Top Scholars: Marist Students Win

Nation's Most Prestigious Awards


Prestigious, nationally competitive scholarships help fund a student’s research interest or studies abroad. They also provide a valuable self-search process and foster mutual cultural awareness between people of the U.S. and other countries.

This spring brought not only April showers but the welcome announcements that Marist College students had been awarded two Fulbright U.S. Student Program grants and a Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship. The prestigious awards are federally funded and extremely competitive.

The news followed the announcement in January that Marist students had won some of the fashion industry’s most prestigious awards, the YMA Fashion Scholarship Foundation (FSF) Geoffrey Beene National Scholarship Awards, including one of its top honors. This past fall, two Marist students were awarded the Freeman Award for Study in Asia (Freeman-ASIA), and two received the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship.

Promoting such opportunities for students is part of Marist’s strategic plan. Since 2004 the College has had a full-time graduate school and fellowship advisor, Pat Taylor, within the Center for Career Services who guides students through the rigors of applying for federally funded scholarships.

The process of applying is itself meaningful, says Taylor, as students articulate in the scholarship application their most closely held values and goals. “The ability to do that is one that pays off repeatedly in every other competitive application a student might face: for other scholarship opportunities; for graduate school; for employment.

“The Fulbright, the Gilman, and the Freeman-ASIA all reflect our country's need to cultivate young Americans with a genuine sophistication about other countries’ cultures, political systems, and languages,” Taylor notes. “All students returning from these studies or research experiences come back with a level of maturity and depth that goes well beyond what they initially expected. In their professional careers, these insights benefit not just the scholarship recipient, but all of us.”

Further, the demanding screening process ensures that the students receiving these awards are good ambassadors for the United States. “These students contribute their unique skills and personalities in other countries, while creating mini-alliances and small international communities abroad.  Where U.S. intentions or practices have been most scrutinized, these students are by no means insignificant forces for change.”


Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship

Associate Professor of Environmental Science Zofia Gagnon, Goldwater Scholar Matthew Ruis, and School of Science Dean James W. DuMond Jr. on the Marist College waterfront

Goldwater Scholar Matthew Ruis '15 (center), shown with Associate Professor of Environmental Science Zofia Gagnon, one of his faculty research advisers, and James W. DuMond Jr., dean of the School of Science, will conduct a research project this summer focusing on the impacts of replacing the Tappan Zee Bridge on the beds and habitat of nearby oysters in the Hudson River.

When sophomore Matthew Ruis was a child growing up in Monroe, NY, some 40 miles southwest of Poughkeepsie, his grandfather took him to the Hudson River for his first fishing trip. His catch that day consisted only of a length of cable and an old boot, but as far as his love for the Hudson, he was hooked.

Now a dual major in environmental science and biology, Ruis’s interest in protecting the health of the Hudson River inspired a research proposal that has earned him a prestigious and highly competitive Goldwater Scholarship, the nation’s top award for undergraduates planning to pursue careers in science, math, and engineering.

Ruis is the fourth Marist student in eight years to win a Goldwater Scholarship. He plans to ultimately pursue a PhD in environmental toxicology, focusing on the effect of manmade toxins on ecosystems.

Concerned about the potential environmental impact of the planned replacement for the Tappan Zee Bridge, Ruis will conduct research this summer into the effects that different riverbed substrates have on the health of oyster populations. Specifically, his research project will focus on the impacts of replacing the Tappan Zee Bridge on the beds and habitat of nearby oysters in the Hudson River. 

From the time he learned of the Goldwater program and decided to develop a proposal, Ruis says, “I knew I wanted to do something on the Hudson River.” His focus turned to the potential impacts of the new Tappan Zee Bridge after he learned that the bridge plan calls for dredging as many as 13 acres of riverbed in what is critical oyster habitat. Vice President for Academic Affairs Thomas Wermuth, a Hudson River Valley historian and a member of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s panel reviewing designs for the new bridge, gave Ruis a copy of The Big Oyster, Mark Kurlansky’s book on the oyster's central role in the early history of New York City. The book further deepened Ruis's interest in the importance of oysters to the Hudson River.

Ruis has already conducted research on the Marist campus focused on mitigating the growth of the invasive Japanese Knotweed; at the Mohonk Preserve’s Daniel Smiley Research Center in New Paltz; and, under the supervision of Associate Professor of Environmental Science Zofia Gagnon, on silver nanoparticle absorption in Sphagnum magellanicum taken from a bog in Rhinebeck. 

