Maya Earnest-Hawken Awarded Marcie WATERMAN Love '56 International Travel Grant

Ellis junior Maya Earnest-Hawken isn’t yet sure where her career, or even her college experience, will take her but she knows one thing for certain: advocacy is important to her, and she plans to focus on it in her future.
Maya has been awarded the Marcie WATERMAN Love ’56 International Travel Grant, and the experience it will fund for her this summer will put her directly on the path of bringing that plan to life. She will travel to the Dominican Republic for 16 days in June to participate in Rustic Pathways’ Marine Life and Coastal Restoration program, during which she and other high school students will work with FUNDEMAR, an NGO dedicated to the conservation of marine ecosystems.

“There were so many programs to choose from and they were really interesting places, but this one was very central to my interests, like climate advocacy and being able to connect it to empowering women,” Maya said. “I thought it would be fun to do a project where my interests intersect.”

The program will teach students about threats to local marine and terrestrial life and scientific conservation methods, and will involve a lot of hands-on experience such as constructing reef restoration structures, monitoring coral growth in a wet lab, and working on projects about the rehabilitation of mangroves and protecting sea turtles.

Maya has traveled abroad to visit family, and she has traveled within the United States for other academic programs. In the summer of 2023, she learned about global reproductive rights through a pre-college summer program at Brown University called Law and Social Change: An International Perspective on Reproductive Rights. She’s looking forward to an immersive experience in the Dominican Republic, which will be her first—but she hopes not her last—study abroad experience.

A requirement of the grant is that the student awardee uses the study as the basis for their senior project, and Maya is already thinking about how to incorporate her time abroad into her project theme. She hopes to interview some of the female scientists in the program about women in the fields of marine biology and environmental conservation. She also wants to do research about how the environment impacts Dominican women in terms of job availability, food supply, and health. She plans to create a program that she can teach to younger Ellis students and perhaps to other children in the local community when she returns.

“I think working alongside people who are very dedicated to environmental conservation and learning from their experiences will be really impactful,” she said. “I also think it’s amazing that this grant is a thing that can happen for Ellis students. The fact that I’m being funded to go and do something like this is really cool.”

The grant was generously established by Ellis alumna and women’s rights champion Marcie WATERMAN Love ’56. The award allows one Ellis student to design and pursue an independent study-abroad project to empower women or girls in developing countries. The awardee will participate in the travel program during the summer before her senior year. Funds are intended to cover the cost of a select study abroad program, transportation to and from Pittsburgh, and the possibility of spending money (with a total cost not to exceed $12,000).

“Maya is a student who is alive with curiosity. She thinks deeply about the issues that impact not only herself and her peers but she consistently pursues opportunities to engage with local and global communities,” said Upper School Division Head Lauren Fajobi. “Maya's earnest engagement with global issues and thoughtful approach to affecting change in our local community truly resonated with the Love Award committee.”

The Love Grant was last awarded in 2019, and wasn’t able to be awarded for several years after that due to travel restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic. Maya interviewed with Ms. Love as part of the process of applying for the award.

“It was so cool just to meet her. I feel like the questions she asked me were really interesting and made me think about things I wasn’t thinking about at first,” Maya said. “She asked me how I might give back to the community in the Dominican. I had thought about it a little bit but now I’m thinking more about how to work that into my project. This is going to just be a really special experience.”

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