For a second consecutive year, a BGSU student is honored as a national Obama-Chesky Voyager Scholar

BOWLING GREEN, Ohio – For the second year in a row, a Bowling Green State University student has been named an Obama-Chesky Voyager Scholar, making BGSU the only university in Ohio to have a Voyager Scholar in each cohort since the scholarship's inception.

Elyse Adrian, an Honors College student majoring in political science, is a junior who has amassed a long list of accolades and involvement at BGSU. She is motivated to make a positive difference in the world through sustainability and climate action and is already doing so through her Undergraduate Student Government executive board role as director of sustainability and her research into and advocacy of reducing the negative effects of single-use plastics.

Adrian says she was encouraged to apply for the Voyager program by Dr. Tiffany Smithers, then-assistant director for Fellowship Mentoring in the Honors College, who mentored her through the application process.

"It became clear from early conversations with Elyse that she is driven to make a positive impact on the world," Smithers said. "She has a focus on creating a positive impact and enhancing her community, and she has continued to pursue that goal."

The Voyager Scholarship was created by former President Barack Obama and former First Lady Michelle Obama and Brian Chesky, co-founder and CEO of Airbnb to help shape such leaders as Adrian. Even though they come from different backgrounds, both the Obamas and Chesky believe that exposure to new places and experiences generates understanding, empathy and cooperation, which equips the next generation to create meaningful change.

Adrian joins 99 other Voyagers who represent 33 states and territories and 74 institutes of higher learning. Last year, BGSU Honors College student Kaylee Ann Ries, who is majoring in psychology with minors in neuroscience and human development and family studies, was part of the inaugural Voyager cohort.

The two-year scholarship program is open to students entering their junior year of college at an accredited four-year college or university in the U.S. who have demonstrated a financial need and who are U.S. citizens, permanent residents or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals — DACA — recipients.

The scholarship gives college students up to $50,000 in financial aid to reduce college debt so they can pursue a career in public service, meaningful travel experiences, including a $10,000 stipend and free Airbnb housing to expand their horizons and a network of mentors and leaders to support them. After graduation, they will join the Obama Foundation’s global community, providing them with foundation resources and programming.

For Adrian, it was emotional to hear the news of the transformative opportunity that she won - and then keep it under wraps until the Voyager cohort was made public.  

"I kept checking my email anxiously, every time I received an email. When I finally received the scholarship notification, I was alone in my house, sitting on my couch, getting ready for work," Adrian said. "I screamed out of joy and started crying because it was such a surprise. I called my grandma immediately to share the news, and she screamed too and yelled the news to my grandpa in the other room. Then I told my mom but didn't want to tell anyone else because we couldn't until the press release was out.”

She said she's looking forward to the opportunity that the Voyager Scholar experience will provide.

"The Obama Foundation is providing us great resources to refine our Summer Voyage and figure out what we actually want to do with it. I'm trying to be as intentional as possible with it because I want this to be one of my first workforce-related experiences and my step into the career field, and I'm hoping to do something with climate change policy this summer," Adrian said. "I want to effect change in my lifetime and use this summer to learn what options I have."

Originally from Tulsa, Oklahoma, Adrian came to BGSU after the University showed up as her most ideal fit on a U.S. News and World Report assessment tool. She applied, earned an Alumni Laureate scholarship through the Honors College and fell in love with the University campus and community upon arriving for orientation, she said.

The opportunities for involvement and advocacy on campus add to her experience of being personally fulfilled while pursuing her degree, she said. In addition to the work she does as an Alumni Laureate Scholar, which entails at least 15 hours of service each semester, Adrian is the chair of the service committee and encourages other students to become involved. She also serves as vice president for Pi Kappa Delta and previously worked on campus as a student learning analyst and a peer facilitator.

In Spring 2023, Adrian was selected to give a talk at TEDxBGSU on ecobricking – the practice of condensing discarded single-use plastics into a solid form that can be put to use in a variety of construction uses — as a way to mitigate the environmental effects of single-use plastics. She is continuing to hold ecobricking events this semester to further promote the real-world benefits of containing plastics and building structures, and the mindfulness component that helps people start curbing their plastic habits.

As a third-year political science major, Adrian is pursuing a concentration in comparative government and two minors: peace and conflict studies and international studies. She said she's pleased to be able to immediately apply the concepts she's learning in her political sciences classes to make a difference in her campus community.

"I love learning in my political science classes and then getting to do it outside of the class immediately," she said. "Even without being in the workforce yet, I can see these things that are playing out in front of me, and it's crazy to see that and think, 'I learned about this in the classroom last week.' It's been fun to see where these kinds of classes intersect."

Her mentors and advisors are ready to watch what lies ahead for Adrian and the opportunities she'll be experiencing.

"I am so proud of Elyse. I believe there might not be a more deserving student at BGSU for this year's Voyager scholarship," Smithers said. "This scholarship aligns well with Elyse's values and interests, as she has always shown a strong interest in motivating fellow students to engage in service and contribute to their community."

Updated: 08/29/2023 10:49AM