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UD students, left to right, Anya Sen and Nana Ohemaa Asante,
traveled to France and Morocco and Los Angeles as the 2022 class of
The University of Delaware’s Plastino Scholars Program encourages
applicants to dream big. Driven by their passions and UD studies, this
year’s Plastino scholars took on research projects that provided
transformational experiences and empowered them to see the world, and
Plastino Scholar Nana Ohemaa Asante, a graduate student pursuing a
master’s degree in public health with a concentration in health policy
and management, applied to the program with a unique proposal: the
opportunity to spend a month training as a stuntwoman in Los Angeles.
Inspired by the Dora Milaje, the elite women warriors who loyally
protect King T’Challa in the movie Black Panther, her research explored
concepts of race, gender and beauty centered around the experiences of
Black stuntwomen 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 in
harm’s way to turn imagination into reality on screen,” Asante said.
“This trip was an exploration into Black women’s confidence and
strength, and how I get to that destination.”
Nana Ohemaa framed her Plastino Scholars experience as a “homage to
awkward Black girls everywhere” after struggling with her own body image
and self-doubt about her athletic abilities. During the summer of 2022,
she committed to a rigorous training schedule with classes in Muay
Thai, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, acrobatics, sword choreography, motorcycle
riding, 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 limits and the importance of rest.
“I am more in tune with the way I see myself,” she said. “I learned a
lot about pushing past the ‘I can’t’ to ‘I can’. I was afraid of pain,
and I had to get more comfortable with being uncomfortable, but also how
to listen to my body, and differentiate between fear and actual risk.
After this experience, I am more confident physically, mentally and
Along with her crash courses, Nana Ohemaa interviewed professional
Black stuntwomen and learned about representational barriers in
Hollywood, in addition to the emotional toll that some experience. A
lucrative and often underappreciated profession, many perform dangerous
stunts with little focus on mental health repercussions. As an aspiring
physician, she aims to take these lessons learned about treating the
holistic self and the importance of empathy. Furthermore, as a Residence
Life graduate hall assistant, she’s sharing her experience with other
Blue Hens and encouraging them to pursue research that challenges them.
“I’ve always been afraid of perception, but sometimes people aren’t
looking for you to fail, they are rooting for you to succeed,” Asante
said. “I would tell people about my project, and they would look at me
with admiration. 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 was applauding.”
Through the Plastino Scholars Program, students can employ their
creativity and follow their curiosities to pursue academic research.
Plastino Scholars have traveled to every corner of the globe, from the
peak of Mount Kilimanjaro to the capital of Estonia. To be considered
for the program, students must propose an experience that will allow the
pursuit of 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, located near
the historic Mediterranean port city Marseille, and Rabat, Morocco, the
capital of Marseille immigrants’ second largest country of origin.
Majoring in international relations and pursuing a triple minor in
French, legal studies and history, Sen 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.
Already studying abroad in France in spring 2022, Anya extended her
stay in the country and was able to link 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 it experiences less ethnic turbulence than other
French cities, tensions remain. A component of her research was talking
to local immigrants from Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco – former French
“It was surprising to find that people of North African descent
aren’t integrated or accepted into French society,” Sen said. “Even
those who have been living in France for generations can’t get out of
cycles of poverty and discrimination. There is an understood sense of
hierarchy. They speak French and consider themselves French but are
considered by others as ‘French without roots’. It opened my eyes to the
way that colonialism persists in Europe.”
Sen discovered that many immigrants experience second-class citizen
status, and 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 expression like wearing the
hijab and contributes to the marginalization of Muslim immigrants.
Along with exploring the legacy of French colonialism in North
Africa, Sen’s personal views were challenged by her experience in a
“Even though I tried to go into this with an open mind, I was
hesitant and nervous not knowing what to expect,” Sen said. “Visiting a
mosque for the first time, I realized how little I knew about Islam. The
community made us breakfast and talked with us, and it was the most
hospitable warmth I’ve ever experienced. When I went to Morocco, the
families were so friendly and would invite me to their houses for
dinner. I grew a lot by confronting my preconceived notions and
correcting my worldview.”
Sen plans to apply for a Fulbright Scholarship to continue her
research in this region and believes her experience as a Plastino
Scholar was instrumental in preparing her for future diplomatic
aspirations. Now that she’s back on campus, she can’t wait to tell other
people about her summer.
“It was an incredible experience. It’s so rewarding that I’ve been
recommending it to everyone I know,” she said. “People are surprised
that this is an opportunity available to them through UD. If you find an
issue you want to research, being able to delve deeper into that is
To be chosen as a Plastino Scholar, a student must present convincing
evidence of exceptional intellectual, creative, civic or leadership
ability through the application materials, written recommendations and a
personal interview before the Scholars Selection Committee. Students
interested in applying this year are encouraged to attend information
sessions on Tuesday, Sept. 20 from 5-6:30 p.m. in room 102 of Gore
Hall, Wednesday, Oct. 6 from 7-8:30 p.m. in room 104 of Gore Hall.
Move this whole section up, swapping places with the section above it.
The Plastino Scholars Program was established in 2007 by a gift from
UD alumnus David A. Plastino to help outstanding UD undergraduate
students realize their dreams by supporting them in self-designed,
off-campus learning experiences that create a difference in their lives
and in the lives of others.
The David A. Plastino Program awards study grants to selected
undergraduate students who exhibit extraordinary talent, promise and
imagination. The grants provide funds that make a transformational
difference in the lives of Plastino Scholars and enable them to pursue a
passionate interest to a degree not otherwise possible.
For more information on the program and the experience of past scholars, visit www.cas.udel.edu/plastino-scholars.
Article by Tiffany Hess-Bennette, photos courtesy of Anya Sen and Nana Ohemaa Asante
Originally published September 19, 2022