The three University of Delaware Plastino
Scholars from last year presented their life-changing experiences and
welcomed the five new 2014 award recipients at a recent celebratory
Supportive faculty, family, previous winners and David Plastino, the
benefactor himself, congratulated these passionate students.
Established in 2007 by a generous gift from Plastino, a 1978 graduate of UD’s College of Arts and Sciences, the Plastino Scholars Program awards grants to undergraduates to support self-designated, off-campus projects of their passion.
These awards give students a chance to discover and follow their
interests, Plastino has said. “It takes a self-motivated individual, but
any undergraduate at UD has the opportunity to become a Plastino
Scholar,” he added.
One of this year’s recipients, junior Mark Rucci, turned his interest
in studying education policy in low-income neighborhoods into a
Plastino project. He will research programs across the country that
provide students with free meals, using the information to create a
similar proposal for the school district in his hometown of Wildwood,
“I’ve had a lot of opportunities to study abroad and travel, but for
me to design a project and have the University and Mr. Plastino find it
valuable is incredibly empowering,” said Rucci. “It’s amazing that as a
21-year-old they believe in me to go do this.”
One of last year’s winners, Alexandra Davis, a senior international
relations and public policy major with a minor in economics, used her
Plastino experience to learn about underprivileged, marginalized
communities and entrepreneurship in South Africa, working closely with a
nonprofit and a renowned think tank.
“No other traditional study abroad or internship of the sort would be
as transformative and educational an experience,” said Davis. “I
haven’t looked back since I got this award. I’ll never stop thanking
Next year, Davis is continuing on at UD to earn a master of arts
degree in urban affairs and public policy. She has just been named UD’s
inaugural Littleton and Jane Mitchell Fellow for Civil Rights and Social
Justice. She will return to South Africa for six months to conduct
research on economic and community development in the country’s
“What makes these students remarkable, and what makes them Plastinos,
is that they have energy and brilliance to put great ideas to work and
to create change in the world around them,” said Patricia Sloane-White,
the Plastino Scholars faculty adviser. “But it is Dave’s sponsorship
that makes that happen. Year after year, Plastino students tell me that
everything they’ve accomplished started with the experience they gained
from their Plastino project.”
2014 Plastino Scholars
Elana Berk,a junior hotel, restaurant and
institutional management major with a minor in advertising, from
Pennsylvania, will spend her six-week Winter Session in New Mexico
teaching Native American artists and craftsmen the skills to start their
own online businesses. In her project, called “Beyond the Blanket,”
Berk plans to help Native Americans in Santa Fe become autonomous
entrepreneurs using sites such as Etsy and Ebay and social media to
promote and sell their products on a global scale.
With the unemployment rate on reservations as high as 50 percent,
Berk hopes to empower artists in the community and give them an
incentive to preserve their traditions.
Becky Bronstein, an environmental science major with minors in
geography and environmental humanities, will follow her passion for
sustainable living by getting hands-on experience from four of the most
renowned sustainable communities in the world. This summer, Bronstein
will work on a permaculture garden at an ecovillage in Iceland, learn
from another ecovillage in Scotland, and volunteer with the first
sustainable town in Ireland. In January, she will visit the Seneca
Treehouse Project in South Carolina, a sustainable community and
learning center. As a member of Newark’s Down To Earth Co-op, Bronstein
plans to bring what she learns back to her own community.
“This award is a dream come true,” said Bronstein. “It’s an
incredible opportunity to have something like this funded and I’m very
Jocelyn Moore, a junior organizational and community
leadership major from New Jersey, will further pursue her interest in
human trafficking policy by volunteering at three different
anti-trafficking organizations this summer. During each three-week stay,
Moore will be part of the team, helping with planning and executing
events and initiatives.
Her goal is to gain a better understanding of how these organizations
function, with a focus on victim care, policy advocacy, public
relations, and fundraising.
Mark Rucci, a junior public policy major, created the School
Nutritional Awareness Consortium for his Plastino Scholarship – a group
of faculty, staff, students and parents that is strategizing policy
initiatives to offer public school students free breakfast and lunch and
healthier meal options in school.
Rucci will spend the month of June conducting research in five
different school districts throughout the country that are part of a
program that funds two free meals for students. Rucci will visit
Illinois, Kentucky, West Virginia, Ohio and Massachusetts to collect
data, talk to administrators and interview families. He will use his
research to create a similar program with the superintendent of the
Wildwood school district, where more than 46 percent of students are
living in poverty.
Cristian Vitale, a junior fine arts major and anthropology
minor from Newark, Delaware, plans to spend his Winter Session in
Cambodia for a cultural experience and a journey of self-discovery. On
Vitale’s first trip to Cambodia this past January, he started to learn
about Buddhism, which helped him come to terms with the emotions
following the loss of his mother. On his upcoming trip, he will immerse
himself in the culture to further understand what influences his own
He plans to meet and learn from Buddhist monks, study Cambodian art
and architecture and help underprivileged children turn their personal
struggle into artwork. He will document his experience with writing,
photo-journals and drawings that will culminate with a show at UD.
“Because of the struggle of my upbringing I like to find power in the
powerless situations,” said Vitale. “Like Dave says, he’s giving back
to us, and I want to give back to others through my artwork.”