25 Villanovans Win Fulbright U.S. Student Grants for 2023-24
Updated May 25, 2023
VILLANOVA, PA. (May 17, 2023) – The U.S. Department of State and the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board have announced the Fulbright U.S. Student Program awards for 2023-24, with 25 Villanova University students and alumni receiving the competitive grant. In addition to the 25 award recipients, 5 Villanovans were selected as alternates and 15 earned recognition as semi-finalists.
The Fulbright Program is the U.S. government’s flagship international educational exchange program, offering students grants to conduct research, study and teach abroad. Villanova has been listed among the nation’s top producers of Fulbright Students for more than a decade—a list highlighted annually in The Chronicle of Higher Education. From 2016-22, 118 Villanovans received Fulbright U.S. Student Program awards.
“As Fulbright Students, these remarkable Villanovans will be positively impacting and engaging with communities around the world through their research and teaching,” said University Provost Patrick G. Maggitti, PhD. “On behalf of our entire community, I congratulate the Villanova students and alumni recognized by this prestigious program and the dedicated faculty and staff who supported them throughout the selection process.”
Fulbright recipients meet, work with and learn from the people of the host country, sharing daily experiences. The program facilitates cultural exchange through direct interaction in the classroom, field, home and in daily tasks. These experiences allow the grantee to gain an appreciation of others’ viewpoints and beliefs, the way they do things, and the way they think. Visit the Fulbright U.S. Student Program website to learn more.
The Fulbright competition at Villanova is open to all current undergraduate, graduate, professional students and alumni, and is administered by the University’s Center for Research and Fellowships (CRF). Students and alumni create an application for the fellowship program under the direction of the CRF team—which provides both one-on-one consultations and group support throughout the application process, including conceptualization of projects, writing and revising proposals, and interview preparation and practice.
Villanova students and alumni interested in applying for external awards, including the Fulbright, should visit the CRF website for more information.
Villanovans awarded Fulbright U.S. Student Grants for 2023-24 include:
*Note: Recipients reflective as of May 25, 2023
Elizabeth Bailey ’23 CLAS, of Atlanta, Ga., will graduate in May with a Master of Arts in Political Science. During her time at Villanova, she competed on the Villanova Swimming and Diving team where she earned three BIG EAST titles, served as a graduate research assistant, and interned at the National Indian Education Association. Bailey is the recipient of the Fulbright Canada Research Award, and her project focuses on how museums represent the history of Canada’s Indian residential school system. She ultimately decided to decline the award to start her career as a government relations advisor at Hobbs, Straus, Dean, and Walker, LLP, a law firm dedicated to promoting and protecting tribal sovereignty.
Allison Bajada, CLAS ’23, of Malta and New York, N.Y., will graduate in May with a Bachelor of Science in Psychology and a Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy, as well as minors in Theatre and Ethics. On campus, she was proud to be a Presidential Scholar, Station Manager of WXVU 89.1 and a student researcher in the Adversity and Resilience in Development Lab. She also delivered two TEDx talks: “Breaking the Media's Desensitization Cycle” and “The Case for Entomophagy.” Bajada is thrilled to begin her Fulbright award as an English teaching assistant in Greece in September 2023.
Shannon Brown ’23 CLAS, of Sudbury, Mass., will graduate in May with a Bachelor of Science in Astronomy and Astrophysics, Bachelor of Arts in Peace and Justice, and minors in Humanitarian Engineering, Sustainability Studies and Physics. As an undergrad, she participated in Villanova Engineering Service Learning trips in Ghana, Laos, Madagascar, Peru and India, which ultimately sparked her interest in service abroad for post-graduation opportunities. Brown was inspired to apply for the Fulbright English Teaching Assistant position in Taiwan after taking Mandarin classes for several years in high school. She looks forward to her time as an ETA in Taiwan, and upon her return to the U.S., she plans to pursue a career in STEM education and outreach for underserved communities.
