about science!”

“It teaches people how to read and to assess their reading, whether they’re science people or brain and cognitive people, or linguists, and it teaches them how to look,” Peck explained. “As long as they’re alive and people [this is something] that will have bearing on them.”

The group attends performances in a wide range of venues from black box theaters, to small fringe auditoriums, to the world’s most technically advanced Olivier Theater, which is part of the National Theater complex. There, the students even got a backstage tour.

The trip also includes a visit to the legendary Stratford-upon-Avon to view Shakespearean plays in their original setting and attendance to the New Year’s Eve mass at Westminster Abbey. Students sit in the choir and observe the performance of religious rites which are at the root of modern English and French theatrical traditions.

Besides the abundant number of theaters and acting companies in London, another advantage to conducting the program there is the affordability of the experience of British theater. For example, plays at the National Theater are LE12.50 (about $20). “In New York for that play, if it comes to New York, we’d be paying between $100 and $125,” said Peck.

Students do pay for their own air fare but since the class counts as an overload of credits for the fall semester and students sign up in the fall, financial aid packages apply to the cost of the credit hours. Some limited financial aid also is available to cover the $2,750 fee for housing and play tickets. “I’ve been saving for this program since I heard abut it as a freshman,” said Chinelli. “But I made it and Professor Peck was really great about scholarships.”

She added enthusiastically: “It’s a once in a lifetime experience and it will change the way that you view things. [For the University] it’s not a financial investment, it’s an investment in the students, and that should tell you what it is worth.”

For more information about study abroad visit

Article written by Maya Dukmasova, a Take 5 Scholar at the University of Rochester and an intern at University Communications. She majored in philosophy and religion and focused her Take 5 year on researching the way American media covers current events in the Muslim world. An aspiring journalist, Dukmasova has freelanced for Rochester Magazine, the Phoenix New Times, and the Daily News Egypt in Cairo. She also maintains two blogs, one devoted to culture and society in Russia ( and the other to photography (

Twelve Undergrads Awarded Scholarships to Study Abroad

Univ. Communications – Twelve University of Rochester students have been awarded Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarships for spring 2012. Recipients of this prestigious study abroad scholarship are chosen through a competitive process and use the award to offset the cost of pursing international education experiences.

Rochester’s undergraduates were selected from a national pool; more than 60 percent of the students who applied from the University received scholarships, in comparison to the national average of 30 percent. The recipients are:

• Kiera Anderson (Rochester, N.Y.), a junior majoring in psychology and English, will study in Milan, Italy.

•Rachel Bierasinski (Victor, N.Y.), a junior majoring in mechanical engineering, will study in Berlin, Germany.

•Janise Carmichael (Syracuse, N.Y.), a junior majoring in psychology and Spanish, will study in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

•Gabrielle Cornish (Elmira, N.Y.), a junior majoring in music and Russian Studies, will study in St. Petersburg, Russia.

•Allayna Dehond (Bergen, N.Y.), a sophomore studying biomedical engineering, will study in Sydney, Australia.

•Donias Doko (Hartford, Conn.), a senior majoring in neuroscience and history, will study in London, England.

•Shukri Dualeh (Tonawanda, N.Y.), a junior majoring in health, behavior and society, will study in Cape Town, South Africa.

•Maxine Humphrey (Rochester, N.Y.), a junior majoring in international relations, will study in Cape Town, South Africa.

•Marius Kothor (Rochester, N.Y.), a junior majoring in African & African-American Studies, will study in Rabat, Morocco.

•Heather Owen (Lockport, N.Y.), a junior majoring in English and mathematics, will study in London, England.

•Yaritza Perez (Bronx, N.Y.), a sophomore majoring in psychology, will study in Milan, Italy.

•Kellen Tsai (Flushing, N.Y.), a junior majoring in psychology, will study in Beijing, China.

“Again this semester, the Gilman scholarship is supporting our students as they study in five continents around the world, and we are pleased to note that since the beginning of the program, Rochester students have studied in 26 different countries through the scholarship,” said Jacqueline Levine, director of Rochester’s Center for Study Abroad and Interdepartmental Programs.

Since the program’s inception in 2002, 90 University students have won Gilman awards. The scholarship, which provides financial assistance to students who are enrolled in study abroad programs worldwide, is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, and the Institute of International Education, which also administers the prestigious Fulbright fellowships. The program gives undergraduates awards of up to $5,000 each.

Article written by Melissa Greco Lopes, editor of The Buzz and student life publicist in University Communications. Photos courtesy of the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship website.

Semester at Sea Sends Rochester Senior on Life-Changing Trip

Univ. Communications – 2010 was an exciting year for Marcus Williams, a senior member of Rochester’s men’s basketball team, who in between studying and shooting hoops traveled to more than ten different countries in four months and ten days.

In spring 2010, the Syracuse, N.Y. native had the opportunity to go on a ten day trip to Haiti with his local church, Abundant Life Christian Centre, immediately after the 7.0 MW earthquake hit on January 12th. They connected with a church in the capital Port au Prince and their task was to remove two hundred tons of rubble; the earthquake had caused the church to crumble and three people had been killed when the structure collapsed.

Haitian culture was not such a huge shock to Williams, whose mother is Haitian. Growing up he had the opportunity to partake in Haitian cuisine, learn about the country’s history, and learn a little bit of the language. In fact, his first words were in French. However, the biggest thing Williams knew about Haiti is that it is a poor country with quite a lot of corruption. In spite of the fact that Haiti was the first nation to receive independence from slavery in 1804, it remains the poorest country in the western hemisphere.

