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Elizabeth Cullen

The Engineering program that fuses this senior’s passion for academics and service

Editor’s note: Since publication of this story in President’s Report 2017-2018, Elizabeth Cullen has been awarded a Fulbright U.S. Student Grant for 2019-2020. Cullen will spend her Fulbright year as an English Teaching Assistant in Malaysia. Learn more about the 2019-2020 Fulbright Awardees.

Elizabeth Cullen, a young woman with dark shoulder length hair in a white blouse, jeans, and Converse sneakers

Somewhere between her first-year dorm room and a remote village in Madagascar, Elizabeth Cullen discovered her passion.

In her first year at Villanova, Elizabeth lived in the Faith and Reason residential learning community and was introduced to the myriad community service initiatives around campus.

Just when she thought she would have to pursue those opportunities in whatever breaks she could find in her Chemical Engineering studies, her adviser introduced her to the Villanova Engineering Service Learning (VESL) program. With its project offerings rooted in ethical engagement with communities around the world, Elizabeth wouldn’t have to choose between studies and service.

“I saw that Engineering and service could both be a big part of my experience here. Getting really involved in VESL was what gave me a big ‘a-ha’ moment and a vision of how I can continue to blend those interests in my career,” Elizabeth says.

On her first VESL trip, Elizabeth traveled to Nicaragua and worked with a team of students to construct a gravity-fed system to transport water from a spring into the village. Building on that experience, she then traveled to Madagascar.

For two months, she worked with a local organization and traveled to villages to talk with residents about their water infrastructure needs. She then helped to design and implement plans for a variety of projects, from dams and irrigation systems to bathroom facilities.

Seeing firsthand how access to clean water can transform communities, Elizabeth has turned her attention to the underlying research. For her senior project, she is studying innovative ways to decontaminate water using naturally occurring proteins that bind contaminants and make them easier to remove from water.

“Because of all of my experiences at Villanova, I have so much more confidence in my communication and technical skills, which I will need to work on clean water projects,” she says. “I’ve found what I am passionate about, and I’ve had so many impactful, hands-on experiences.”

Get to Know Elizabeth

Elizabeth Cullen in a Villanova t-shirt smiling with a group of children in Africa laughing putting their Villanova Vs up


College of Engineering


Chemical Engineering


Peace and Justice, Religion 

At Villanova

Fulbright Award Winner for 2019-2020; Intern for Catholic Relief Services in Madagascar; Faith and Learning Scholars Program; Villanova Engineering Service Learning Program projects in Nicaragua; Service Learning Community; delegation leader for the Ignation Family Teach-In for Justice


Richfield, Minn.

Words from a Villanova Mentor:

“I have been impressed with how Elizabeth has pursued research opportunities to address the needs of those lacking access to clean water. She has drawn on her international experiences in developing countries to work with me on a project to explore new methods of decontaminating water.”

—Dorothy Skaf, PhD, associate professor, Chemical Engineering