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September 2013

Each September, after all their suitcases are unpacked and they've resettled into life at W&J, every Magellan recipient submits what we call a reflective report: a document that attempts to chronicle the Magellan experience. These reports are an opportunity for students to reflect on the progress they made, the challenges they faced, the lessons they learned, and--perhaps most importantly--better understand how spending a summer pursuing a self-directed endeavor has changed who they are and how they see the world around them.


As part of my job, I get to read all of these reports, and with each one I read, I find myself truly inspired by what these students have been able to accomplish over a single summer break. Some return from completing Magellan projects having discovered their true passion in life while others return having discovered how they can make a difference in someone else's life. Whatever individual discoveries they make, students who complete a Magellan seem to have one thing in common: they are not the same people they were just a few short months ago. For most, life after Magellan means taking action, speaking up, and realizing the work they did over the summer is the first step toward something much bigger rather than a once-in-a-lifetime experience.


To kick off the new academic year, this issue of the Magellan Messenger features four reflective reports. Although each individual project was very different, the outcomes are largely the same. All four of these students have discovered the importance of taking responsibility for their own learning, which is one of the hallmarks of a liberal arts education.




Brianne Bilsky '05, PhD 

Magellan Project & Fellowships Coordinator

Peer-Assisted Learning Director

Washington & Jefferson College   



Talking About My Generation   
Natalie Gill, Class of 2016



Natalie Gill in London.

I am currently sitting on the porch of the Delta Gamma house on this cool summer night, replaying all of the eye-opening memories from this past year in my head. I am a sophomore in college now; as much as I try to, I can never make time pass slower. It is so very hard to believe that this time last year I was just beginning what would turn out to be the most enjoyable year of my life.


One year ago, I watched myself on the projector screen at Convocation; an enthusiastic seventeen-year old ready to see what W&J had to offer. I told the student body that I was an athlete who was interested in being involved with service, Student Government, maybe even Greek Life and absolutely do a Magellan project. I am proud to say that I partook in all of those things and then some during my freshman year here. Today, I again watched myself on the projector screen at Convocation, but this time I wasn't giving my opinion on extracurricular activities. Today, all of my peers were able to see a glimpse of what my summer and my first (but certainly not my last) Magellan project turned out to be. I cannot explain how proud I have been to represent W&J through this process and encourage others to apply for projects, too.


Being back at school has been more than exciting. This campus is my home. Everyone, even people I have never talked to before, has been coming up to me asking about my project and telling me that they loved my daily novel-length Facebook status updates and pictures. It has been very flattering to know that people actually are supportive and invest their time in me. I seem to be getting a lot of "What did you study?", "Would you do another project?", "Did you have fun?" questions, and my face lights up every time I tell someone what I, an eighteen-year-old girl who had never been outside of the U.S. or Canada, was able to accomplish and learn this summer.


On paper and the Magellan website, it says I studied "American versus European presumptions about today's rising generation of leaders," but I do not think this thumbnail description could even begin to cover the life lessons and things I learned about myself. For the project, which was based around my First-Year Seminar class on youth activism and social change, I surveyed tons of strangers in Ireland, England and France on what they thought about my generation. My mom actually came up with the idea to buy a hardbound, large journal and write all the interviews one by one (yes, it took forever) so that I could have the interviewees write in the book and be able to keep it as a memento forever. I am so glad she did that because it is one of the most interesting things I have ever read. The two-page questionnaire featured very thought-provoking questions about different values and opinions. I interviewed a girl from Italy; one from Singapore; two from Chicago; a guy from Turkey who lives in London; a Portuguese man who lives in Dublin; and two Mormon missionaries, one from Sweden and one from Brazil, just to name a few.


The books from my FYS class suggest that people my age are not nearly as motivated and ambitious as previous American generations, such as those of the civil rights movement in the 1960s. Promotion of change was natural and necessary for these young people to change the world around them and stand up for what they believe in, and they did just that. These books often ask why college-aged students are so hung up on monetary happiness and why they think they are so insignificant in the grand scheme of things, so I decided to put these questions to the test in Europe to see if Europeans' opinions differed on this subject. I was very surprised with the diversity of answers I received, but at the same time excited because they agreed with the books' conclusions.


