The Atkinson Opportunity Grant

All Atkinson Scholarship recipients are eligible to apply for an Atkinson Opportunity Grant, a one-time award designed to allow students to pursue a unique experience or opportunity.

Students have used the special funding to undertake a variety of travel, classes and community service projects that enable them to grow and expand their horizons. The results are often life-changing as the reports that follow demonstrate.

In 2017, students used the grants to study dance in Italy, join a shark conservation expedition in Belize, volunteer in Peru and work in a mobile medical clinic in Nicaragua.

Nathan Galloway: Yestermorrow

Nathan Galloway was an interdisciplinary studies major while at UMASS Amherst, but as graduation approached, he was antsy to do something less esoteric. He took an interest in sustainable design and green building and wanted to learn more about it. He used his Atkinson Opportunity Grant to gain hands-on training at Yestermorrow, a unique nonprofit in Waitsfield, VT that teaches design, construction woodworking and architectural craft. 

He joined a class of 20 other students of all ages who, like him, dreamed of some day designing their own home. The class project was a mock up house structure where students tinkered with a variety of power tools to cut and mill lumber, and assemble the frame of a house. The process was a lot more challenging than he anticipated.  “Growing up, I never had the experience of building things, but I enjoyed learning these practical skills.” 

Posted December 2016

Rusulenni Castro: Exploring Cuba

Rusulenni 2

Atkinson Scholarship recipient Rusulenni Castro, a junior at Bentley University majoring in corporate finance and accounting, used her Opportunity Grant to join her peers in the history class Cuba: Past, Present and Future on a nine day trip there in March.

Drawing on her Latin roots, Rusulenni has a personal interest in Latin America and has taken a related class each semester at Bentley.  The trip included lectures, museum excursions and a visit to a sugar plantation in the countryside. She was taken aback by the differences of communist culture where many basic necessities – like health care and housing – are free but an educated person earns just $30 a month.  The lectures gave her pause. “It was very interesting,” she says, “to learn about what we had learned back at Bentley but from the Cuban perspective.”

Posted on April 5, 2012


Adam Raphael: Eyes Wide Open in Ghana

Atkinson Scholarship recipient Adam Raphael, a junior at the University of New Hampshire, used his Atkinson Opportunity Grant to participate in the IFRE Volunteers Abroad Program in Ghana in July 2011. A trained EMT, Adam worked on the medical/healthcare project team, assisting the local nurses at the District Hospital with all aspects of clinical nursing.

Adam was kind enough to share an excerpt from his journal with us. It’s quite compelling.

July 2011

The past 12 hours of my life today have been a real turning point. It made me be thankful for everything I have ever had. It made me feel sympathetic, compassionate, and most of all love.

Adam RToday I was able to assist in three childbirths. I was able to hold new life in my hands and watch as new eyes looked back at me. The turning point for me, or rather revelation was as beautiful as life can be, it can also be horrible and unforgiving. While the first two births were successful, the third was not. This mother had spent a long time in labor without any modern drugs or medicine to help her along the way. This clinic I am working at does not have doctors, or even practitioners at the ready. They do not have modern equipment you might find on even the simplest ambulance in the western world. They have nothing. Nothing. The only thing attached to this woman was an I/V that was giving her minor nutrients and contraction medication. Twice she tried pulling it out. For the midwifes at the clinic, this was just a normal day at the “office.” For me, never even witnessing childbirth, this was hardly normal.

This woman would get up, try walking around, and the midwives would yell at her to sit back down. She was praying, screaming, snapping her fingers… I can’t even imagine what this must have felt like. About an hour into labor her mother came in and started talking to her in her native language, telling her to calm herself, be a woman… be strong.

Finally we started to see the mother crown. She wasn’t pushing enough. We saw kicking, moving of her abdomen indicating life, but she was not pushing. She tried to tell us the baby didn’t want to come out but we could see its head. Then what surprised me the most was in this

Adam Rcrowning stage, beginning her second stage of labor, actual birth, she closed her legs and stood from the table. She began hollering and yelling moaning. W

ith sweat dripping down all of our faces, it was time for a second try. This time one of the midwives went right in and began pulling the baby. There was no other option. After about two minutes, a baby boy entered this earth. He was not crying, not breathing. In this dark moment, I had to do something, what I was trained to do, suctioned the mouth then giving chest compressions and finally CPR. But it was too late. It was just too late. We did not have oxygen, we did not have airways, we had nothing.

We needed a doctor, a professional hospital, we needed to redo this all but we couldn’t.

This was a question I instantly began asking myself. What could I have done, what more could have I done? The sad thing is, I truly believe there was more that could have been done. I just wasn’t expecting something like that at all.

I have realized that life is unfair and can be so dark. I have found myself asking the question, why do some people live and others die? Who decides who lives and who dies? Realistically I understand there are no clear answers to these difficult questions. But what I know now on this day is that I have experienced a revelation. On this day I realize how lucky I am to be alive…how lucky I am to be healthy and live in a family that loves me and provides for me. Ironically, this all happened right before I am about to leave my teenage years. Today I was forced to be a man, to be mature, and defend life. This cannot even begin to be explained by words themselves. Today I am thankful for family, for friends, and for life.

