Photos courtesy of Anya Sen and Nana Ohemaa Asante
September 19, 2022
The University of Delaware’s Plastino Scholars Program encourages applicants to dream big. Fueled by their passions and UD studies, this year’s Plastino grantees took up research projects that delivered transformative experiences and empowered them to see the world and themselves differently.
Plastino grantee Nana Ohemaa Asante, a graduate student pursuing a master’s degree in public health with a focus on health policy and management, applied to the program with a unique proposition: the opportunity to train as a stuntwoman in Los Angeles for a month . Inspired by Dora Milaje, the elite warriors who faithfully protect King T’Challa in the film Black Panther, her research explored concepts of race, gender, and beauty centered on the experiences of Black stunt women working in the entertainment industry.
“I was interested in learning more about what it means to be a stunt performer in a body-obsessed industry. These women put themselves at risk to make their fantasy come true on screen,” Asante said. “This journey has been an exploration of the confidence and power of black women and how I get there.”
Nana Ohemaa phrased her experience with Plastino Scholars as “a tribute to clumsy black girls everywhere” after struggling with her own body image and self-doubt about her athletic abilities. In the summer of 2022, she committed to a rigorous training schedule with classes in Muay Thai, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, acrobatics, sword choreography, motorcycling and more. Along the way, she tested her endurance and discovered resilience by overcoming many mental and physical obstacles, but also recognized her body’s limitations and the importance of rest.
“I’m more consistent with the way I see myself,” she said. “I’ve learned a lot about moving from ‘I can’t’ to ‘I can’. I was afraid of pain and had to come to terms with not being comfortable, but also with listening to my body and distinguishing between fear and actual risk. After this experience I am more confident physically, mentally and emotionally.”
Alongside her crash courses, Nana Ohemaa interviewed professional black stunt women and learned about barriers of representation in Hollywood, in addition to the emotional toll some take. A lucrative and often underestimated profession, many perform dangerous stunts without paying attention to the mental health implications. As an aspiring doctor, she wants to leverage these lessons on treating the holistic self and the importance of empathy. Additionally, as a residence life assistant at Residence Life, she shares her experiences with other Blue Hens and encourages them to do research that challenges them.
“I’ve always been afraid of perception, but sometimes people don’t look for your failures, they cheer you on to make you succeed,” Asante said. “I told people about my project and they looked at me in awe. Even though I’m not the most physically fit person, they still encouraged me. The day I finally did my first handstand, everyone in my class applauded.”
Through the Plastino Scholars Program, students can use their creativity and curiosity to conduct academic research. Plastino grantees have traveled to all corners of the world, from the summit of Kilimanjaro to the capital of Estonia. To be considered for the program, students must propose an experience that allows them to pursue a passionate interest that goes beyond the scope of an academic course, normal summer job, internship, or enrichment program.
Anya Sen’s research took her to Aix-en-Provence, France, near the historic Mediterranean port city of Marseille, and to Rabat, Morocco, the capital of the second largest source country of Marseille immigrants. Sen is a major in International Relations and is pursuing a triple minor in French, Law and History. He is passionate about refugee and migration issues and hopes to become a foreign service officer. She designed her Plastino Scholar experience to gain a deeper understanding of culture, identity and immigration through a colonial lens.
Anya was already studying in France in spring 2022, extended her stay in the country and was able to combine her Plastino Scholars experience. She was interested in Marseille because of its diverse population, including two of the largest Muslim and Jewish communities in Europe. Although there is less ethnic turmoil than other French cities, tensions remain. Part of her research included interviews with local immigrants from Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco – former French colonies.
“It was surprising to find that people of North African descent are not integrated or accepted into French society,” said Sen. “Even those who have lived in France for generations do not escape the cycle of poverty and discrimination. There is an understandable sense of hierarchy. They speak French and consider themselves French, but are considered “French without roots” by others. It opened my eyes to how colonialism persists in Europe.”
Sen discovered that many immigrants experience second-class citizen status and that the colonial relationship is deeply embedded in the psyche of both groups. She described that in France, the “Laïcité” law, central to French citizenship, restricts religious expressions such as wearing the hijab and contributes to the marginalization of Muslim immigrants.
In addition to researching the legacy of French colonialism in North Africa, Sen’s personal views have been profoundly challenged by her experience.
“Although I tried to be open-minded, I was hesitant and nervous because I didn’t know what to expect,” Sen said. “When I first visited a mosque, I realized how little I knew about Islam . The community made us breakfast and chatted with us, and it was the most hospitable warmth I have ever experienced. When I went to Morocco the families were kind enough to invite me to their home for dinner. I’ve grown a lot by confronting my preconceived notions and correcting my worldview.”
Sen plans to apply for a Fulbright fellowship to continue her research in the region and believes her experience as a Plastino Fellow has been instrumental in preparing her for future diplomatic endeavors. Now that she’s back on campus, she can’t wait to tell others about her summer.
“It was an incredible experience. It’s so rewarding that I recommend it to everyone I know,” she said. “People are surprised that this is an opportunity available to them through UD. When you find an issue that you want to research, it’s amazing to be able to dig deeper into that topic.”
To be selected as a Plastino Scholar, a student must provide convincing evidence of exceptional intellectual, creative, civic, or leadership qualities through application materials, written recommendations, and a face-to-face interview before the Scholarship Selection Committee. Students wishing to apply this year are encouraged to attend informational sessions on Tuesday, September 20 from 5:00 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. in Room 102 of Gore Hall, Wednesday, October 6 from 7:00 p.m. to 8:30 p.m Clock in Room 104 of Gore Hall.
David A. Plastino Fellowship Program
The Plastino Scholars Program was established in 2007 through a gift from UD alumnus David A. Plastino to help outstanding UD undergraduate students achieve their dreams by facilitating them with self-designed off-campus learning experiences that a difference in their lives and in the lives of others.
The David A. Plastino Program awards scholarships to select undergraduate students who demonstrate exceptional talent, promising ability, and imagination. The grants provide life-changing funds for Plastino grantees, allowing them to pursue a passionate interest to a degree not otherwise possible.
For more information about the program and the experiences of past scholars, visit www.cas.udel.edu/plastino-scholars.