Meet the Spring 2013 Unreasonable at Sea Scholars

For the Spring 2013 voyage, Semester at Sea teamed up with the Unreasonable Institute to offer scholarships to students who displayed the academic merit,  entrepreneurial motivation and the desire to make change in the world. Recipients of the Unreasonable at Sea Scholarship are expected to embody the spirit of Semester at Sea in addition to maintaining the highest standards of conduct and academic participation.

Students were required to write a personal statement reflecting on the South African concept of  “ubuntu” and how it relates to social entrepreneurship.  They were also required to write an essay on what they believe some of the worlds most pressing problems are and how organizations like Semester at Sea and the Unreasonable Institute as well as the upcoming generation play in addressing them.


Christine Irish

  • School: University of Michigan
  • Year: Fourth
  • Major: Political Science
  • Cumulative GPA: 3.7
Selected Honors, Awards, Leadership, and Service
  • Foreign Language and Area Studies Fellowship, U.S. Department of Education, 2011-2012.
  • Semester at Sea Alumni Endowed Scholarship and Merit Scholarship, 2013
  • University of Michigan Academic Honors Award, 2009-2012
  • National Society of Collegiate Scholars Member, 2010-Present
  • Grace and Ann Aikman Scholarship for Academic Excellence and Leadership, 2009
  • Co-founder and Fundraising Chair, University of Michigan Humanity First
  • Coordinator, One World One Future Charity Fundraiser
  • Academic Research Project Coordinator, Women’s Studies Department, University of Michigan
  • Intergroup Dialogue Facilitator, University of Michigan
  • ESL Teaching Assistant, Ann Arbor Public Schools and University of Michigan
  • Undergraduate Advisor to the Political Science Department, University of Michigan
  • Delta Gamma Phi Pre-law Sorority Social Chair and Pledge Educator
Personal Statement

A few years ago, one of the people I look up to the most told me something that scared me. “Being in college changes you,” my mother said. “You will be very different when you graduate than you were when you started, but that’s a good thing.” Though I bust my mom’s advice, the idea of an experience changing me so completely made me nervous. I liked who I was, and I didn’t want to lose any part of my identity and personality.

Three years later, I now know that my mom was right I am not the same person that I was three years ago, but allowing others that I have encountered throughout my college experience to shape me has been a good thing. My experiences haven’t changed the things that are important to me. I still value things like community service, activism, political engagement, and social change, and I still have the creativity, motivation, and passion that I had before.

What’s changed is that I have met others from different walks of life, with different experiences and lessons to share, who have helped me to gain more of the knowledge, skills, and direction that I will need to create a plan and take action, so that I can make a real difference in the lives of others.

The experiences and people that have inspired me and taught me most since college came from both inside and outside the classroom. From one of my favorite International studies professors, for example, I learned about the serious problems that people must face daily in the developing world, and that things we take for granted, like reliable energy, nutritious food, clean water, and education are out of reach for many families. Through my minor in Community Action and Social Change, I learned how to be an effective activist and community organizer by working alongside seasoned activists and social workers. They taught me that though creating significant social change may seem difficult, if you can effectively create a plan and engage others, there is no obstacle too large to overcome.

Outside of the classroom, I combined my interests, knowledge, and skills into practice. Using my love for filmmaking and the performing arts, I put together a team to organize a charity variety show for One World One Future, an organization that helps rescue and rehabilitate victims of human trafficking. Together, with the generous support of our community, we raised over $2,500 in a single night enough to rescue 25 people from lives of slavery, I also worked with a group of my peers to help found Humanity First, a student organization that fundraised, collected medical supplies, and recruited the help of doctors to bring medical care to a remote Guatemalan community. I was inspired to take on the project after traveling to Mexico and Brazil and learning firsthand how difficult it was for many impoverished communities to get basic health care and other resources.

I now understand that every individual is created, shaped, and changed by the people and experiences in their lives. It is for that reason that I would like to be a part of Unreasonable at Sea. Having read about all of the mentors and their amazing experiences, as well as the opportunities that the program offers for interaction with influential people around the globe, I cannot think of a better way to finish my college career and begin a new phase of change and learning. I hope to take what I learn and apply it to my goal of starting my own non-profit organization, so that I can use the gifts of knowledge and experience that I have been given to address the world’s most pressing problems. I can only hope that someday, I too will be able to mentor others and have the same positive impact on their lives that others haw had on mine.


