Dostoyevsky's house, Novokuznetsk, Russia.
When the Magellan Project began in 2008, 15 pioneering students were awarded W&J funding to explore the world while pursuing independent summer projects and internships that extend liberal arts learning outside the classroom. Since that first year, the program has grown substantially. This summer, 65 students are completing a Magellan, which is a new record for the College. The previous high was 47. When all those suitcases are unpacked at the end of August, W&J students will have completed 215 unique projects and traveled to 26 states and 54 countries spread across six continents.
I consistently hear Magellan students say the experience changed their life, and as someone who spent three months of my junior year in the middle of Siberia--just a few miles from where Dostoyevsky once lived--I know exactly what they mean. Although my days as a W&J student were pre-Magellan, I have come to realize that my time in Siberia embodied the spirit of Magellan: a belief in taking responsibility for your own learning and breaking out of your geographic comfort zone. Empowering W&J students to be independent learners and feel at home in the world is one of the highlights of my job as Magellan coordinator, and since rejoining the College last August, I have been amazed by our students' intellectual curiosity and desire to become global citizens.
After reading these stories, I think you'll agree that what W&J students are accomplishing this summer is truly remarkable.
In an effort to share some of the results of all this independent learning, we have launched the Magellan Messenger
, a newsletter intended to connect the W&J community and friends of the College with Magellan. The Messenger
will feature articles from Magellan recipients as well as updates on events related to the program. Since we are in the middle of Magellan season, this first issue showcases articles and blogs students have written "from the field."
Brianne Bilsky, PhD, Class of 2005
Magellan Project & Fellowships Coordinator
Peer-Assisted Learning Director
Washington & Jefferson College
Coffee Trading in Ecuador
Chris DeNunzio, Class of 2015
Organic coffee ready for roasting in Loja, Ecuador.
This summer, I have been analyzing the coffee industry in Ecuador with a focus on both commodity trading and fair trade coffee laws. I have traveled to several coffee plantations, co-ops, and universities to research the coffee trade, which is an important staple in the Latin American economy. To cap my Magellan, I will meet with coffee traders in the New York City area to analyze another side of the business. I hope to learn about their decision-making process when determining the price of coffee, as well as their opinions for the future of the industry.
My contacts in Ecuador were eager to welcome me, and I have felt extremely comfortable here. My first day in Guayaquil I was able to sit in on a negotiation where 200,000 pounds of coffee were sold to an exporter to be shipped to the United States. I then was given a tour of the city by Andres Duran-Ballen, W&J Class of 1985.
The following day I attended a conference hosted by LA FEDERACIÓN INTERAMERICANA EMPRESARIAL entitled "Crisis, Globalization and Opportunities." The conference featured several keynote speakers from the Ecuadorian and South American community who discussed and debated current events. This was a fascinating opportunity to learn about the Ecuadorian economy, which is made up of mostly exports of oil and agricultural products. The country's political system was also an important topic as well. The newly re-elected president is a former ally of deceased Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, and many in the business community are unhappy with his re-election.
After leaving Guayaquil, I started my work on farms in Loja, Ecuador. Here I have traveled into the mountains to work with farmers and see the coffee production process firsthand. I learned that many farmers in this area have been frustrated with low coffee prices and are converting the soil to produce other products like oranges and bananas. This is a common thread throughout Latin America, which could lead to an increase in coffee prices in the near future.
Overall, everyone has been very welcoming and happy to discuss business ventures with me. Soon, I will be headed to Quito, Otavalo, and then on to New York City to do more research!
Coffee plant, Andes Mountains. Red beans are ready for picking.
Good Things Come to Those Who Wait
Jeff Germak, Class of 2014
With classes and finals finished, the stress was setting in that I had not received confirmation about an internship in New York for the summer, so I decided to follow through with my back-up plan and attempt to land an internship in Washington, D.C. With my internship last year at the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, I thankfully made a few contacts with other U.S. agencies, one being the Export-Import Bank of the United States (Ex-Im). If I did receive an internship, I was expecting it to be in the Office of Communications. While still at W&J, I received a phone call from a staff member at the Bank telling me that I can come in for an interview, but she did not tell me with whom it would be. When I arrived at Ex-Im, I was surprisingly taken to the office of the Vice Chair and First Vice President of Ex-Im!
