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Passion for Public Service: Luz Escobar Zapata ’24 CLAS Awarded Obama Foundation’s Inaugural Voyager Scholarship

Luz Escobar, smiling, stands in front of a tree in the fall season

Luz Escobar Zapata ’24 CLAS grew up in a section of Louisiana known as “Cancer Alley”—an 85-mile stretch along the Mississippi River named for its extremely high pollution and some of the worst air quality in the US.

A Peace and Justice major and Africana Studies minor, Luz has been inspired by her Villanova education to take action to help communities, including her own--and she is well on her way. Luz is one of 100 students selected from more than 1,800 applicants nationwide for the Obama Foundation’s inaugural Voyager Scholarship for Public Service.

“Dr. Rory Kramer’s class ‘Sociology of Race and Racism’ was one of the first classes that introduced me to terminology that could describe my experiences living in southern Louisiana" Luz recalls. “All my life I was shielded from the injustices the community was experiencing. When I took this class, I was learning about ecojustice, structural inequalities. His class inspired me to learn more about what I was facing, about the importance of knowledge in community.”

The scholarship, created by former president and first lady Barack and Michelle Obama with Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky, includes financial aid, a travel stipend between students’ junior and senior years, a ten-year travel stipend, and an annual summit and speaker series. Recipients, including Luz, are passionate about helping others and making a difference in the world.

“I want to use what I learn from the Voyager Scholarship to make sure Latinx communities are thriving socially and economically. I’m interested in community building within Latinx communities, especially political communities. I want to see representation in state, local and federal agencies.”

In summer 2023, she will complete a self-designed, six-week internship, which includes attending an international peace research conference in Trinidad and Tobago and creating a photography docuseries in Mexico City that highlights feminist organizations such as the Working Indigenous Women’s Rights movement.

Luz is grateful for the opportunities the scholarship will give her. She learned about the opportunity from Villanova’s Center for Access, Success and Achievement.

“I just applied within a week and did not think I was going to get it,” Luz recalls. “But I was motivated by the opportunity to have financial freedom to explore other communities I want to learn from and be a part of, as well as engage with a network of people and other Voyagers for the next two years."