July 21, 2020

Three social work students received University of Washington Bonderman Fellowships recently, which will enable them to increase their understanding of themselves and the world in which they live. The recipients are: BASW student Boi (Gina) Casillas and MSW students Asha Abdulahi and Drew Pierce-Street.

The 2020 Bonderman fellows were selected during a time of unprecedented challenges. When travel can safely resume, the fellows will travel solo for at least eight months to a minimum of six countries in two or more regions of the world. Recipients were selected for demonstrating integrity, a capacity for vision and leadership, and a potential for humane and effective participation in the global community. 

Although travel plans are currently on hold, the program’s key goals— to get to know other people and cultures, to go beyond one’s comfort zone, and to see the world as bigger and more complex than before—are especially relevant now. The fellowship carries a $20,000 award. 

Undergraduate Boi (Gina) Casillas, a culturally mixed and non-binary person, is studying social work and the comparative history of ideas. A native of Joliet, Ill., Casillas has learned through personal experience the impact of exoticization, objectification and patronization and wants to use their strengths to forge a new path for mental health. Hoping to honor people who work to define their mixed identities, Casillas intends to travel to places of mixed cultures, such as South Africa, Brazil, Trinidad and the United Arab Emirates. Casillas is one of eight undergraduate students at the UW chosen for a fellowship.

Of the eight Bonderman awards to graduate students, two are enrolled in the MSW program.  Asha Abdulahi, from Lansing, Mich., has a lifelong interest in seeking deep connections and self-reflection. She is looking forward to challenging her own narratives while also gaining spiritual growth. With a passion to support communities of color on a global level, Abdulahi plans to explore the dynamics of religious homogeneity and tolerance. She also wants to focus on the impact of civil unrest and the importance of healing. Her areas of travel are Turkey, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, Rwanda, Zanzibar and Senegal.

Drew Pierce-Street, who is pursuing an MSW degree at UW Tacoma, has laid out an ambitious Bonderman journey. She will begin her travels in South America visiting Colombia, Ecuador and Peru, and then go to Cambodia, Thailand and Laos. Her journey will end in India and Nepal. Motivated by her own experiences during adolescence and early adulthood, Pierce-Street will examine the concepts of spirituality and resilience, exploring cultures that find their roots in meditation and mindfulness. 

This year, 16 University of Washington students received Bonderman fellowships. Alumnus David Bonderman, who has sponsored this program since 1995, provided a new $10 million endowment in 2017. See the complete list of 2020 Bonderman fellows here.

Since its inception, nearly 300 students have been named Bonderman fellows. The application process, open to undergraduate, graduate and professional students, includes an essay and an interview with faculty, staff and former recipients. The fellowship is for independent international travel only; Bonderman fellows may not pursue academic study, projects or research during their travel.