Williams reminisces about times when his mother would jokingly remind him of how lucky they were to have what they had because she came from a poor country. Not only did he have the opportunity to see the poverty that his mother had described to him all his life, he also had the privilege of sharing the experience with his mother and his best friend, for which he is very thankful.

In spite of his prior knowledge about Haiti, the poverty he encountered was “striking and numbing.” It was also the first time that he smelled a dead person and he says the scent will never leave him.

“The pain and suffering humbled me. It made me more grateful for what I have and made me want to be able to help other parts of the world. I am blessed to be a blessing,” Williams said.

After Haiti, Williams wanted to see more of the world, so for the fall 2010 semester he went on the Semester at Sea program offered through the University of Virginia. This program provides students, faculty, and lifelong learners with the opportunity to visit 12 different countries in four months. On this particular voyage they embarked from Halifax, Canada, visited Spain, Morocco, Ghana, South Africa, Mauritius, India, Singapore, Vietnam, China (Hong Kong and Shanghai), Japan, and Hawaii, eventually debarking in San Diego.

During the semester Williams took five classes that totaled to sixteen credits: corporate finance, global studies, poverty and development, making business work, and international business.

Travelling around the world opened up his eyes to exactly what he wanted to do. He had previously been on the pre-med track but on this trip discovered that business was his niche and he wanted to use it to help the world.

Along their travels he had the opportunity to be part of a team that started Finding Refuge, a nonprofit organization that partners with City of Refuge Ministries, an orphanage working to end child slavery in Lake Volta, Ghana. Finding Refuge has committed itself to spreading the “reality that slavery is a prevalent issue around the world” and raising support for the orphanage through five different fundraising packages. Funds, depending on what package the donor chooses, go directly to freeing a child from slavery, building safe houses, purchasing materials for the schools, and supporting the fair trade company created to provide a livelihood for mothers in the community to alleviate the economic pressure they face.  Membership has expanded to include 45 different universities around the country and the organization has currently raised $30,000 for the cause.

What he marveled about from the experience was that each country he visited brought something new.

“It showed me that people are people just living their life no matter where in the world they are,” he said, noting that the great difference in wealth around the world was another humbling encounter. “One day we’d be sleeping in a place of deep poverty like India and then the next living like kings in a country like Singapore. But even after all the countries I saw, there was no country whose poverty compared to that of Haiti.”

Coming back to the States was shocking and it was difficult to be with family and friends that did not understand what he had experienced. However, Williams managed to conquer this reverse culture shock with the support of his mother and four other University of Rochester students that were on the trip with him; one who was on the men’s baseball team and three who were on the men’s basketball team with him. The men were a great support not only because they had shared the experience with him but also because they had built deep and real friendships that made them feel like they had known each other for years.

“I truly believe that everyone should do this. It changed my life, the way I think. It changes who you are, it just doesn’t affect it,” he said.

Article written by Audrey Kusasira, an intern in University Communications who is pursuing a Master’s of Science degree in Marriage and Family Therapy at the School of Medicine and Dentistry. Photo courtesy of Marcus Williams.

Rochester Students Awarded Competitive Study Abroad Scholarship

Univ. Communications – Nine University of Rochester students have been awarded Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarships for fall 2011. Students are chosen through a competitive application process. The scholarship program seeks to increase the number of students who choose non-traditional locations, students with financial need, and students from under-represented fields, such as engineering and science.

Nine undergraduates were selected from a national pool of applicants. This year’s recipients are:

Ki Cheng (Orlando, Fla.), a junior psychology major, will study in Copenhagen, Denmark. Breanna Eng (Holtsville, N.Y.), a junior chemistry major, will study in Auckland, New Zealand. Ryan Gelfand (Laytonsville, Md.), a junior archaeology, technology, and historical structures major, will study in Arezzo, Italy. Ashley Haluck-Kangas (Greensburg, Pa.), a senior biology major, will study in Helsinki, Finland. Kindred Harris (Hermansville, Miss.), a senior biology major, will study in London, United Kingdom. Nathaly Luna (Corona, N.Y.), a junior religion major, will study in Rabat, Morocco. Zachary Palomo (Hondo, Texas), a junior international relations and Russian major, will study in St. Petersburg, Russia. Megan Roberts (Rochester, N.Y.), a senior health and society major, will study in Cape Town, South Africa. Madeline Skellie (Greenwich, N.Y.), a junior international relations major, will study in Cape Town, South Africa.

Palomo and Roberts will be abroad for the full academic year. Seniors Haluck-Kangas and Roberts are studying abroad as part of Rochester’s Take Five program, which offers participating students a fifth, tuition-free year to pursue an interest beyond their traditional majors.

“Our students continue to be competitive when applying for scholarships such as the Gilman,” said Jacqueline Levine, director of Rochester’s Center for Study Abroad and Interdepartmental Programs. “We are delighted that they have been recognized for their leadership and academic success and are thrilled that these scholarships will help them participate in study abroad programs in a variety of countries.”

Since the Gilman Scholarship began in 2002, 75 University of Rochester students have won Gilman awards. The scholarship is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, and the Institute of International Education, which also administers the prestigious Fulbright fellowships. Selected undergraduates receive up to $8,000 each for tuition, travel, lodging, and insurance.