One of the most compelling questions I asked was "Why do people go with jobs that make more money instead of ones they enjoy more?". The responses were generally similar: "We are raised watching people with money become famous and believing they are happy" (Phylesha, 20, Illinois), "To make what you love requires struggle, and that's what makes you love what you do. Sometimes people get tired of struggling" (Renato, 22, Brazil/Ireland). For this question, Paul Loeb, the author of Generation at the Crossroads (which I read in my FYS class), and I agree that things such as insecurity and the belief that money can buy happiness is a commonality around the world.


Another question I asked was "What are the most successful jobs to have and why?".  I kind of wanted to trick everyone with the vagueness of the word successful, which can vary in meaning from person to person. Some believe success is based on money, while others think it's based more on happiness. One of the most interesting answers I received to this question was from a 22-year-old Mormon missionary named Josef, who was born in Stockholm, Sweden and now lives in England. He said, "Honest answer: paying for the necessities. Because living in a way that keeps things good with others is desirable." The majority of my responses consisted of doctors, lawyers, and CEOs, just like I was expecting. But why is this answer so common? It is almost as if we are brainwashed as children to believe that money is the solution to all problems in life and the only way we will be able to afford these lifestyles and become happy is by marrying rich or being a doctor or lawyer.


These responses led me to my next question, "What is the driving force behind all things in life?". When I think of this question myself, I think of two answers: money and love, which are completely different. I was very pleased to find that many people said they wanted their children ultimately to be happy with their career choice, but it would be nice if they pursued a field like law or medicine for the financial flexibility, so long as that is what made them happy. Josef said, "I would like the child to make the choice, because it will be much easier for the child to make the effort," which is a brilliant response and extremely valid. It is so much easier for people to do well in things, whether they are classes, athletics or jobs, if they have interest and passion in them.


I believe the most rewarding part of this trip was designing a project that made me contemplate my life goals, morals and beliefs. While I interviewed people from a plethora of backgrounds, I caught myself trying to answer the same questions I was asking my audience. After interviewing myself and spending the month of June growing in maturity, independence and knowledge about life, I was able to become an even better person than I was when I left for my first ever plane trip. One of the hardest things I had to deal with during these four weeks was homesickness. I cried, told my parents I wanted to come home early, but finally figured out how to have a rewarding experience with the help of some awesome family and friends. I talked to some of my sorority sisters who just studied abroad and even met up with one of my sisters in each of the countries I stayed in. By the end of the month, all I wanted to do was stay longer and make more memories.


Because of my Magellan, I was forced to mature in independence and learn valuable life skills that I will use for many years to come. I am now an expert map reader and can effectively communicate with people who don't even speak a language that I am fluent in. I can survive on my own in a country I have never been to before, something President Haring-Smith hoped all of the Magellanites would be able to do upon completion of each project. I have come back to the States with a whole new outlook on life. With the aide of my project and its questioning of my generation's morals, I have decided to return to school this semester with big dreams. I have finally decided what I want to major in and what I want to pursue as a career. I also discovered what matters most to me in life: happiness, friendship and ambition. I am so very excited to begin planning my next Magellan and tell the whole W&J community how wonderful these projects really are.


Real Change Begins with the Children   

Paige Alderson, Class of 2015   



   Paige Alderson in Uganda. 


When people ask how I spent my summer this past year, I always smile. How do you tell someone about the struggles of people halfway around the world, with faces they've never seen, and voices they've never heard? Simple. You show them the same love that was shown to you from 7,374 miles away. This kind of love is as simple as washing the feet of a shoeless orphan, or serving a meal to a malnourished child. I never knew what it meant to be truly humble until I spent six of the most incredible weeks in Uganda.


