Yessica Martinez ’15 and Damaris Miller ’15 were awarded this year’s Henry Richardson Labouisse ’26 Prize, a $30,000 grant to support a year-long international civic engagement project.
The prize was formed in 1984 by Labouisse’s daughter and son-in-law, Anne and Martin Peretz.
Martinez intends to work with a community organization in Medellín, Colombia, which has been creating theater programs for almost 25 years. She will mostly be working with youth and younger children to develop creative poetry workshops focused around the urban environment, she explained.
“My dad is actually from that area, so that’s where my interest in that community comes from,” she said.
She noted that one of the requirements of the fellowship was that the project should be based on the applicant’s background and on his or her experiences, both intellectually and personally speaking. She noted that her proposal was very driven by what she believes she has learned at the University, as well as by her own personal experiences and her background. That focus is something that likely stood out to the committee who reviewed her application, she said.
Martinez added that, after her year of service, she is considering pursuing a doctorate in Spanish literature or urban studies, and potentially a career in academia.
Martinez was also the co-recipient of the University’s 2015 Moses Taylor Pyne Honor Prize, the highest undergraduate award.
Miller’s project centers around working with Tibetan Buddhist monks in their Himalayan monasteries to help improve their sustainability. She will travel to two clusters of monasteries, one in India, which she has previously visited, and another in Nepal, she explained. Part of her proposal includes working with residents to identify and locate projects that are important to them and helping find ways to make them successful.
Miller said she considers this project to be the natural culmination of all her projects and experiences over the past five years, she explained. Her Bridge Year experience in India, through which she began learning Hindi, and her time spent abroad in India since then have been formative.
“All my independent work has been on religion and the environment, and my thesis is on religion and the environment,” Miller said. “If there is anything I am prepared to do, it is this.”
She said her extensive thought process and passion likely came across to the committee, which is why she may have been selected. Though the grant is only for one year, she can see herself working on her project for more time, she said. The woman who started the initiative and with whom Miller is partnering has a strategic plan that far exceeds one year, which is why Miller’s plans may be longer-term, she explained.
“I know the things that I’m passionate about and that I’m interested in, and this project is the intersection of so many of those passions and interests, which is really exciting,” Miller said.