Mary Rogers

  • School: Dartmouth College
  • Year: Second
  • Major: Math
  • Cumulative GPA: 3.5
Selected Honors, Awards, Leadership, and Service
  • National Honor Society 2009-2011
  • Certificate of Excellence, 2009-2010, Service and Outreach
  • Outreach Service Letter, 2008-2010, 100+ hrs. Community Service
  • Academic Excellence Award, 2010, IB History of the Americas
  • Academic Excellence Award 2009, Am. Literature, Math, US History
  • Pitkin County Republicans, August 2012, Volunteer
  • Presidential Debate at Dartmouth College, October, 2011, Volunteer
  • DeBoer Family Foundation, Member of the Board of Directors
  • College Republicans Club, Dartmouth College, Treasurer
  • Dartmouth Humanitarian Engineering Club
  • Action in Africa Club, Dartmouth College
Essay

“The value of life does not depend upon the place we occupy. It depends upon the way we occupy that place.” –St Therese of Lisieux

Living in Aspen, in Colorado, in the United States, in North America, on planet Earth, is a privilege. To me it is imperative that I am conscientious about the way I occupy the places I live and visit. Our communities, our country and our planet are faced with many challenges. If I, and others, don’t address these challenges and find sustainable solutions, our environments will deteriorate and may never be recoverable. We each need to do our part.

The most pressing problems in our global communities are numerous and widespread. Energy, clean air, water, forestry, wetlands, sanitation, hunger, poverty, homelessness, failing economies, terrorism, oppression and genocide are just some of the many challenges we are faced with as global citizens. Of these, one of my biggest concerns is about water, and how people and our planet will be detrimentally impacted if we don’t become more responsible about creating, maintaining and conserving clean water resources. “Some 1.1 billion people in developing countries have inadequate access to water, and close to half of all people in developing countries suffering at any given time from a health problem that is caused by water deficits.” (globalissues.org)

While the big problems that our global communities face are too enormous for anyone person to solve, I understand that collaboration and contribution from many individuals and organizations can create real change. The non-profit organization that I helped create, Action in Africa, works to provide support and seek solutions for impoverished people. One day, when I was in Uganda, the Africa boy sitting next to me became violently ill and he slumped in my lap, shivering and vomiting. We rushed him to a clinic where he was treated for malaria and he recovered. Shafik was lucky. Most children in third world countries who get water-borne illnesses will die. That day, I became committed to find a way to provide clean water to Shafik’s village. We have raised enough money for the well and are now working with an engineering company and other advisors. Shafik and the members of his community have the right to clean water. I will help them get it.

Water conservation is also a great concern of mine. Clean water is such a precious commodity in places like Uganda, yet is limited in places like the United States. Clean water is very inexpensive and many people take it for granted. Eventually our clean water resources will decline, costs will go up and we will be forced to conserve. As responsible global citizens, we should begin world-wide conservation practices now. As social entrepreneurs, we should continue to seek economical, responsible ways to create new sources of clean water. My generation must play a role in addressing the problems the world faces today. If we want to sustain and improve healthy living on this planet, we must get involved. Each young person should choose one global issue that they are concerned about and make a commitment to get involved in some way to seek solutions.

Being an Unreasonable at Sea Scholar would further my personal goals by allowing me the opportunity to engage with people who have been successful in seeking solutions to some of the world’s challenges. Aquaphytex, one of the eleven companies that will sail with Unreasonable at Sea, is of great interest to me because it provides clean water through natural wastewater treatment systems. I am confident that having engagement with the mentors, like my two grandfathers who are both successful entrepreneurs, will inspire and motivate me to be more proactive and engaged as a global citizen. The accomplishments of the Unreasonable at Sea Mentors are examples of the positive results that can come from hard work, determination and a genuine desire for the betterment of our communities, countries and planet. Being an Unreasonable at Sea Scholar will help me achieve my goals for the global community by furthering my education and deepening my knowledge of the planet’s needs to create, maintain and sustain clean water resources.


Chenxi Ouyang

  • School: Boston University
  • Year: Third
  • Major: Film/Psychology
  • Cumulative GPA: 3.1
Selected Honors, Awards, Leadership, and Service 
  • Student Leader, Central Asian International Export Commodities Fair
  • Documentary filmmaker for Uzi (Gansu, China) 
Essay

As far as I am concerned, the most pressing problem in global communities is the scarcity and unbalanced distribution of education resources. Education essentially offers students the capacity of self-education. Throughout one’s life, school ends eventually, but education never does. Education should open up an individual’s minds and hearts despite geographical restraint.

When I was eighteen, I taught in an elementary school in a small village in Hunan, China for three months. It was the first time for me to be an educator. My passion and hard work not only improved their grades, but also inspired the students to explore the world other than theirs. They realized they had more choices. I came to United States for college a few months later and was able to volunteer in a public school. To my surprise, many of the students hadn’t been out of Boston. Their families couldn’t afford the expense of their exploration.  They didn’t know much about other countries. I thus made a presentation on China for them. I showed them Kung Fu Panda and explained the Chinese elements to them; I took them to China by magic school bus (show them the pictures I took of China with the magic school bus icons on Powerpoint). They were attentive and fascinated. The teacher told me afterwards that the students all made China a must-visit place on their timelines. In the past summer, I was filming a documentary about a non-profit education-related organization in Gansu, China.

