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4 Pitt students earned inaugural Voyager Scholarships

  • Community Impact
  • Global
  • David C. Frederick Honors College
  • Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

Four juniors from the Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences are among the first recipients of the Obama-Chesky Scholarship for Public Service, also known as the Voyager Scholarship.

The initiative, created by the Obama Foundation and supported by Airbnb co-founder Brian Chesky, gives students who want to pursue a career in public service up to $50,000 in financial aid as they finish college and a $10,000 stipend for a “summer voyage” to gain exposure to new communities and experience in their field. The University of Pittsburgh tied with Howard University for the fourth-highest number of Voyager Scholarship recipients of any institution of higher learning in the country, and the most of any school in Pennsylvania.

Pitt students Yali Beit-Arie, Braydan Issermoyer, Kiera Ledermann and Sydney Wilhelmy will have the opportunity to design their own summer voyages, which are work-travel experiences. In addition to having their summer voyage funded through the scholarship, the 100 inaugural scholars will receive financial aid for their junior and senior years of college and post-graduation benefits such as a 10-year travel stipend and access to the Obama Foundation’s network of speakers as they embark on their service-oriented careers.

“I am thrilled — and not at all surprised — that four of our outstanding undergraduates were chosen as part of the inaugural cohort of Voyager Scholars” said Kathleen Blee, dean of the Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences. “Now more than ever before, our students enter the Dietrich School with an understanding of, and commitment to, public service. They join our University community with front-line experience working for and championing causes and organizations that are important to them. And once here, they pursue diverse, often multidisciplinary, academic paths that prepare them to continue contributing to our increasingly complex world. I congratulate Yali, Braydan, Kiera and Sydney on this incredible honor and wish them well on their upcoming voyages.”

Beit-Arie, Issermoyer and Wilhelmy are dually enrolled in the University’s David C. Frederick Honors College.

“The Obama Voyagers program seeks to identify students who are leaders, who are creative, collaborative and can work together with others from across the globe to solve the biggest problems facing humanity,” said Nicola Foote, dean of the Frederick Honors College. “It is a tremendous reflection on Pitt and Frederick Honors that we have four students among the initial cohort — more than almost any other public university. Each of the Pitt Obama scholars are dedicated to justice and equity and will be working on themes of urgent concern including immigration reform and migrant experiences, voting rights and urban sustainability. I am so proud of our winners and grateful for the work of the Frederick Honors College scholar mentors who supported our students through their application process.”

Lesha Greene, director of national scholarships and post-graduation success, lauded the recipients’ commitment to the public good, one of the tenets of the Frederick Honors College.

“This honor reflects the potential of Frederick Honors and Pitt students to be change agents and leave the world a better place,” said Greene. “It is an amazing accomplishment to be a part of this inaugural class, and I can’t wait to see what they all do in the future.”

Help is available to apply for national scholarships

Frederick Honors College scholar mentors serve on scholarship review committees and have expert insights on what makes a strong candidate — and Pitt students don't have to be a honors students to work with a scholar mentor.

These experts provide guidance and feedback on application essays, coach students through mock interviews and help students prepare their recommenders in order to produce stronger reference letters. 

All Pitt undergraduate and graduate students are invited to schedule appointments with Frederick Honors College scholar mentors. Contact Lesha Greene at leg78 [at] pitt.edu to learn more about upcoming academic and research scholarship opportunities. 

In their own words

Here’s what Pitt’s Voyager awardees had to say about what the scholarship means to them and their plans for the future.

Yali Beit-Arie

Majors: sociology and philosophy

“I am interested in issues surrounding education access and equity, as well as criminal justice and immigration reform. I would like to spend the summer voyage perhaps in Europe where I could explore how different countries devote public assistance to social welfare issues and how they differ from the United States. Many countries in Europe devote large amounts of public assistance to social welfare issues including free or greatly reduced public higher education. The United States notoriously lacks proper publicly funded social welfare resources, so it would be illuminating to compare and contrast what I witness while abroad in comparison to what I have experienced and learned about in the United States.

“The Voyager Scholarship, and particularly the summer voyage, will allow me to travel abroad. My dream is to either study or work abroad and the Obama-Chesky Scholarship for Public Service will allow me to explore what it is like to live and work abroad. Traveling is a passion of mine, and the option to combine travel with work experience in the public sector while abroad is a truly unique opportunity.”

Braydan Issermoyer

Majors: political science and psychology; minor: economics

“Besides the immense amount of debt relief, the Voyager Scholarship will provide me with the once in a lifetime experience to study in different parts of the world that I would never have been able to see. My focus in studies is the political psychology of elections, and I hope to understand what forces, internal and external, motivate voters to either engage or remain absent from politics. I hope to travel to countries having elections, either at the time of my Voyage or shortly after. I am currently exploring my potential career paths and know this experience will help me refine my passions.

“Since 2016, I have taken an active interest in politics, especially analyzing and predicting elections. This changed in 2020 when I watched as restrictive voting laws began to be proposed across the country. I have always viewed the vote as the most powerful tool any citizen can employ to shape the government and policies directly impacting their lives. Attempts to restrict this re-invigorated my passion in electoral politics and inspired me to commit my life to public service. I hope to employ my passions in a potential career as a lawyer, fighting to strike down the barriers limiting our participation in democracy.”

Kiera Ledermann

Major: economics; minor: philosophy; certificate: sustainability

“One of the greatest things I am gaining through this scholarship is the community of recipients. Everyone has been so kind and supportive towards each other, and I think we’re going to be there for each other throughout not only our summer voyages but our lifetime journeys.

“Being a part of this scholarship’s inaugural cohort has opened so many doors for me and has made things possible that I never could’ve even dreamed. What I learn during this experience will stay with me throughout my career. While I’m not sure exactly where I’m going for my summer voyage, I intend to study the ways city governments can increase their capacities to fight climate change.

“Eventually, I would like to work in policy analysis or natural resource management. I believe the government — from the local to the national level — has not only the duty but the ability to combat climate change. Since I can remember, I’ve been attending protests against governmental climate passivity but have been disappointed by the lack of progress made. My goal now is to make the change I have been advocating for.”

Sydney Wilhelmy

Major: political science; minor: economics; certificates: Arabic and European Union studies

“Receiving the Voyager Scholarship is an incredible honor, and I am still trying to wrap my head around what it means for the rest of my time at Pitt and beyond. I am especially grateful for the opportunity to lighten the burden on my parents of putting three children through college at the same time. They are the most loving, supportive and hardworking people I know, and I am endlessly proud to be their son. I would not be the person I am today without them. I am planning to return to Europe for this summer voyage where I want to explore further the political and social relationships between Europe and the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region as they pertain to migration, foreign policy and human rights.

“My dream job is with the United States Foreign Service, although I am interested in the entire field of international affairs and international development. I've always held that a measure of professional success is whether the work I do leaves a positive impact on other people's lives — and combining this measure with my interest in international affairs and policy has led me to my current career trajectory towards internationally oriented public service.”


— Terry Rowley