Molly Carriero ’23 CLAS, of Monroe, Conn., will graduate in May with a Bachelor of Arts in English and minors in Spanish and Peace and Justice Studies. While studying abroad in Seville, Spain, Carriero volunteered as an ESL co-teacher at a secondary school, which inspired her to apply for the Fulbright English Teaching Assistant position. Carriero has also been involved in a variety of service and advocacy opportunities at Villanova, including New Student Orientation, Rays of Sunshine, The Space and Service and Justice Experience trips. She has worked for two nonprofits, focusing on organizing and education initiatives that confront gender inequities and tackle social challenges facing the U.S. Carriero looks forward to her time as an English Teaching Assistant in Thailand and she hopes to volunteer at a social organization providing young women with access to long-term mentorship and financing options to complete their education and develop leadership skills.
Thomas DeStefanis ’23 CLAS, of Mechanicsville, Md., will graduate in May with a Bachelor of Science in Biochemistry and a Bachelor of Arts in Art History, as well as a Spanish Studies minor. While at Villanova, DeStefanis conducted research in the Palenchar Lab understanding intrinsic and extrinsic variation in gene expression. He worked as a teaching assistant for General Chemistry and Organic Chemistry lab courses, discovering a desire to continue teaching and mentoring. DeStefanis also held various leadership roles at Villanova, including co-president of Art Club and a Special Olympics Committee member. He ultimately declined the English Teaching Assistantship in Mexico to begin his PhD in Microbiology and Immunology at George Washington University.
Aidan Fecko ’23 CLAS, of Albany, N.Y., will graduate in May with a Bachelor of Science in Mathematics and a Bachelor of Arts in Spanish Language and Literature with a minor in Latin American Studies. During his time at Villanova, Fecko participated in Villanova Student Musical Theatre, both on stage and behind the scenes as the new member representative in 2020, and then as production manager in 2021 and 2022. He was the music director for Minor Problem a cappella ensemble, a New Student Orientation counselor, a Villanova tour guide, and also worked as a tutor during his senior year. Fecko looks forward to his Fulbright year as a leader and mentor in Montenegro as an English Teaching Assistant.
Charles Helenbrook ’23 COE, of Potsdam, N.Y., will graduate in May with a Master of Science in Chemical Engineering. He obtained his Bachelor of Science from Villanova in May 2021, graduating in three years with a major in Chemical Engineering and a minor in French and Francophone Studies. While at Villanova, Helenbrook was involved in research and his recent master’s thesis looked at how shrimp shells can be used to remove heavy metals. He participated in the Villanova Engineering Service Learning program and he was captain of the club Roller Hockey team. Helenbrook will spend his Fulbright year in Madagascar where he will teach English in and partner with Catholic Relief Services to work on clean water projects.
Raymond Horchos ’23 CLAS of West Chester, Pa., will graduate in May with a Master of Arts in Political Science and a certificate in International Affairs. Raymond holds a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and a minor in Psychology from DeSales University. While at DeSales, Raymond participated in Campus Ministry, student government and the Center for Faith and Justice, among others. This summer, Raymond will complete a research assistantship at the Religious Freedom Institute in Washington, D.C., where he will aid in promoting religious freedom both abroad and internationally. During his time at Villanova, he worked as a graduate research assistant for Dr. Markus Kreuzer and was a graduate student ambassador. Following his Fulbright year, where he will be conducting political science research on national identity, Raymond will pursue a PhD in Comparative Government and Political Theory.
Ceydy Jaramillo ’23 CLAS, of San Diego, Calif., will graduate in May with a Master of Arts in Political Science. She received a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and Spanish from San Diego State University in December 2019. While completing her undergraduate studies, Jaramillo spent a semester studying abroad in Barcelona, Spain. During her time at Villanova, Jaramillo served as vice president for academic affairs on the Graduate Student Council and worked as a research assistant in the Political Science department. As a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant, Jaramillo will work in elementary and secondary schools in Asturias, Spain. Upon her return to the U.S., she plans to pursue a career in policy research.
Andrew Jester ’23 COE, of Havre de Grace, Md., will graduate in May with his PhD in Sustainable Engineering, with a focus in Alternative and Renewable Energy Systems. Prior to pursuing his PhD at Villanova, Jester earned his Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering, with a minor in Electrical Engineering, from Widener University in 2014. During an internship in his junior year, he developed a passion for renewable energy systems which led him to obtain his Master of Science in Sustainable Engineering from Villanova in 2016. Following his master’s at Villanova, Jester joined the electric utilities, where he gained a practical perspective on the challenges that face the U.S. electric grid system. In Fall 2019, he returned to Villanova to pursue his PhD and serve on the forefront of addressing sustainability-related challenges that can leverage his knowledge and experience in energy systems. In addition to his research, Jester guides his master’s colleagues by serving as a research admin and teaching assistant for the Sustainable Engineering Program. Jester will join faculty members at the University of Iceland to research the feasibility of recovering waste heat from local geothermal plants to grow various crops and potentially combat food insecurity that the island may face in the future.