I interviewed the teacher of the school and asked her what she thought of their arrival. I expected her to say they were the intruders, but instead she said they were inspiration. Growing up in the mountain areas, the students’ vision were blocked by the giant mountains. It was hard for the students to imagine their future beyond the mountains. However, we came and let them know there was a world different from the mountains. It might not necessarily be better, but it was worth checking out!

Being able to live in two different countries and to sail around the world with Semester at Sea, not only do I feel lucky, but also responsibility to convey the messages from the world. As a student who studies psychology and film, I always feel this compulsion to tell stories of ordinary people: their love, lives, and their struggles. To be a spectator from a distance will not give me what I long for, which is the emotional burns caused by being too close to the light source.

Film is a powerful media to convey messages. I would like to explore more possibilities about what films can do to communicate different parts of the world on my voyage with Semester at Sea. To be an Unreasonable Scholar, I would have the opportunity to engage in complex global issues, which results in the problem of education. To understand is the first step that leads to change. Therefore, I believe with Unreasonable at Sea Scholars Program I will be able to realize my goal as an open-minded education practitioner and a sincere filmmaker.


Romain Vakilitabar

  • School: UC Boulder
  • Year: Third
  • Major: Marketing
  • Cumulative GPA: 3.59
Selected Honors, Awards, Leadership, and Service
  • Deming Center of Entrepreneurship Trep Scholar
  • Presidents Leadership Class Scholar
  • Flanagan-Walker Scholar
  • Leeds Mentors Participant
  • Residential Advisor (201 1-2012)
  • Selected Business Editor for the Conference on World Affairs
Personal Statement

My father’s roommate got executed when he was in college. My father hates talking about it, but once in a while I hear about some of the shocking things he saw as a political activist in lran during the revolution in 1978. My father’s drive to see peaceful change in the world inspires me to this very day. He would always wear his ideals on his sleeve. He did not believe that one person was insignificant in the face of change. Other activists who gathered at my house for tea every week, echoed the beliefs of my father and after hearing them talk about global problems ranging from Serbian Mlosevic to the Rwandan genocide in 1994, their idealism rubbed off on me. Sipping on black tea, and cradled on my father’s lap, I listened to their tales and fantasized about creating a movement that would mobilize hundreds to defeat Mlosevic and free the Muslims of Bosnia.

My father grew up in lran and my mother is from France, which created quite the international upbringing. I was sent to an international school at the age of three and by my fifth birthday, I was bilingual. At this international school, I was exposed to kids from many different cultures who spoke many different languages. The friends I made at my school and the international household in which I was raised shaped my belief in an interconnected world.

And it is only now that I realize how much I was impacted by this upbringing. I define myself by the political activists I grew up with because I take pride in acting upon my beliefs and my ideals. I define myself by my international upbringing because though I have yet to see the world, and though my education has never taken me outside of Colorado (Denver International School, Colorado Academy, and the University of Colorado) I have sought out international opportunities at home. This yearning for international experience drew me to the Conference on World Affairs (an annual conference in Boulder bringing panelists from all over the world) where I was soon selected to become a business editor, and drew me to Amnesty International where I was selected to go to the regional conference in Los Angeles in January 2012. Although I have learned a lot from both the Conference on World Affairs and Amnesty International, I am sill confined in Colorado.

My parents’ most powerful tool for change is protest and political activity, and though I attribute my desire to positively impact the world to them, I also define myself by the entrepreneurs who ham encouraged me to discover that my tool is social entrepreneurship. Being from Boulder, I have been able to witness social entrepreneurship through the Unreasonable Institute. I have seen how the entrepreneurs chosen for the accelerator do not have a mindset that is solely concerned with money but ultimately changing the way people define themselves. This realization has led me to understand that business isn’t business … business is people. There is no greater opportunity than Semester at Sea for me to see the world and to enable me to transcend the textbooks and transform my education into first hand global experience. There is no greater opportunity than Unreasonable at Sea to learn the practical skills and knowledge to change the world through social entrepreneurship than with Unreasonable at Sea.

About the Author

Communications Coordinator

Communications Coordinator

Established in 1963, Semester at Sea is the only study abroad program of its kind in the world. Using a ship as a traveling campus, undergraduates, lifelong learners, faculty, and lecturers live and learn together while circumnavigating the globe each fall and spring semester and exploring a world region each May and summer term. Credit earned is fully transferable by the University of Virginia.