What should have been a 15-minute interview to determine where I could be placed ended up turning into an hour-long conversation with her. We covered topics about sustainable development and renewable energy (which I could discuss because of my FYS Sustainability course), economic opportunities that empower women (which I could discuss because of my GWS course), and culture and society in Africa (which I could discuss because of my Intersession trip to Senegal and the Gambia). Thankfully, having the experience of receiving three live ram from the President of the Gambia gives you a fantastic story to tell during job interviews! At the end of the conversation, she unexpectedly asked me if I would be interested in working for her directly.
Since that time, I have been able to work on a variety of projects with actual substance. I also have had the pleasure of attending several Congressional events, sitting in on a variety of meetings, and working on planning events. This internship has been such an incredible experience that will continue to benefit me in the future. The D.C. experience is also something that I love and am thrilled to be having again, and I was ecstatic to be able to be present at the Supreme Court during the rulings on DOMA and Proposition 8. To be able to witness history being made is something that makes any life experience truly special. I certainly have W&J and Magellan to thank, and I now and forever will live by the statement, "Good things come to those who wait."
Jeff at the Supreme Court as the DOMA and Prop 8 rulings were released.
We're Going to Need a Bigger Boat
Jake Meyers, Class of 2015
Great white shark, Gansbaai, South Africa.
The great white shark may keep most people out of the water in Gansbaai, South Africa, the great white shark capital of the world, but for me, it's just a good excuse to hop right in. I have spent the last month working with marine biologists and ecotourism operators as an intern conducting research on great whites as well as learning more about shark conservation efforts with Marine Dynamics and the Dyer Island Conservation Trust. The marine biologists are primarily interested in shark tracking and dorsal fin identification, and as an intern I have been photographing dorsal fins for the study and spending many hours out at sea recording shark migratory patterns. One afternoon, I spent six hours out at sea in a nine meter boat tracking a 4.5 meter great white. All I could think about was that famous scene in Jaws where Brody says, "We're going to need a bigger boat." Unfortunately, great white shark populations are on the decline, and they have every right to be more afraid of man than we have to be afraid of them.
It is for this reason the Conservation Trust has partnered with Marine Dynamics, a cage diving company that brings tourists in a metal cage and drops them right into these shark-infested waters for a spectacular show. Shark diving in Gansbaai is the second most popular tourist activity in all of South Africa, second only to Kruger National Park. Although the tourists mainly dive in for the adrenaline rush, they actually are funding the very marine research I helped with as well as other shark conservation initiatives.
On the ecotourism front, I have been spending my time on this cage diving boat acting as an assistant to the crew by setting up the cage among other basic seamanship duties and explaining shark biology and conservation to the clients as they prepare to come face to face with one of the most feared creatures on the planet. This has given me the opportunity to speak to people from all over the world and learn of their opinions towards sharks and their conservation status. People are often amazed at just how vulnerable the great white is and are often quick to note how much Hollywood over-exaggerates both their size and behavior.
After four weeks at sea facilitating research efforts and getting the word out about sharks on the cage diving boat, I now find myself traveling along the coast of South Africa, couchsurfing and learning about the attitudes of the local people towards sharks in a country that was the very first to protect the great white.
Jake tracking great white sharks.
On the Wild Side
Sara Crayton, Class of 2015
Orphaned eastern screech-owl being raised at the Animal Rescue League.
This summer, my Magellan has enabled me to intern at the Animal Rescue League Wildlife Center in Pittsburgh. My internship has been an incredibly rewarding experience that has increased my passion for wildlife, my skills in animal care, and my interest in pursuing a career in conservation.
The ARL Wildlife Center takes in and rehabilitates all native wildlife except for deer. Most animals are admitted because they have been orphaned, attacked by other animals, hit by cars, or injured in other ways. The animals are treated for their injuries or illnesses and given care until they have healed and can be released back into the wild. We act as pseudo-parents and cautiously raise the orphaned or abandoned baby animals so that when they are returned to nature they are a wholly wild animal without having become attached or dependent on humans. Often the baby animals are extraordinarily time-consuming. For example, just-hatched birds need to be hand-fed every 15 minutes or they will starve to death, and some baby mammals can only be fed through a tube in their stomach.