This year, 271 Goldwater Scholars were selected from a field of 1,107 mathematics, science, and engineering students, virtually all of whom have the PhD as their long-term academic goal, according to the Goldwater Foundation that oversees the awards. Awards are made on the basis of merit to students who have outstanding potential and who intend to pursue careers in math, the natural sciences, or engineering. The one- and two-year scholarships cover the cost of tuition, fees, books, and room and board up to a maximum of $7,500 per year. The foundation is a federally endowed agency established in 1986. Since its first award in 1989, the foundation has bestowed more than 6,550 scholarships.


Fulbright U.S. Student Program Scholarships

 Heather Ayvazian '13, winner of a Fulbright U.S. Student Program Scholarship

Heather Ayvazian '13, winner of a Fulbright U.S. Student Program Scholarship

For a college student, finding your career path—that place where all your interests dovetail—is not always easy. Marist senior Heather Ayvazian of Franklin, MA, enjoys photography, film, Web design, graphic design, animation, art, teaching, and travel. Yet she shines at math: she tutors fellow college students in calculus and has been helping classmates with math ever since she was in sixth grade. “I love math,” she says simply.

For her, the place where her interests coalesce is digital media, a field where she excels in, among other things, writing code for Web sites. She is majoring in digital media, with a minor in photography.

At the same time, she is starting down another path: in January 2014 she will travel on a Fulbright U.S. Student Program scholarship to Malaysia to spend nine months teaching English to middle or high school students. The grant will provide her with plane tickets, housing, and a stipend. She is the 10thMarist student or graduate to receive the highly competitive Fulbright since 2003-04. She was one of 9,424 applicants for 1,824 awards.

The Fulbright is the flagship international educational exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government, designed to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and those of other countries. The primary source of funding for the Fulbright Program is an annual appropriation made by the U.S. Congress to the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the U.S. Department of State. Participating governments and host institutions, corporations, and foundations in foreign countries and in the United States also provide support. Recipients of Fulbright grants are selected on the basis of academic or professional achievement as well as demonstrated leadership potential in their fields. The program operates in more than 155 countries.


Ayvazian is already an experienced traveler and teacher; in summer 2011 she volunteered in Ghana for three weeks, teaching children through the organization Ghana ACT (Alliance for Community Transformations). She spent a semester of her junior year studying and volunteering as an English teacher in Florence, Italy, through Marist Abroad. This summer, after graduating from Marist, she will return to Ghana for five weeks. Starting at the age of 14 and continuing at Marist, she has served as a tutor in math, English, and Spanish.

Ayvazian is not afraid to work hard. Her Web site,, shows images she created in a darkroom, a skill learned in Marist photography classes under the tutelage of Marist photography instructor Dan McCormack. In Ghana, she not only taught children but also carried rocks and cement to help build the foundation for a school. This semester, she joined Habitat for Humanity and took part in her first build, across the Hudson River in Newburgh. In her internship this past spring at On Location Studios in Poughkeepsie, she worked nine hours a week restoring old photos and color-correcting new ones.

Throughout high school and college, she has spent summers and breaks working at CVS drugstores. “I have a long career at CVS!” she grins, adding that she enjoys working there. One of her duties there is working in its photo lab.

Ultimately she hopes to put her digital media skills and passion for teaching and travel to work for a nonprofit with an international focus. She has never been to Asia and thinks the Fulbright experience will be awesome.

“I’m psyched. I’m so excited. I can’t wait!”


Fulbright recipient Philip Lopez '13

Fulbright recipient Philip Lopez '13

In early May, Marist received word that another student had been awarded a Fulbright U.S. Student Program grant. Philip Lopez will be traveling to Vietnam in August to teach English for nine months. Lopez, of Bridgewater, NJ, is a senior with a dual major: business administration with an emphasis on emerging economies, and political science/public affairs. He is minoring in global studies.

Although he doesn’t yet know where in Vietnam the Fulbright will send him, he is delighted to be returning to the country where he spent the spring of his junior year. “It really changed my life forever.”

During that semester, he took classes on the language, economy, culture, politics, and environment of Vietnam throughLoyola University College at Ho Chi Minh City University of Social Sciences and Humanities. He also taught English at the university.

When not in class, he volunteered with a nongovernmental organization, Helping Hand Saigon, where he led English classes for young children. He spent his spring break visiting Cambodia and later traveled to Bali, Indonesia, as well as to Japan, Thailand, and Nepal.