Adam R










Shannon Ward: Finding her Way in Central Asia

Atkinson Scholarship recipient and Wellesley College anthropology major Shannon Ward used her Atkinson Opportunity Grant to extend her study abroad program in Nepal by seven weeks.

Her plan was to conduct ethnographic research on reproductive health issues for her senior thesis and she hoped to hook up with an NGO in Kathmandu whose staff would introduce her to potential interview subjects.

Sounds exciting, right? It was. But with minimal support and a tight timeline, making those connections proved a challenge, to say the least.

Undaunted, Shannon remained persistent (and flexible), adapting her research strategy to meet her needs. She describes the remarkable experience here.

July 3, 2011

To the Sudbury Foundation:

The Atkinson Opportunity Grant supported a seven-week extension of my four-week independent research with my study abroad program (School for International Training: Tibetan and Himalayan Peoples) to serve as primary data for my senior thesis in cultural anthropology at Wellesley College.  My original proposal was to conduct ethnographic research with an NGO providing reproductive health services in Kathmandu. However, once I was on the ground, I realized that this project was not feasible (mainly, I was unable to gain the support of an NGO). So, I adapted my research, with the help of SIT, to study reproduction and refugee identity in Dharamsala, India.

The data I collected was sufficient to complete my work with SIT, but would not have been sufficient for my thesis.  I conducted informational interviews about NGOs and reproductive health in Dharamsala.  However, I was only able to conduct ethnographic interviews with five women, one former political prisoner and four young women born in exile, mainly because I had not been able to make significant ties to the community in such a short time.

Shannon Ward-Tibetan Prayer FlagsHowever, the research I conducted during the seven-week extension was much richer.  During this research period, I conducted extensive ethnographic interviews with 33 Tibetan refugees (eight men and 25 women), most of whom have arrived in India in the past five years.  I also held discussion groups with students at the Tibetan Transit School (a boarding school for recently arrived refugees ages 18-34), and spoke with employees of the government in exile’s Refugee Reception Center, Department of Health, and Torture Survivor’s Unit.

This new data gave me a completely different view on the issues I am studying, since those born in Tibet have been raised in a completely different social and political environment than Tibetans born in India.  For example, some told me that before coming to India, they were not aware that people outside of Tibet spoke different languages and “looked different” than Tibetans.  In Tibet, many also considered themselves Chinese, were not aware of Tibet’s political history, and did not know that Tibetans in exile have a government.

Because I was able to gain deeper information from my informants, I refined my research topic to an examination of the influence of Tibetan nationalism and the refugee experience on reproductive choice.  I collected personal narratives and discussed with my informants their changing views on Tibetan identity after migrating to India, differing conceptions of kinship in Tibet and in exile, opinions about reproduction in general and their personal decisions surrounding family planning and reproductive health.  My tentative plan for my thesis is to examine the role of reproduction and the nation in life narratives, following the work of anthropologists such as Emily Martin (1987 The Woman in the Body: A Cultural Analysis of Reproduction), Faye Ginsburg (1984 Contested Lives: the Abortion Debate in an American Community), and Alexandra Halkias (2004 The Empty Cradle of Democracy: Sex, Abortion, and Nationalism in Modern Greece).

For four weeks, I also volunteered as a part-time teacher with Tong-Len, a Tibetan-run NGO serving an impoverished Indian community near Dharamsala.  I had hoped that working with an NGO would support my research, because Dharamsala is deeply embedded in NGO culture and interactions between the Indian and Tibetan communities figured centrally in my data.  At this point, I do not see my experiences with Tong-Len contributing directly to my thesis.  However, I feel that I was able to contribute to the organization, especially since I was the only volunteer teacher with knowledge of Hindi, and could therefore work more effectively with the children (who do not speak English).

Shannon Ward - Dalai Lama temple

This was my first time conducting independent research. I learned how to adapt my research to changing conditions, I developed more flexible research strategies, and I gained an intimate understanding of a small-scale community (the hallmark of anthropological research).  And, the seven-week extension was invaluable; it took me a full month to begin to make connections to the community that would allow for in-depth ethnographic research, as opposed to the one- or two-time interviews that I conducted with SIT.

I am confident that my data will be sufficient for a successful thesis.  In addition, I have co-authored a panel application to present my research, along with other undergraduates who have conducted research in India and Nepal, at the American Anthropological Association’s Annual Conference next November. Having independent research experience has also confirmed my hope to pursue graduate studies in cultural anthropology, and I hope that it will strengthen my applications.

I greatly appreciate all of your support, for my education at Wellesley and especially for this project.  I strongly feel that my experiences over the past seven weeks have helped me to grow as an individual, will greatly contribute to my success at Wellesley, and will aid me in achieving my future goals.


Shannon Ward
June 2011

Shannon Ward and Tibetan students

Photos courtesy of Shannon Ward

Photo 1: Shannon and her students

Photo 2: Shannon at the Dalai Lama’s temple

Photo 3: Shannon performing an offering of Tibetan prayer flags

Photo 4: Shannon and her Tibetan host family


Anjuli Wagner: Supporting Community in Ghana

In the summer of 2009, Atkinson Scholarship recipient Anjuli Wagner, a public health major at Tufts University, used her Atkinson Opportunity Grant to participate in a community health project in Adasawase, Ghana. Read Anjuli’s Opportunity Grant report..