This internship has allowed me to gain important skills in medical care. I have learned which medicines are commonly used for which injuries and species, various ways of administering medications, how to determine correct dosages, and how to perform some physical therapy. I also have had the chance to observe and help with many interesting procedures such as putting back together a turtle's shell after being hit by a car, stabilizing broken limbs, and removing parasites from wounds.
Working with wildlife has been incredibly rewarding. The animals are adorable, poignant and lovable while being unmistakably and fiercely wild. There is a fantastic thrill in watching injured animals heal and baby animals grow up until they are ready to care for themselves and can be released to live in the wild. The greatest challenge of the internship is when animals suffer injuries too severe to recover from and can only be relieved from pain by being put to sleep.
Sometimes animals lose the skills they would need to survive in the wild on their own or are unable to return to the wild because of an injury, and so they remain at the center as wildlife ambassadors that help us educate the public about conservation. Among these education animals are a very friendly porcupine named Irwin who enjoys climbing on people, two crows that can mimic human speech, and a portly squirrel named Twitch who has a defect that makes him even more erratic than a normal squirrel.
This incredible Magellan experience has allowed me to have a rewarding summer working with animals that I love and learning fantastic skills that I will use in my future career.
Baby bat admitted to the Center after his home was destroyed.
Beyond Human Trafficking
Jessica Dance, Class of 2015
This summer, I used my Magellan to complete an internship with Shared Hope International (SHI), a nonprofit organization in Washington, D.C., and my life will never be the same after this experience. Shared Hope International was created in 1998 by former Washington state congresswoman Linda Smith. The organization advocates for the prevention and awareness of human trafficking and sex trafficking of women and children. During my time with SHI, I had the opportunity to meet attorneys, law students, human trafficking survivors, advocates and judges.
The first week of my internship was very intense and busy. I attended meetings with staff members to discuss upcoming projects, conducted daily media monitoring, attended the Senate Caucus to End Human Trafficking and the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth, and much more. With such an intense schedule, at the end of my first week I thought, "Maybe I should have interned for Congress instead!". However, when I finished the internship, I was extremely proud of myself for holding on to this journey until the end.
In addition to being challenged by my work to prevent human trafficking, I also found myself challenged by life in Washington, D.C. Every morning and evening, I made the drive over Francis Scott Key Bridge, enduring the well-known "D.C. Traffic." One morning on my walk from the parking lot to my office building, I was witness to a car and bike collision. I quickly helped out the bicyclist and remained at the scene until the police arrived and took my statement.
My internship also opened my eyes to Washington D.C.'s struggle with homelessness. While driving around the city, I would see homeless people holding up signs for help in 90-degree weather. Every chance I got, I would give them a bottle of water, and they would be so appreciative. Every morning on my way to work, I would drive by a homeless woman on Canal Road and would look forward to giving her a bottle of water each time I made the trip. I soon found myself looking for her on my way to work every morning to help her out.
Overall, my D.C. internship experience was positive and eye-opening. I met a lot of great people, including my roommate from the Bronx. Even though the internship and living in D.C. was stressful, if I had the opportunity to do everything all over again, I would. But I would change one thing: I would avoid the roundabouts and getting lost while driving!
Jessica at the Senate Caucus to End Human Trafficking and the Congressional Congress on Foster Youth.
Bridging the Gap Between the U.S. and Burma
Jack Myint, Class of 2016
Jack and Thura Shwe Mann, Speaker of the Burmese House of Representatives, at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Thanks to Magellan, this summer I have had the privilege of carrying out an internship in Washington, D.C., at the US-ASEAN Business Council. ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations) is comprised of ten countries: Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar (Burma), the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam. It represents nearly 600 million people and has a combined GDP of $1.5 trillion. The US-ASEAN Business Council is a premiere advocacy organization that represents U.S. corporations working within the dynamics of South East Asia by providing informational resource/regional expertise, exclusive advisory services and organizing mutual dialogue between U.S. corporations and high-end government officials of all ten ASEAN nations. Member companies of the Council include Apple, AT&T, Boeing, Coca-Cola, Chevron, Citi, FedEx, Google, IBM, Time Warner, Walt Disney, and VISA.