June 14th. It was here, and it was real. The dream I had been planning for the last two years was finally about to become a reality, and all I had to do was take my first step onto that United Airlines plane. After three airline buddies, four boxed meals, and twenty-nine hours of flying I had finally made it ... and I was terrified! Immediately I was overwhelmed by the thickness of the air; the smell of decay, trash, dirt, and sweat. I knew that life would never look the same from this point on. How do you watch a man sleep on a pile of trash, in a polluted runoff where thousands of insects took claim to his body, and yet complain about an old mattress? In life we become so preoccupied with the way things are that we often overlook how they came to be. We lose track of our blessings and consider them entitlements which is perhaps one of the greatest crimes we can commit. The time I spent in the slums of Kyebando taught me to appreciate the little things: water, medicine, and safety. Working in an orphanage that housed 129 children taught me to appreciate family.


I stayed in a little village called Bwebajja, located an hour outside of the capital city of Kampala. God's Grace Orphanage was roughly two hours north of Bwebajja. I will never forget my first day there. Children rushed to greet you, to hug you, to touch you, and yes, even smell you. They were fascinated by a mzungu; that's a white person for those of you who do not speak Lugandan. I stared in amazement as the kids would compare my arm to theirs, my hair to theirs, my nose and even my feet. That is one of the best things about children, their curiosity. 


As I managed to traverse the sea of endless children I opened my eyes for what I feel was the first time in twenty years. It was a small house, roughly the length of an eighteen wheeler. To the right was a makeshift classroom that also served as a church. I'll never forget when Ruth Akello, a nine-year-old girl who remained attached at my hip, looked directly at me and said, "Thank you for loving us." Well, it's safe to say I began crying, and I could not stop. I'm not really good at holding my emotions in. I had known these kids all of five minutes and already I was thinking of ways to smuggle them into the United States.


The conditions at God's Grace are unlike anything you can imagine. The children are infected with ringworm, flesh-eating bacteria and countless parasites. Their hair has been shaved off to disguise the blonding tones which serve as signs of severe malnourishment; or their bloated bellies, signs of stomach hemorrhaging at birth and other deformities. The babies crawl around bottomless, soiling themselves and the ground they walk on. These conditions and other human rights violations I witnessed at the orphanage were atrocious, and I feel it is important to portray the lessons I've learned.


When I learned about the situation in my orphanage, I realized I needed help. I emailed everyone and anyone I could think of and the responses I received were to be expected. The common underlying factor in each was their concern for my well-being and their advice that I leave the orphanage immediately. Yet, this thought had never crossed my mind. For the past two years I have listened to speeches discussing what it means to have uncommon integrity. It is not something you achieve by doing what is easy; rather it is doing the right thing when all else tells you to go. I knew that if I left those kids I would have thrown out everything I've learned all this time. Uncommon integrity meant taking a risk that put others before myself but knowing in my heart that it was the right thing to do.


Working to help these children is the best thing I have done in twenty years. There isn't a day where I don't think about them. In all honesty, it kills me more and more not to be there to sing the "I love you" song with Sharif, to draw elephants with Britton, to race with Akimu, or to bathe those babies I love so much.


At first I only went to the orphanage five days a week, but after the third week I began going to God's Grace every day. Sofia and I began taking the ill children to the nearby clinic and getting them medications. We helped to vaccinate all of the children from some of the deadliest diseases plaguing the country. This is something that amazes me: how the simplest measure can have the greatest impact. Take malaria for example. If you add up every American casualty since the Civil War and multiply that number by two you have the number of children that die in Africa each year from malaria, which is a completely preventable disease. Along with vaccinations for them we began plans to get them out. 


The Ugandan Orphan Project, which will launch in September, is an initiative on behalf of the children at God's Grace Orphanage. All of the funds collected will go to the enrichment of their lives, whether it is new housing, clothing, food and/or schooling. Once enough funding is raised the Ministry will step in to close this orphanage and move the children to the new arrangements we have made.      


