Eight Vanderbilt students engage with the world in a year of record growth for the Keegan Traveling Fellowship

Image depicts flight maps on a globe, based around the U.S.

The Office of Undergraduate Education in the Office of the Provost is committed to providing global experiences to Vanderbilt students, and the Michael B. Keegan Traveling Fellowship program is key to making that a reality. As we continue to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the fellowship, the program has made international learning opportunities available to a record number of students this year. Four students will be Keegan Fellows and travel the world for one year, and for the first time, Vanderbilt has also awarded four students a Keegan Fellowship to travel in summer 2024. The Summer Keegan Fellowship was launched this year and provides support for students to engage in immersive global experiences for their Immersion Vanderbilt projects. The Keegan Fellowship reflects the promise from the university and Keegan Fellowship alumni to provide transformative global experiences that foster the growth of future leaders.

The Keegan Traveling Fellowship program offers graduating seniors the opportunity of a lifetime by providing them with resources to travel the world for a year after graduation, delving into a research topic and/or creative interest that they personally designed. With a focus on experiential learning and an entrepreneurial spirit, the fellowship aims to cultivate leadership and global citizenship.

“The opportunities afforded by the Keegan Fellowship align perfectly with Vanderbilt’s emphasis on experiential education and the vision of globally engaged students who are bold in their commitment to broadening and deepening how they understand and solve issues in our world today,” Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education Tiffiny Tung said. “We are thrilled to see the Keegan program expand, offering even more students the opportunity to engage in transformative international experiences.”

Michael B. Keegan, BA’80, the alumnus after whom the fellowship was renamed in 2004, expressed his excitement about the program’s mission and its growth. “The pool of applicants for this year’s fellowship was truly exceptional,” he said, “and I am delighted to witness the remarkable growth of the program. It is incredibly rewarding to see so many students being afforded the opportunity to embark on this life-changing experience.”

This year’s exceptional postgraduate fellows are Sydney Featherstone, Rachel Lee, William Romero and Kaitlin Spiridellis:

Sydney Featherstone

Sydney Featherstone hails from the Washington, D.C., metro area and is majoring in history and studio art with minors in medicine, health and society and African American and diaspora studies. In Featherstone’s project, “Global Artivism – Exploring Art as a Mode of Social Justice and Community Uplift Globally,” she will study and engage with artists involved with social art practice, artists who use their craft to find solutions to social inequities across cultures. “I am eager to represent Vanderbilt University and the Keegan Fellowship on an international stage, immersing myself in diverse artistic communities and learning from their perspectives,” Featherstone said. “Upon my return to the States, I plan to utilize the knowledge and experiences gained during my travels to create a community project that addresses the specific needs of my local Black community. I’m thrilled at the prospect of using this fellowship to make a meaningful impact and foster positive change both at home and abroad.”

Rachel Lee

Rachel Lee, a human and organizational development and English literary studies major from Montreal, Canada, will undertake a project titled “Hear Them Speak: Constructing Memory Through Free Speech.” Lee’s work aims to unravel how nations, people and cultures construct and preserve memory in the face of censorship. By exploring the power of free speech and its role in constructing collective memory, Lee hopes to shed light on the resilience of societies and their ability to preserve history.

William Romero

William Romero, a political science and religious studies major from Youngsville, Louisiana, will embark on a project titled “Werq the World: Drag Activism from a Global Context.” Romero’s research will examine the art of drag from an international perspective, seeking to better understand cross-cultural distinctions among LGBTQ+ cultures worldwide. By delving into the diverse manifestations of drag, Romero hopes to foster greater acceptance and appreciation of these communities across borders.

Kaitlin Spiridellis

Kaitlin Spiridellis, a Spanish and human and organizational development major from Larchmont, New York, with a minor in environmental and sustainability studies, will embark on a project titled “Global Disparities in Drinking Water: A Systems Level Approach.” Spiridellis plans to explore the influence of procuring and consuming drinking water in the daily functions of global communities. Through her research, she aims to shed light on the disparities in access to clean drinking water and advocate for sustainable solutions.

In addition to the postgraduate fellows, Vanderbilt is introducing the inaugural year of the Summer Keegan Traveling Fellowship. This expansion of the program offers rising juniors and seniors the chance to take eight-to-10-week journeys of exploration and learning during the summer. The summer Keegan fellows will use the fellowship as their Immersion Vanderbilt experiences, blending the two mainstay programs. The inaugural summer Keegan fellows are Duaa Faquih, Aaliya Ramakrishnan, Nathan Bornstein and Ariel Olaleye.

  • Duaa Faquih, a junior majoring in political science and psychology with a minor in human and organizational development, plans to study how Islam is practiced around the world, deepening her understanding of the diverse interpretations and cultural nuances of Islam and fostering greater intercultural dialogue.
  • Aaliya Ramakrishnan, an international student and sophomore from Mumbai majoring in music composition and mathematics, will explore musical rhythm around the world and draw connections among rhythms and philosophy, society and community.
  • Nathan Bornstein, a sophomore majoring in political science and minoring in business and Japanese language, will study marine conservation policy through local citizens living in coastal areas throughout the world.
  • Ariel Olaleye, a sophomore majoring in musical arts in vocal performance and minoring in business, will explore the intersection of Western classical music traditions and Nigerian classical music traditions.

Vanderbilt and the Keegan Fellowship alumni community celebrate these new fellows and look forward to following them on their respective journeys.

For more information about the Keegan Traveling Fellowship program, contact Christina Cunningham in the Office of Undergraduate Education at christina.cunningham@vanderbilt.edu.