Ever since leaving Vietnam, he has wanted to go back. He talked with his professors and others about how he could make it happen. He then sought advice from the Center for Career Services, where Executive Director Stephen Coleand Pat Taylor steered him toward applying for the Fulbright.

Lopez originally was inspired to travel by his family. His father taught English in Japan, he says, and his sister did biological research in Ghana. His long-term goal is to work for a multinational company, NGO, or a U.S. government agency in a position involving global travel.


French Government English Teaching Assistantship

 Devin Lamar '12, recipient of an English teaching assistantship from the French government

A French Government English Teaching Assistantship will send Devin Lamar ’12 to France.

Poughkeepsie native Devin Lamar ’12 has wanted to live in France since he was in seventh grade. Soon, at age 23, he will be doing it, thanks to a French Government English Teaching Assistantship.

From Oct. 1, 2013, to April 1, 2014, he will live in France—the exact location yet to be determined—where he will teach English to middle and high school students.

Lamar was selected for the grant by the Institute of International Education’s National Screening Committee, which recommends U.S. students for Department of State-funded Fulbright grants and other grants sponsored by foreign governments, universities, and private donors. His award, which came as a result of his application for a Fulbright U.S. Student Program grant, will cover a salary, health insurance, and housing.

He was one of 182 applicants for Fulbright English Teaching Assistantships in France. Six of these were awarded, and the Institute of International Education ranked the remaining applicants for consideration by the French government for its 50 assistantships.

“It’s been pretty much unbelievable, like a dream,” he says. “I’m ecstatic.”

Lamar believes his dream of living in France was inspired by his violin studies. He has played violin since third grade, learning the works of French as well as German, Italian, and Russian composers. “I was just obsessed with music,” he says.

He recalls what his father often said to him: “If you want to go to Europe so badly, make it happen.” So, after transferring from Dutchess Community College to Marist, he spent his first Marist semester studying in Paris at the Sorbonne. His father’s words again echoed in his head when Pat Taylor suggested he apply for a Fulbright grant.

Lamar already has extensive teaching and tutoring experience. He is the first Marist graduate to earn a dual major in French and history with certification in both for adolescent education. He has served two student-teaching internships, in Marlboro Central Schools and Red Hook Central Schools. He has tutored in French and history since age 15 at his own high school, Spackenkill, and he also has taught violin since then.

Currently he is a teaching assistant at Astor Services for Children and Families in Rhinebeck, NY. He works there six days a week and spends the seventh working as a lifeguard at a local pool. When he completes the assistantship he plans to pursue a master’s in special education.

Lamar says his parents greatly influenced him in fulfilling his dream. “My parents helped motivate me to get this done.”


 Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarships

Gilman Scholarship recipient Jocelyn Espinal '14

The Taj Mahal was one of many places Jocelyn Espinal '14 visited while studying in Pune, India, on her Gilman Scholarship.

A scholarship also made the dream of going abroad come true for Jocelyn Espinal of Brooklyn, NY, and Alirio Gonzalez of Rhinebeck, NY. In 2012 they were each awarded a Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship. Since 2004, Marist has had nine Gilman scholars.

Award recipients are chosen by a competitive selection process and must use the award to defray eligible study abroad costs including program tuition, room and board, books, local transportation, insurance, and airfare. The congressionally funded program is sponsored by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs at the U.S. Department of State and is administered by the Institute of International Education.

The goal of the Gilman is to diversify the kinds of students who study abroad and the countries and regions where they go. The Gilman Program awards more than 2,300 scholarships annually. In 10 years it has received more than 31,000 applications and awarded more than 8,800 scholarships to students enrolled in nearly 950 U.S. institutions.

With support from the scholarship, Espinal, a junior communications and advertising major with a minor in fashion merchandising, studied in Pune, in the state of Maharashtra, India, this past spring, taking courses in Hindi, Indian history, international relations, media studies, and comparative religion. She says the scholarship has made her feel as though she has wings. “I don't hesitate when I have free time from school and academic commitments to take a trip within India. I feel financially supported and don't have to think twice about going to a museum, a fort, and other monuments with entrance fees. I feel free to try new foods and travel to other regions of India.” She visited Rajasthan, Agra, Delhi, and New Delhi in northern India and Bombay and Goa in southern India and ventured to Phuket, Thailand, during her spring break.