Caroline MacLaren ’23 COE, of New Orleans, La., will graduate in May with a Bachelor of Science in Computer Engineering and a minor in Mathematics. At Villanova, as part of her senior design project, MacLaren worked closely with the Villanova Engineering Service Learning program and the Electrical and Computer Engineering department to build a digital health system for the Galápagos Islands. MacLaren was a member of Tau Beta Pi, the oldest engineering honor society, and she was involved in Blue Key Society for the past four years. She established a chapter of Girls Who Code at Villanova to promote interdisciplinary, female support in computing and technology. MacLaren will spend her Fulbright year in Trondheim, Norway, conducting energy-efficient machine-learning research with professors and students at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology.
Ajani Martin-Abascal ’22 CLAS, graduated from Villanova in 2022 with a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology and Communication and a minor in Peace and Justice. While at Villanova, Martin-Abascal was co-chair of the Latin American Student Organization (LASO); a member of the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Department in Student Government Association; and on the Ablaze Dance Team. She also engaged elementary-aged students in dance activities at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service with her dance team, served on the Career and Professional Development Advisory Board for the Career Center, and participated in RUIBAL. She is a recipient of a Fulbright English Teaching Award in Botswana.
Serena Matos ’23 CLAS, of Coatesville, Pa., will graduate in May with a Bachelor of Science in Biology and a Bachelor of Arts in Spanish, and minors in Global Health and Sustainability Studies. At Villanova, she served as the president of the Tri-Beta National Biological Honors Society as well as vice president of the Catholic Relief Services Global Ambassadors. She has also been involved with a variety of service opportunities on and off campus, including RUIBAL, Community Outreach of Villanova, Mighty Writers and Communitas. As a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant, Matos will serve at American Spaces in Barcelona, Spain, teaching English and coordinating STEM-based activities.
Elise Miller ’23 CLAS, of Holliston, Mass., will graduate in May with a Bachelor of Science in Cognitive and Behavioral Neuroscience and minors in Biology, Psychology and French and Francophone Studies. During her time at Villanova, she served as president of the University’s chapter of the national service fraternity Alpha Phi Omega, and as a member of Dr. Benjamin Sachs’ laboratory where she investigated connections between the effects of gut dysbiosis and stress on depressive and anxiety-like behavior in mice. Next year, Miller will continue in a similar line as a Fulbright student in France, exploring the role of gut-brain signaling in anxiety, while pursuing a master’s in Health Biology with a focus in Physiology and Pathophysiology at the Université Paris-Saclay.
Rebekah Mills ’23 CWSL, of Camden-Wyoming, Del., will graduate in May from the Charles Widger School of Law with her JD/LLM. In addition, Mills will also receive her degree in Art Law from the University of York in York, England this year. She received her Master of International Affairs from SIPA, Columbia University in 2020, and her Bachelor of Arts in History and Political Science from Barnard College, Columbia University in 2019. Throughout her studies, she has presented on the importance of cultural heritage preservation, connecting history to archeology, and archeological conservation methods at conferences and public talks around the world. At the University of York, she is the Art Law LLM student representative, a member of the athletics club, and was a research assistant conducting a literature review on Rohingya refugee migration. At Villanova, she was a student attorney in the Clinic for Asylum, Refugee & Emigrant Services (CARES). Mills has interned at federal agencies, nonprofits, advocacy groups, museums and archeological projects. In Bulgaria, Mills will research the country’s cultural heritage conservation efforts and upon returning to the U.S., she plans to work in cultural heritage law.
Olivia Nakhjavan ’23 CLAS, of Long Island, N.Y., will graduate in May with a Bachelor of Arts in Economics and Chinese Studies, as well as a Global Business Concentration. On campus, she was a student outreach director for the International Business Society and a director for Operation Smile. Nakhjavan is a recipient of the 2023 College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Anna May Wong Medallion for excellence in her major of Chinese Studies. Nakhjavan will begin her Fulbright award in Taiwan in August 2023, working as an English Teaching Assistant. Upon her return to the U.S., she plans to attend law school to study international business law.
