Two Trinity College Students Awarded Projects for Peace Grants of $10,000

Mariam Avagyan ’18 and Ukuch Gabriel Ligol ’19 Design Projects to Make the World a Better Place

​Hartford, Connecticut, May 7, 2018—Two Trinity College students have each been awarded Projects for Peace grants to implement self-designed projects with the goal of promoting peace around the world. The grants awarded to Mariam Avagyan ’18 and Ukuch Gabriel Ligol ’19 are valued at $10,000 each. Avagyan’s project will offer a two-week robotics programming summer camp for middle school students in Armenia, while Ligol’s project is aimed at helping reconcile tribal conflicts in South Sudan through sport.

In the its 12th year, the Projects for Peace program is an invitation to undergraduates at the American colleges and universities in the Davis United World College Scholars Program to design grassroots projects that they will implement during the summer of 2018. The projects judged to be the most promising and feasible will be funded at $10,000 each. The objective is to encourage and support today’s motivated youth to create and try out their own ideas for building peace. The initiative was inspired by the late Kathryn W. Davis, an accomplished internationalist and philanthropist. Upon the occasion of her 100th birthday in February of 2007, Davis, mother of Shelby M.C. Davis who funds the Davis UWC Scholars Program, chose to celebrate by committing $1 million for 100 Projects for Peace. Trinity students have received funding for 15 projects in the past 12 years.

​Mariam Avagyan ’18
Avagyan, who grew up in Armenia and is completing a double major in mathematics and engineering (electrical), first learned about the Projects for Peace grant opportunity through the Interdisciplinary Science Program (ISP) during her first year at Trinity. While she has always had a desire to make a positive impact on the world, it wasn’t until April 2016 that Avagyan realized what she wanted to do. “On April 1, 2016, I woke up to tragic news that Azerbaijan had attacked the Nagorno-Karabakh autonomous region [where 95 percent of the population is Armenian], killing civilians and soldiers. Some of these soldiers were my peers, friends, and classmates, and I felt terrible for not being there for my country and nation during the difficult times,” she said.

Now that Avagyan had a clear idea of whom she wanted to help, all she needed was an idea of how to actually promote peace in this region, which came to her the summer before her senior year at Trinity. “I had the opportunity to work with MIT, Learntribute LLC, and NASA to teach middle school students how to program SPHERE satellites that are currently on the International Space Station for research purposes,” she said. “The children had the chance to participate in the Zero Robotics competition by NASA.”

Avagyan partnered with YES Armenia, a non-governmental organization, to design this summer’s two-week robotics programming camp in Armenia, which became the focus of her project proposal. As Avagyan wrote in her proposal, “We wish to give children hope for peace and a bright future through education. As children are taught to stay away from machines, such as tanks, drones and guns, people fear and detest engineering. We want to show how engineering, instead of being used to create warfare, can be used to create products that will help people lead a better life.” With the Davis Projects for Peace grant, paired with a matching grant from World Vision, she hopes to make a major impact with her project, ZeRoRo.

Avagyan said that Alison Draper, director of Trinity’s Interdisciplinary Science Center, introduced her to the grant through the ISP seminar. Draper uses Projects for Peace as a grant-writing assignment, as she said it is important for scientists to have the experience of writing proposals. Draper is optimistic about Avagyan’s project. “Mariam is an amazing student who has changed Trinity for the better, and it is fantastic—but not surprising—to see her start to change the world for the better,” Draper said. “She is someone who will exceed anyone’s expectations and I have no doubt that her Project for Peace will be enormously successful.”

​Ukuch Gabriel Ligol ’19
Ligol’s project, “Youths Playing for Peace and Reconciliation in South Sudan: Together for Peace, Unity, Respect, Safety, and Dignity for all,” will take place in South Sudan from late May to mid August. Ligol, who is majoring in engineering (electrical) at Trinity, has partnered with two other college students from Arizona State University and University of Rochester. Ligol met one of his colleagues on the project when attending a Catholic school in South Sudan and the other through participating in the Bridge2Rwanda Scholars program, which helps students to prepare for entry exams and apply to college.

Ligol and his friends connected over discussing the politics of South Sudan and the devastating results of the ongoing war there since the country gained independence in 2011. Ligol said, “There are many non-governmental organizations—both local and international—working effortlessly with youths and communities to broker peace and unity among people of South Sudan. We are inspired by the work by such organizations. When we thought that our idea, which is a community-based approach of resolving conflicts and disputes, has the potential of making a difference in the ongoing peace-building and reconciliation process, we did not hesitate to apply for the grant.”

Ligol noted that Trinity Professor of Philosophy Maurice Wade and Charles A. Dana Research Professor of Biology Kent D. Dunlap provided support through the project proposal process. Dunlap said, “Ukuch has had a remarkable path from Sudan to Trinity and it’s great that he has a chance to work again in his homeland through his Davis Project for Peace. His project has a strong foundation in his previous work with Sudanese youth, but it is also ambitious in using sports to bring together youth from many neighboring—but not always friendly—tribes. This is an impressive project for someone of his age.”

During the summer, the group is organizing a soccer tournament as an attempt to bring peace to the youth from different tribes in South Sudan. As the students wrote in their project proposal, “We are going to bring together soccer teams from different tribes and mingle their players. We will form new teams and each new team will be comprised of at least 15 different players from different tribes.” They decided that sports would be an ideal way to unite the youth of South Sudan because historically the South Sudanese would hold wrestling competitions among different tribes. Soccer was chosen instead for this project, given its popularity among today’s youth.

Ligol and his partners are teaming up with Anataban, a group of artists who use their art to foster public discussion about issues of social injustice in South Sudan, and EmpowerKids South Sudan, which holds workshops to empower youth to engage in the peace and reconciliation process.

The Davis Project for Peace is administered at Trinity College by the Center for Urban and Global Studies (CUGS). To learn more about this program, click here.

Written by Sophia Gourley ’19