My focus relates to my home country, Burma, and with recent transitions within the country and the sudden shift of the political atmosphere between U.S.-Burma relations, it couldn't get any more interesting! For the past 30 years, Burma was faced with global sanctions. But now these sanctions have been dismantled, and the country has become an economic interest and investment opportunity for major corporations all around the world. The U.S. has been at the forefront of supporting Burma's transition to democracy from the very beginning and thus became the Burmese government's first choice in initiating business collaboration to replace the once China-dominated market-based economy.
Therefore, Burmese President U Thein Sein visited the U.S. for the first time in July 2013 to promote friendly relations and cooperation between the two countries while simultaneously courting U.S. investors' interest in Burma. So, the Council hosted a dinner gala for him and his cabinet of ministers with a number of major investment firms, companies, NGOs, and think tanks. Quite coincidentally, that turned out to be my first day of work, and I had the honor of helping organize this event and meeting the President personally as well. The event, I believe, was a tremendous success as the very next day the President signed the Trade and Investment Framework Agreement with the U.S. government.
The next few weeks of work consist of helping the Council gather regional information by researching local news databases and sending out weekly news updates on Burma's social, political and economic affairs to member companies; creating Myanmar cultural "cheat sheets," as I like to call them, that would help our delegates get acquainted with the cultural aspects of the country and region so they are mindful of and sensitive to particular issues when dealing with locals and government officials; assisting in the planning of a Myanmar Business Mission delegation; hosting a roundtable discussion for a Burmese Speaker of the House of Representatives when he visited the U.S. last month; and helping with the newly implemented Corporate Social Responsibility framework that U.S. businesses are to abide by when conducting work with Burma.
I am fortunate to have been exposed to such ample opportunities, all thanks to the generous funding of Magellan, and look forward to sharing a lot more with fellow Presidents. Whichi Coax!
Jack at the White House on the Fourth of July.
Lessons Learned in Athens
Allyse Corbin, Class of 2014
For three weeks in June, I traveled on my second Magellan to the famous birthplace of theatre, rhetoric and democracy: Athens, Greece. First of all, yes, Athens is as beautiful as the pictures you see online. The sights were amazing, and I will never forget what my eyes saw and my camera was able to capture.
I traveled to Athens seeking a deeper understanding of the relationship and intertwined histories of theatre and rhetoric. I had expectations of art and museum exhibits dedicated to the founding fathers of both, but never found such displays. I searched for two weeks, going to all of the historical sights, museums, and even participating in a four-hour walking tour of the city, but no luck. This may sound like a bummer, but I did not let this disappointment define my trip because that is not what Magellan is about.
As cheesy as this statement may be, I am going to write it and you are going to read it: Magellan is about finding yourself. Yes, that may seem weird. Traveling to find the person you're always with? It took me a long time to appreciate this fact and own it.
I got to know myself through silence, strangers, homesickness, frustration, relaxation, loneliness, incomparable beauty and pure joy. It was a rollercoaster. And I happen to love those.
I feel like my Magellan is a really good representation of life in general. I was asking such a specific question and not finding the answers I wanted, but in the long run, I received the answers I needed to be a better person and to be aware of who I already am.
I learned so much while I was in Athens, but something that haunts me is the idea of being brave. To be honest, I have never ever been called brave so much in my life until now. People won't stop! I can't even give you an estimate of how many people have claimed that I am brave for doing this Magellan alone because I couldn't keep track. They called me brave before I left, while I was traveling, and people continue to call me brave after they learn more about my solo adventure.
Honestly, I feel weird. I didn't choose to "be brave." I didn't wake up one day and say, "You know what, I'm going to be brave today!". I actually planned to not be brave. I originally had planned to do this Magellan under one circumstance: that I wouldn't travel alone, that I would have a buddy. I eventually found out that this one circumstance would not be happening, but I knew I would regret it if I didn't take this opportunity. So, I went to Athens alone, and I wouldn't trade it for anything in the world.
Now, I see life through a totally different and completely "me" lens. Magellan is not about being a perfect student and getting all of the answers to your thesis. Magellan is about getting lost so that you can find yourself, not getting answers so that you can ask more questions, and getting to see some amazing parts of the world so that you can see your own world through your unique lens.
Allyse in Athens, Greece.