Alison Pascale ’23 of Philadelphia, Pa., will graduate in May with a Master of Arts in Theatre. Pascale also holds a Master of Fine Arts in Dramatic Writing and a Bachelor of Arts in Art History from Fairfield University. She has research interests in musical theatre, early modern women’s religious drama and post-millennial ideology and epistemology. She was the president of her undergraduate chapter of Sigma Tau Delta, the English honors society, and she has published both creative and academic work. Pascale will serve as an English Teaching Assistant in Greece during her Fulbright year.
Hannah Pontari ’23 CLAS, of Middletown, N.J., will graduate in May with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and a minor in Public Service and Administration. Throughout her time at Villanova, Pontari held leadership roles, including development chair and diversity, equity and inclusion subcommittee chair, both for the Blue Key Society, and she was an active member of Chi Omega. Pontari also served as an English as a second language intern at the Nationalities Service Center in 2021 to guide refugees who had recently resettled in the U.S. As a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant, Pontari will teach English in the Czech Republic. Following the completion of her Fulbright experience, Pontari will pursue a career in public policy to bridge her passions for education and public service, and to strive toward equitable, quality education for all students.
Jamie Silk ’23 COE, of Long Island, N.Y., graduated in May 2023 with a Master of Science in Sustainable Engineering. Silk received her Bachelor of Science in Chemical Engineering from Villanova in 2019. During her time at Villanova, Silk served as a graduate student leader for the Villanova Engineering Service Learning program, in which she mentored a team of undergraduate engineering students and researched climate change impacts to water and sanitation in Madagascar. She is a recipient of the Fulbright Open Research Award in Norway, where she will research ongoing drought events in eastern Africa to identify key drought indicators which can be used to inform climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies in Norway and the U.S. Following the completion of her Fulbright, she will pursue a career in which her climate change research can be used to inform international climate policy.
Michael Sommeling ’23 COE, of Cherry Hill, N.J., will graduate in May with a Bachelor and Master of Science in Computer Engineering. While at Villanova, Sommeling conducted research in the Optical Brain Imaging Laboratory with Dr. Meltem Izzetoglu from Electrical Engineering, and in the Transportation Engineering Laboratory with Dr. Seri Park from Civil Engineering. He spent a summer internship at SLAC National Laboratory at Stanford University, and a summer at the NIH conducting research in the Section on Biomedical Optics. Sommeling was also a Villanova resident assistant, teaching assistant, tutor, office worker and member of several other organizations. Most recently, he founded the Engineering in Medicine and Biology student club. During his Fulbright year, Sommeling will continue research in Naples, Italy, at the Augmented Reality for Health Monitoring Laboratory (ARHeMLab) of the University of Naples Federico II (UNINA).
Jaysha Washington ’23 CLAS, of Manassas, Va., will graduate in May with a Bachelor of Science in Psychology and minors in Asian Studies, Cognitive Science and Counseling. While at Villanova, she spent four years as a laboratory technician in the Biology department, and as a General Biology teaching assistant during her senior year. After taking several courses within the Global Interdisciplinary Studies Department and a course in Cross-Cultural Psychology at Villanova, Washington became interested in the importance of acknowledging and learning the differences in cultures and how it shapes individuals. Jaysha is the recipient of the Fulbright Taiwan English Teaching Assistant award, as well as a JET fellowship award. Ultimately, Jaysha decided to accept the position with JET, where she will be teaching English and Psychology in Japan.
Rachel Westcott ’23 CLAS, of Media, Pa., will graduate in May with a Bachelor of Science degree in Comprehensive Science and French and Francophone Studies. A Saint Martin de Porres Scholar, Westcott is involved in various organizations on campus and has held multiple leadership positions, including drum major of the Villanova Band, president of the Pi Delta Phi French Honor Society and outreach chair for Unitas Pre-Orientation Weekend. Since her freshman year, she has been a part of Dr. Samantha Chapman’s research lab investigating the benefits of mangroves and coastal wetlands in northern Florida. Westcott studied abroad in Lille and Paris, France, during the summer of 2022 and is excited to return to France as a recipient of the Fulbright-CY Initiative Award to study Environmental Science at a master’s level at CY Cergy Paris Université. Following the completion of her Fulbright and the two-year master’s program, Westcott hopes to continue research in Ecosystem Ecology while contributing her knowledge of the French language and sustainability culture.
