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Women Funding Women’s Education
The Sunflower Initiative logo
Women Funding Women’s Education

Meet the Sunflower Initiative’s 2020 Fitzgerald Scholar!

April 2020

A Message from TSI’s President

In the midst of our struggles with the pandemic, we’d like to report that our current Fitzgerald Scholars are well.  Yến, our Bryn Mawr recipient, is home in Vietnam; Ariana has had to leave Barnard for her home in California;  Maggie, who is a Junior at Mount Holyoke, is home in Illinois, and Ilse, our Smith Senior, is sheltering in place in Utah.  We are saddened by the interruption of their college years, and we recognize that there will have to be many adjustments to their experiences.  Ilse, for example, will be participating in the first “virtual Commencement” in the history of Smith College in May.

While we have not heard from all our scholarship recipients, we have heard from Aastha Sharma, our first Fitzgerald Scholar, who is sheltering in place in Illinois, just one and a half years away from her PhD.

This is the time in which we live, and these are the challenges we confront.  Consistent with my earlier messages to you, however, our commitment to providing scholarships continues.  Please read below about our newest Fitzgerald Scholar, Alena Rooney.

And please stay safe.

Meet Alena Rooney!

The Sunflower Initiative is pleased to award the 2020 Harriet Fitzgerald Scholarship to Alena Rooney of Chicago, Illinois. Alena will graduate from the Chicago Waldorf High School this term and will enroll at Smith College in the fall.  

The Scholarship Committee was impressed by the wide variety and depth of studies that Alena pursued at the Waldorf School. Her coursework included medieval history and the German medieval romance “Parzival,” electricity & magnetism, organic chemistry, projective geometry, honors Calculus, history of architecture, metalwork, astronomy, humanities, sculpture, and more. In addition to her studies she was a four-year varsity volleyball player, senior co-captain, a student representative to the parent community, a school ambassador, and a peer tutor in German. 

Her teachers were unanimous in their praise of “a highly motivated, curious, engaged student,” with “a distinguished work ethic and striking level of motivation.” and equally unanimous in pointing out “her gracious presence in the classroom,” “perhaps the most gracious and thoughtful classroom presence of any student,” and “her remarkable capacity for empathy.”  

Her academic record is flawless, and her achievements beyond her school record reveal deep interests in languages, music, and justice.  As a sophomore, she initiated a three-month exchange program to study and live with an exchange family in Freiberg, Germany.  The experience “did wonders for my proficiency, my individuality, my independence, and my knowledge of the world. Immersed in a new culture and language, I grew in ways unimaginable and returned to the US with a new, solidified sense of self and a hunger to learn more languages.” 

Her language proficiency and motivation led her German instructor at Waldorf to nominate Alena for the Internationale Deutscholympiade, the largest German language competition in the world.  She was one of two students selected to represent the United States at the event which brought together students from all over the world.  For a glimpse of Alena speaking, she appears at 2.50 minutes into a 2018 Deutscholympiade video, “Review IDO 2018.”

“The empowering environment at a women’s college will help cultivate my will to do meaningful work, to be a leader, to be confident and resolute in my beliefs.”
— Alena Rooney

Alena’s interest in music ranges from traditional to contemporary. She has played Irish fiddle music since she was six years old, competing nationally in the Midwest Fleadh Cheoil and internationally in the All Ireland Fleadh.  A much younger Alena (in braids) can be seen playing her fiddle in this video.   More recently, she has taken up rock violin, performing with the band Poi Dog Pondering at various venues in Chicago. 

Alena’s volunteer work at the German cultural center in her neighborhood led to a job in the Kinderschule program.  She also volunteers at the Red Door Animal Shelter and has participated in yearly service-learning projects with her Waldorf classmates.  A week at STAND the Haiti Project, a rehabilitation clinic in Port-au-Paix, Haiti, was a pivotal experience which “opened my eyes to the unthinkable circumstances that people around the world still live in.”

She concludes her application essay with this statement.  “Throughout my life I have been guided by my innate sense of balance, one that seeks to uproot injustice in any field I can. The empowering environment at a women’s college will help cultivate my will to do meaningful work, to be a leader, to be confident and resolute in my beliefs.”

The TSI Scholarship Committee. comprised of Carolyn Bell, Cheryl Marks, and Meg McKean, look for “stellar high school records, outstanding references, strong character, fine leadership qualities, and considerable breadth and depth of interests,” when reading applications for the Harriet Fitzgerald Scholarship.  Of particular importance to the committee is “the personal importance of making a contribution to society, and . . . how they might function as a representative of The Sunflower Initiative.” 

We welcome Alena as the 2020 Harriet Fitzgerald Scholar.