Magellan Project Encourages Travel

Magellan Project Encourages Travel
The Observer-Reporter 5 Aug 2013 While Maura Lyle’s friends were traveling the world this past January during Washington & Jefferson College’s intersession, she sat at home alone in Washington County. After traveling to Nicaragua as a sophomore and getting bitten by the “travel bug,” staying at home just wasn’t an option for her this summer. Through the college’s Magellan Project, she was able to accomplish that goal when she traveled to Peru for three weeks.

“(With) Magellan, they’re making their own curriculum, (it’s) student driven, and student executed,” Magellan Project coordinator Brianne Bilsky said. Established in 2008, the Magellan Project was created with the goal of extending liberal arts learning outside of the classroom.

When students apply for Magellan Project, they must create a project description describing where they hope to go, what they will study and how it will further their plans after graduation. They must also put together a budget, and after a committee reviews their plan, students can be awarded anywhere from $1,000 to $3,000 to fund their project. Trips can be domestic or international, and either an internship or independent research project.

There is no cap on the number of students who can be awarded funds for a Magellan project, and the first year it was established, 15 students were a part of the program. Since then, the organization’s numbers have grown – 65 students are participating just this summer.

From studying the coffee trade in Ecuador to health care in Peru, Magellan students have done it all.

“I always see on the convocation videos (where) everyone tells their stories – the Magellans they did. It was always something I wanted to do before I came to college,” Lyle said.

Lyle, who is majoring in biology and minoring in psychology, traveled to Peru with the Foundation for International Medical Relief for Children (FIMRC) so she could compare the country’s health care with the United States’. While in Peru, she worked in three separate hospitals – two public and one private.

“There were no private rooms in the public hospitals. They didn’t sanitize their tools, they didn’t put people under,” she said. “They would numb them. The one day we watched a surgery, they were removing a rod from a man’s thigh. It was the entire length of the man’s hipbone to his knee, and he was only numb from the waist down. He was awake the whole time.”

Lyle spent a lot of her time in a women and children’s hospital called El Carmen, where she got to scrub in on C-sections every day, see natural births, and help in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). “Out of the 100 babies that went into the NICU, only 5 would survive,” Lyle said. “Here it’s not like that. One doctor said if they had the resources they needed, and more staff, then that number would go way up.”

Sometimes, Lyle would even get to clean and dress the babies after they were born. “The were so precious,” she said. “They were so short for help, they let me and two other girls work the night shift in the NICU a couple of nights.”

Hla Hpone “Jack” Myint, a rising sophomore at Washington & Jefferson, also participated in a Magellan project this summer. But his was conducted closer to home.

A double major in political science and economics, Myint, who is originally from Burma, traveled to Washington, D.C., this summer. As part of his Magellan project, he is working at two separate organizations – the US-Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) Business Council and a Buddhist-Burmese refugee organization.

The US-ASEAN Business Council is composed of 10 countries and represents nearly 600 million people. The advocacy organization represents U.S. corporations working within the dynamics of South East Asia. Myint works from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday at the Burma desk. On the weekends, he teaches Burmese to children for refugee organization – both the culture and the language.

“A lot of the work is gathering information. News doesn’t translate as fast,” Myint said. Myint also gives updates and creates a “Culture Cheat Sheet” for businesses dealing in Burma. “Businessmen going into our country (ask), ‘How do we deal with the Burmese politicians?’ (It’s) very important to be mindful of that,” he added.

Both Myint and Lyle’s Magellan projects dealt with their plans and interests, but Magellan coordinator Bilsky said that isn’t always the case.

“(It’s) a mix,” she said. “Freshmen may just be pursuing their interests. Magellan is a great way to figure that out. (It) gives upperclassmen a greater sense of clarity. Students do more than just one.”