Nina Williams '23 CLAS, of Park City, Utah, will graduate in May with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and Humanities and a minor in Spanish. At Villanova, Williams served as president of the Villanova College Democrats, a Phi Sigma Pi National Honor Fraternity member and an undergraduate writing tutor at the Villanova Writing Center. She spent a semester abroad in Seville, Spain, and has used her Spanish in translation work for internships at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and as a co-educator for a summer school program geared towards first-generation English language learners. As a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant, Williams will teach English in Galicia, Spain, during the 2023-2024 academic year. Following the completion of her Fulbright, she plans on attending law school.
Villanovans recognized as Fulbright U.S. Student Alternates are:
Eleanor Bilotta ’23 COE, Civil Engineering, Study-Research in Finland
Margaret Cavanaugh ’23 CLAS, Environmental Science, English Teaching Assistantship in Bulgaria
Misha Datskovsky ’22 CLAS, Political Science, Study-Research in Estonia
Grace Lundell ’23 CLAS, Political Science and French and Francophone Studies, Study-Research in the United Kingdom
Corrine Sullivan ’23 VSB, Marketing, English Teaching Assistantship in Thailand
Esmeralda Zere ’23 CLAS, Psychology, English Teaching Assistantship in Albania
Villanovans recognized as Fulbright U.S. Student Semi-Finalists are:
Lauren Beizer ’23 CLAS, Political Science, Study-Research in Finland
Madeline Cerulli ’23 CLAS, Political Science and Peace and Justice, English Teaching Assistantship to Paraguay
Agnes Cho ’18 CON, Nursing, Study-Research in the United Kingdom
Annie Cowen ’22 VSB, International Business and Accountancy, English Teaching Assistantship in India
Eleanor Dalsass ’23 CLAS, Biology and French and Francophone Studies, English Teaching Assistantship in France
Anna Dos Santos ’21 CLAS, Biology, English Teaching Assistantship in Colombia
Michaela Feehery ’23 COE, Electrical Engineering, Study-Research in the Netherlands
Jordan Hicks ’23 CLAS, Biochemistry, English Teaching Assistantship in Estonia
Annelise Lauglin ’21 CLAS, Communication and Geography, Study-Research in the United Kingdom
Keely Likosky ’23 CLAS, Biology, Study-Research in Japan
Ava Lundell ’23 CLAS, English, Study-Research in the United Kingdom
Olivia Montanez ’23 CLAS, Psychology and Spanish Language and Literature, English Teaching Assistantship in Spain
Anna O'Keefe ’23 CLAS, Political Science and Communication, Study-Research in Italy
Avelina Petri ’23 CLAS, Cognitive and Behavioral Neuroscience, English Teaching Assistantship in Turkey
Pilar Wisor ’23 CLAS, Biology and Spanish Language and Literature, English Teaching Assistant in Spain
About the Fulbright Program: Since its establishment in 1946, the program has given more than 390,000 students, scholars, teachers, artists, and professionals of all backgrounds and fields the opportunity to study, teach and conduct research, exchange ideas, and contribute to finding solutions to shared international concerns. Fulbrighters address critical global challenges in all disciplines while building relationships, knowledge, and leadership in support of the long-term interests of the United States and the world. Fulbright alumni have achieved distinction in many fields, including 59 who have been awarded the Nobel Prize, 84 who have received Pulitzer Prizes and 37 who have served as a head of state or government.
About Villanova University: Since 1842, Villanova University’s Augustinian Catholic intellectual tradition has been the cornerstone of an academic community in which students learn to think critically, act compassionately and succeed while serving others. There are more than 10,000 undergraduate, graduate and law students in the University's six colleges—the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the Villanova School of Business, the College of Engineering, the M. Louise Fitzpatrick College of Nursing, the College of Professional Studies and the Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law. Ranked among the nation’s top universities, Villanova supports its students’ intellectual growth and prepares them to become ethical leaders who create positive change everywhere life takes them. For more, visit www.villanova.edu.