Gandhi once said, "If we are to teach real peace in this world, and if we are to carry on a real war against war, we shall have to begin with the children." This is my purpose: to bring hope to these children and give them the life they deserve because they gave my life back to me. These children are the reason I am becoming a human rights lawyer with a focus on children's rights. I owe that to them. I want to make the world a place where Muwangzi can be a doctor, or where Aklam has a bed to sleep on and not the outside dirt. Africa changed everything for me, and adjusting to life back in the States has been really hard. Perhaps the hardest part is accepting that while my perception on suffering has changed, others did not have the same experiences I did. They did not see the things I saw, and I cannot hold that against them. Instead I have to show them how life isn't always so picturesque. People forget how truly blessed we are, and it is my goal to remind us of those blessings daily and to never lose sight of that. I cannot thank the Magellan Award enough for this life changing opportunity. I never knew that helping 129 children would also save me.  



Paige with the children at God's Grace Orphanage, Uganda.  


8,009.3 Miles of Discoveries 

Emily Kauffman, Class of 2014  



   Emily Kauffman at Cadillac Ranch, Amarillo, TX. 


For my Magellan, I drove across the United States via Route 66 in order to observe and study how migration patterns of the Native Americans and Puebloans of the Southwest have helped make Santa Fe the artistic center that it is.  I visited many museums in the Santa Fe area, as well as National Parks in the Four Corners region, seeing everything from pottery and archeological research to Georgia O'Keeffe paintings that depict the terrain of the area.


I left my little village of McAlisterville, PA at nine in the morning, eager to begin what I knew would be the road trip of a lifetime.  I kept imagining all the amazing places I was going to visit and what I would do there.  I had an idea of where I wanted to be at certain times, but other than that, I had tried to limit a lot of the planning.  I realize that sounds backwards, as Magellan is supposed to promote these preparation skills that many college students lack.  However, in my case, I have a problem with over planning.  I do not like to do something unless I have completely planned it out, assessed the risk, and have a general idea of the outcome.  I decided that in order for me to "grow as a person" I would need to let some of this go.  Because of this, my Magellan was one of the best adventures of my life.


I did not make a single room reservation prior to my departure.  My only plan was to drive until I got too tired and then sleep.  So I did just that.  After spending the night in Washington, PA the first day, I set out on Interstate 70 West.  I figured as long as I kept following signs that ended in "west," then I would get closer to where I wanted to be.  The first day, I drove over ten hours, stopping only when I nearly ran out of gas in the little town of St. James, MO (my tank holds 13 gallons and I filled it with 12.994).  Across from the gas station was a cheap motel, so I checked myself in.  The next day, I drove all the way from Missouri to Texas.  The drive was incredible.  I stopped multiple times to take pictures and drive on sections of Route 66.  In Amarillo, I visited Cadillac Ranch, a public art installation where there are ten Cadillacs stuck upright in a field, covered in spray paint.  I added to the art, writing "W&J 2013" on one of the doors.  From Amarillo, I drove to Santa Fe, my first planned place to stay.


Santa Fe was where I got smart and bought a tent.  I was already tired of spending money on motels, and hostels were nowhere in sight.  I stayed one night in the city, and then moved to Black Canyon State Park, right outside the city.  I camped and hiked here for five days.  I made my food on a portable propane grill that I brought from home.  I became friends with the park owner.  I visited museums, traveled outside the city to Taos Pueblo, Chaco Canyon, Bandelier National Park, and Los Alamos to see the ancient art of the Puebloans.  I think about all the places that I went in the first week and I'm just amazed.  I would never have been able to do all of this without the Magellan Project. 


After a week in Santa Fe, I drove to Arizona.  My first stop was in Flagstaff, where the first thing I saw was a giant mountain in the middle of the city.  I used this as a base to travel to the Grand Canyon the next morning.  This was one of the places that I had marked as a "must see" of the trip.  I couldn't comprehend the scale.  It was completely huge, and I just stood on the cliff and stared for a long time.  I thought about how so many people live in one place their whole life without ever seeing the world.  It helped solidify my decision to travel after college.


