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A bittersweet spring for Rochester’s Davis Projects, DAAD RISE winners

May 5, 2020

Logos of David Projects and DAAD Rise juxtaposed.Each spring come announcements of the winners of prestigious scholarships and fellowships offering once-in-a-lifetime opportunities for study, research, and other projects around the globe. Applications to the selective programs often take months of preparation.

But this spring is a bittersweet one for the University of Rochester students who were selected for two summer programs—the Davis Projects for Peace and the DAAD RISE summer research program in Germany. 

Davis Projects for Peace awards individuals and teams of college students $10,000 to design and implement projects that promote peace and intercultural understanding. DAAD RISE (DAAD stands for German Academic Exchange Service, and RISE stands for Research Internships in Science and Engineering) offers students from North America, Great Britain, and Ireland the opportunity to be paired with a mentor at one of Germany’s major research universities. Both programs were canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Promoting peace is ‘what Meliora means to us’

“Receiving that congratulations email was the best feeling—a dream come true,” says Dokata Banchale ’22 who, along with Chernor Diallo ’22, won a Davis Projects for Peace grant for their project, Breaking Tribal Barriers through Sports. As the COVID-19 pandemic spread, resulting in the cancellation of this year’s program, Banchale was able to keep a positive outlook. “We remain extremely passionate about promoting peace and leading positive change in our various communities,” he says. “That’s what Meliora means to us.” 

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Banchale is an economics and statistics dual major from Kenya, while Diallo is an international relations and public health double major from Liberia. They are both alumni of the African Leadership Academy in South Africa, a secondary school that draws promising young leaders from all over the continent, and which has had a long partnership with the University.

The students’ project was scheduled for this summer in Marsabit County, Kenya, along the border with Ethiopia, where an intertribal conflict over pasture land and water persists. The project was aimed at raising youth awareness of conflict resolution through a peace-building curriculum and volleyball tournament.

Juliet Sullivan, an academic counselor in the Fellowships Office who oversaw the Davis nominating process, says Banchale and Diallo had “a terrific plan” to bring together people who have a history of conflict. “Sport offers a special way to bring people together in a shared experience, and this proposed volleyball tournament could have done a great deal to foster peace in Marsabit County, Kenya.”

Banchale says he and Diallo hope that funding will be rolled over to 2021. “It’s a one-time opportunity that we really worked for,” he says. “And it’s a project Chernor and I hold dear to our hearts, given our personal history of coming from communities of conflict.” 

Diallo adds, “One important thing this pandemic reveals to humanity is our level of interdependence as Covid-19 also emphasizes the importance of communities working together to address their common problems. Conflict as a common problem also requires a collective effort to be resolved.”

For DAAD RISE winners, salvaging a summer

Fourteen Rochester students were selected to participate in the DAAD RISE program, which offers both a research stipend and travel allowance. More than 60 Rochester undergraduates have been selected for, and participated in, the program since 2015.

“The cancellation of this summer’s RISE program in Germany represents a significant loss for our students in multiple ways,” says Belinda Redden, director of the Fellowships Office. “They were counting on the summer experience to further develop their research skills, sharpen their focus for graduate study, or help them determine if they preferred academic research to industry work.”

Redden says the students selected are trying to salvage their summers in various ways. “Some are seeking to conduct research remotely with the German labs where they were placed, even on a voluntary basis, in order to continue their research engagement,” she says. “Others are hoping to do some research remotely in their Rochester labs or in an internship if they can secure one at this late juncture. Some may take online courses this summer.”

Sylvia Zhong ’21, a biomedical engineering major from Brooklyn, New York, planned to conduct research at the University of Würzburg. “Hearing that the program won’t happen this summer was deeply disappointing,” she says. “I was already in contact with my program advisor, and everything was planned out.” 

With many opportunities cancelled or filled, she adds, “the only thing I know for sure is that I will continue writing my papers with my lab members for publication this summer.”

Selected to this year’s DAAD RISE program were:

Mauricio Araiza Canizales ’22, a chemical engineering major from Ciudad General Escobedo, Nuevo Leon, Mexico

Karim Abdelmaqsoud ’22, a chemical engineering major from Ashmoon, El Manofia, Egypt

Andrew Balogh ’21, an electrical and computer engineering major from Averill Park, New York

Ognjen Bosic ’22, a mechanical engineering major from Banja Luka, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Anis Idrizovic ’22, an optical engineering major from Bijelo Polje, Montenegro

Hana Kalco ’22, a biomedical engineering major from Zenica, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Eli Kosson ’22, a chemical engineering major from Fairport, New York

Sufian Mushtaq 22, a computer science and business dual major from Lahore, Pakistan

Thien Hung Nguyen ’21, a chemical engineering major from Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Edmund Sepeku ’22, a physics major from Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania

Joshua Sobel ’21, a computer science and mathematics dual major from Bethesda, Maryland

Navya Uberoi ’22, a physics and astronomy major from New Delhi, India

Jiayin Zhang ’21, a mechanical engineering major from Shanghai, China

Sylvia Zhong ’21, a biomedical engineering major from Brooklyn, New York

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