“This scholarship really made my dream a reality and made my abilities abroad endless. I hope to encourage other eligible students to apply for the Gilman Scholarship. I also hope to encourage others to explore India.”


Gilman Scholarship recipient Alirio Gonzalez '14

Alirio Gonzalez '14, shown at La Puerta de Alcala in Madrid, studied Spanish, film, language, government, and literature in Madrid thanks to a Gilman Scholarship.

A Gilman also supported Alirio Gonzalez’s studies in Madrid this past spring. A pre-law junior majoring in English and philosophy, he took courses in Spanish film, language, government, and literature at the Universidad Carlos III de Madrid. He feels fortunate to have been able to travel within Spain to Barcelona, Granada, Toledo, and Salamanca and outside of Spain to Portugal, Morocco, England, France, Belgium, and Italy.

Winning the Gilman Scholarship means that all my efforts in life and at Marist have a value for which I am exceedingly grateful. It means having the opportunity to live a life in Madrid where I can experience things entirely unfamiliar to me while also having the opportunity to grow as a person by way of such experiences. Ultimately it means that there is always a way to attain one’s goals, as far reaching as they may at first appear.”  

More than 2,300 scholarships of up to $5,000 will be awarded this academic year for U.S. citizen undergraduates to study abroad.


Freeman-ASIA Scholarships

 Kristen and Allison O'Brien received Freeman-ASIA Scholarships

Kristen '14 and Allison O’Brien '14 sit above the Seoul, South Korea, skyline.

For juniors Kristen and Allison O’Brien, identical twins from Islip Terrace, NY, the Freeman-ASIA Scholarship was profoundly life-changing.

“Without this scholarship, it wouldn’t have been possible for me to travel abroad,” writes Kristen, an English major double-minoring in music and global studies, in an e-mail from Seoul, South Korea. “Receiving the Freeman-ASIA Scholarship has been an amazing once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me! I am also lucky because this is the last semester that students receive the scholarship.”

From 2001 to 2009, Freeman-ASIA supported more than 4,000 U.S. undergraduates from more than 600 institutions in their study abroad plans in East and Southeast Asia. With funding from the Freeman Foundation, the private nonprofit Institute of International Education relaunched the Freeman-ASIA Program for two academic years, beginning in summer 2011.

Marist has produced 10 Freeman-ASIA scholars since 2006. The spring 2013 recipients will be the last awardees as the Freeman Foundation funded the program only until summer 2013.

“I feel even luckier, because not only did I receive the scholarship, but my sister did as well,” says Kristen. “This only further convinced me that traveling to South Korea was fate for us.

“Allison and I were born in Seoul, South Korea, and we were adopted,” she says. “We’ve always wanted to return to Korea, to see our birth land, but due to financial circumstances, that was impossible.

“It’s ironic that about 20 years ago, we were making an unexpected journey to America,” she says. “Now, 20 years later, we are making another unexpected journey, but this time we are in Seoul, South Korea. I have literally thrown myself into the unknown, journeying to a country halfway across the world, making a journey that I never thought I’d make.”

“Freeman-ASIA has given me the chance to reconnect with my roots, while also experiencing a culture entirely different from my own,” says Allison, a graphic design major. “Initially I had a bit of a culture shock, more because I had not traveled very far before, and suddenly I was halfway around the world. I’ve never been away from my parents for very long, so I was glad to have my sister with me.”

Soon she would have more family with her. “After a couple of weeks of being in Seoul, Kristen and I finally met with our birth mother and sister in Hongdae at the Eastern Child Welfare Center,” Allison writes in an e-mail from Seoul. “The experience was unreal. It was amazing to see how similar our sister looked, and we learned that we inherited our artistic ability from our birth father. Our sister, Hyerin, majored in graphic design, aiming for the same type of career as me. She has the same bad eyesight, uneven teeth, and even the habit of walking with her foot turned slightly in like Kristen. We see our sister often, sharing the same love of music and art. Although there is a bit of a language barrier, it feels completely comfortable; she’s the sister we never knew.”

“Studying abroad is an amazing opportunity, and for me it has been more than just experiencing another culture,” says Allison, who plans to return to South Korea to teach English after graduating. “I’ve found a part of me that I never knew I had.”