In the northern Arizona area, I spent a night by Lake Powell, a beautiful blue lake in a valley, and the next morning, I drove to California.  I had planned on turning around after the Four Corners states, but I still felt the urge to drive west.  So I drove.  And I drove some more.  And then suddenly, I ran out of United States.  I got my first view of the Pacific Ocean (another check off the bucket list).  I stayed here for four days with a W&J student whose mother took me in like her own.  They grilled me California tri-tip steak, fed me all my meals, and gave me the guestroom.  It was a nice change from living in the tent, as well as from driving every day.  The stay made me appreciate those people who are so willing to take in travelers and take care of them.  Her mom later told me that I had helped her move in my friend two years ago at the beginning of fall semester before I really knew her, and they had appreciated that and remembered.  When I left, her mom used old hotel points to give me a free stay at a nice hotel when I passed through Missouri.  This wasn't enough for them, though, and they called up a friend they had in Las Vegas and arranged a place for me to stay, again for free.  When I finally did leave California, her mom handed me a giant bag of groceries, cases of water, and oranges that they had picked from the tree in their yard.  I was touched by their generosity, and am looking for opportunities to do the same for someone else.


I stayed in Las Vegas with friends of my California family, who fed me and gave me a place to sleep.  From there I drove to Mesa Verde, CO, the best place that I went the entire trip.  It was beautiful.  I stayed here for two nights.  I learned something very important about myself here.  I spent the entire day hiking and taking pictures, and when it got dark, I crawled into my tent and got out my laptop.  Where I believe that a normal person would go to sleep, I coded almost entirely my portfolio website.  It made me realize that web development must be something I need to work towards in my future, seeing as I'm sitting in the woods in a tent, reading by flashlight a textbook on web development that I bought a year ago for a class I hadn't even taken yet.


From Mesa Verde, I said goodbye to an Australian motorcycle gang that I had befriended the night before and left.  I took the scenic route, driving along the Rockies toward Colorado Springs.  It was roughly a seventy-mile drive, but it took three hours.  It was long, but the view was amazing, and I am already planning my return.  From the time I left Mesa Verde until the time I reached the place where I stayed the night in Kansas, I had driven sixteen hours.  The next day, I drove to Cuyahoga Falls, OH and stayed with Connor Alderman, another W&J student who had returned from his Magellan to Mexico the day before.  I stayed there for three days with him before driving back to McAlisterville.  The total drive was 8,009.3 miles.


Sitting at home, I remember thinking about how small my village is.  People were born here, and they died here.  Hardly anyone ever leaves.  I had already made the decision to see the world when I accepted my place as a student at W&J, and since then, I have been to Spain, Ireland, Puerto Rico, and now across the United States.  The study abroad experiences that W&J offers are incredible, and I will do everything to promote them.  Everyone dreams about things they want to do and places they want to go, but it is incredible to be offered an opportunity to do so.  The Magellan Project does just that, and I am so grateful. 


Taking a Moment to Look Around   

Kenny Roberts, Class of 2014  



Kenny Roberts with Senator John D. Rockefeller IV of West Virginia.  

On July 7, 2013, I packed my car to the brim with suitcases as I prepared for my journey to Washington, DC, where I would be interning with Senator John D. Rockefeller of West Virginia. The car ride was only about an hour and forty-five minutes from my house, but it was very much similar to my ride to W&J my freshman year: quiet and still. Being born in Washington, DC, and having grown up in the suburbs as a child, simply the opportunity to be at George Washington University, which is where I stayed, was an eerie thought. Sure enough, once I was moved-in I was greeted into my new home by different personalities: guys who helped me carry my belongings up four flights of stairs, to guys who were "too cool for school," or, in my case, too cool to simply say hello. I dwell on my experience moving-in because at the end of a busy day, 23rd Street NW, Apt. G, Washington, DC 20052 was the place I came to lay my head to rest and gather my thoughts. In addition, it was important to me to build a relationship with other summer guests who traveled from all over because they would play a part in my Magellan experience outside of the work place. It didn't happen all at once, but it did happen eventually.