“I have always felt like there was a part of myself that was missing—a part of me that I didn’t know,” adds Kristen. “After traveling to Seoul, experiencing the culture, meeting other Koreans, and meeting my birth family, I think I can finally say that I feel like I am whole. If it weren’t for the Freeman-ASIA Scholarship, this wouldn’t have been possible.”


YMA FSF Geoffrey Beene National Scholarship Awards

 Marist winners of the YMA FSF Geoffrey Beene National Scholarship Awards with Marist administrators

Marist faculty and senior College administrators joined Marist fashion students at the YMA FSF Geoffrey Beene National Scholarship Awards Dinner at the Waldorf Astoria in New York City. Marist students won eight awards, including one of four top prizes, a $30,000 scholarship, which went to Nicole Rodgers (back row, fourth from right). Photo: Joe Schildhorn 2013 Billy Farrell Agency


In January 2013, when the stars of the New York fashion world gathered at the Waldorf Astoria in January to honor industry leaders present and future, Marist students were front and center.

The YMA FSF Geoffrey Beene National Scholarship Awards, among the industry’s most prestigious competitions, drew entries from the country’s top 41 fashion and business programs, including Harvard, the Fashion Institute of Technology, and the Savannah College of Art and Design, in addition to Marist.

By night’s end, Marist students had captured six $5,000 scholarships, one $10,000 scholarship, and one of only four $30,000 Geoffrey Beene Scholarship awards, which went to Nicole Rodgers, a junior fashion design major from Byfield, MA. The New York Times mentioned Marist in its coverage of the event, which also featured industry achievement awards for designers and others.

To succeed in the scholarship competition, students had to demonstrate both fashion and business savvy in a case study that called for the creation of a pop-up shop for a fashion retailer that incorporates the latest technology. Scholarships were awarded based entirely on merit, taking into consideration the applicants’ GPAs, the completion of a case study project, a personal essay detailing their aspirations, job experience, community service, and how the scholarship money would be spent, and an interview with a YMA Fashion Scholarship Foundation (FSF) Ambassador.

“I could not be more pleased with the hard work and well-earned success of our students and the superb mentoring of these students by the fashion faculty,” says Fashion Program Director Radley Cramer, who, along with several members of the fashion faculty and members of the College’s senior administration, turned out to support the scholarship winners. “These students will become the next leaders of the fashion industry.”

With eight winners overall, Marist’s showing at this year’s event was its best ever. In terms of total awards among the 41 schools, it finished behind only Cornell University, which had nine winners. Relative to the size, however, Marist had the most winners among the field. 

Marist winners were: Maria Catalano, a sophomore fashion design major from Collegeville, PA; Kellie-Anne Cerini, a junior fashion design major from Nesconset, NY; Philippa Hatch, a junior fashion design and fashion merchandising double major from Middletown, MD; Jill Hub, a sophomore fashion design major from Pompton Plains, NJ; Dana Liu, a junior fashion design major from Northport, NY; Paige Palermo, a senior fashion merchandising major from Saugus, MA, who won $10,000 in recognition for being one of the top six applicants with the highest overall rating on their proposals; Marrisa Wilson, a sophomore fashion design major from Howell, NJ; and Rodgers.

Because of the prestige of the awards, Cramer says, their ultimate worth to the winners goes well beyond their dollar value. “Scholarship winners are sought after by leading fashion companies. They participate in a variety of events and internships that put them in direct contact with industry leaders. At the top level, the Geoffrey Beene award, the visibility for the student is even greater.” 

Rodgers has studied in two European fashion capitals (Florence and Paris) and interned at two top fashion houses (Kenneth Cole and Donna Karan). 

“I chose Marist because of the great opportunities it presents,” Rodgers says. “What sets Marist apart from other fashion schools is the well-rounded liberal arts education that fashion students are receiving along with their degrees.”

Rodgers participated in the Marist’s pre-college fashion design course the summer before her freshman year. Through that experience, she says, she grew as a designer and realized that fashion was her true passion. Last year, she won Marist’s Sophomore Design Award and the YMA FSF Scholarship, which made her eligible to be nominated by the Marist Fashion Program as a candidate for this year’s Geoffrey Beene Scholarship.

As a high school student in Byfield, Rodgers was creatively inclined. Fashion drew her interest because it provides an opportunity for everyone to be creative in their own way every day, in all circumstances.

“What I love about fashion is that you are creating an outlet for people to express themselves. Every morning, people wake up and make a choice, whether consciously or subconsciously, as to how they want to be perceived through the clothing they are wearing.”