Most importantly, on July 8 I began my first day as a United States Senate intern. My means of transportation to and from work was going to be the Metro. Every morning I encountered interns just like myself, eager to get to their respective internships, many working on Capitol Hill for the House of Representatives. On my first day at Senator Rockefeller's office, I found myself sitting in the waiting area near the receptionist and next to three other interns. We all sat in silence for a few moments until the receptionist welcomed us to speak to each other to become familiar with one another. On that first day, we were given a quick orientation of the two-storey office before the weekly Monday morning staff meeting, held in the Senator's personal office. It was at this meeting the interns were formally introduced to all staff members. A very intimidating and overwhelming experience at first, but due to the staff's openness and genuine receptiveness to having us this summer, I was more excited than ever to get to work.


One of the most notable statements I heard Senator Rockefeller say was: "I hope you all [interns] had a hard time finding the office this morning. I hope you all had the opportunity to see the dozens of interns that entered the neighboring offices this morning. Take this moment and look around. Notice there are only four interns in the office. I will not have more interns than there are available computers to exhaust. Having access to your own computer is going to be vital during your tenure in the office to conduct research, briefing, memos and other projects. It can be understood at some point during your time spent here that you may find yourself performing administrative tasks, but the majority of your time will be working alongside a legislative aide on issues you care about." When the senator spoke those words to us, it struck a chord in me. It was simply refreshing to be reassured that my time spent within the office was going to be meaningful and busy.


My time in Senator Rockefeller's office offered me a special experience in so many ways. For example, the senator serves as the chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, and as such, he has two offices: a personal office and a committee office. In order for the interns to truly become acclimated with his responsibilities, the interns were expected to spend a week each in the committee office.  I can honestly say this was one of my favorite experiences during my time spent on the Hill. I helped prepare briefing books, research background information, and write summaries on a hearing conducted on July 31 at 2:30pm: "Energy Drinks: Exploring Concerns About Marketing to Youth." The briefing books where used by Senator Rockefeller, Senator Blumenthal, Senator Durbin and Senator Markey. It was amazing to be in the presence of these senators as well as the elite individuals providing the testimonies including the CEO of Monster Beverage Co., the COO of Rockstar, Inc., and the VP of Redbull North America.


During my time on the Hill I not only was exposed to the operations of a senator's office, but I also got to witness events I would have never been able to see if I was not interning for Senator Rockefeller. I had the pleasure of meeting United States Vice President Joe Biden, attending Nelson Mandela's birthday celebration, and sitting in on a Steve Colbert interview session with all Capitol Hill interns. Experiences like these are not mentioned when an individual applies for an internship, but they make an everlasting impression.


Interning for a Senator that came from such an affluent New York family and chose to relocate to West Virginia to become a public servant for more than fifty years was, quite simply, an honor. When reflecting on my time in Washington, DC as a whole I can truthfully say it was such a humbling experience. The nation's capital is a city filled with very accomplished individuals, and the summer internship programs attract financially sound students from prestigious schools all over the country. When having conversations with students from well-known schools such as Harvard, Brown, UPenn, and Georgetown, I at first wondered, "Did I choose the right school?" However, by the end of the summer, thanks in part to my Magellan experience, I was able to say confidently: Yes, I did. Though many of the people I spoke to have never heard of Washington & Jefferson College, they immediately became jealous when I explained what Magellan was. The fact that any W&J student can apply to complete a college-funded independent research project or internship in any part of the world during summer break simply blew their minds. My time in DC made me proud to be a President, and it showed me I do not need the name of an Ivy League school on my diploma to be competitive. W&J gave me the ability to explore a place of my choice and grow, and for that I am forever grateful.


Issue 3 

In This Issue
Talking About My Generation
Real Change Begins with the Children
8,900.3 Miles of Discoveries
Taking a Moment to Look Around
Current freshmen, sophomores, and juniors: Interested in applying for a Magellan? The 2014 application is now available.

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