After two years of postponements, Presidential Scholars travel overseas to Poland

COURTESY PHOTO | Presidential Scholars at the Wieliczka Salt Mines


Student Reporter

The Amarillo College Presidential Scholars spent their spring break in Central Europe.

From March 10 – 20, 2022, 30 AC students and alumni and three AC sponsors, including Lesley Ingham, honors program chair, Dr. Russell Lowery-Hart, AC president, and Michelle Orcutt, associate professor of speech, traveled to Krakow, Poland. One West Texas A&M student and one WT sponsor, Dr. Elizabeth Clark, joined them.

The original goals for the trip were to grow closer as a group and learn more about the Holocaust, and students prepared by reading books such as “Night” by Elie Wiesel and researching and presenting programs about the locations they would visit. The trip’s focus changed when, on Feb. 24, 2022, Russia invaded Ukraine, and Poland began taking in Ukrainian refugees.

COURTESY PHOTO – Maddie Eatley and Hope Demery

“We felt moved to try to help Ukraine in some way,” Ingham said.

Dr. Clark, a Polish Fulbright scholar, designed the trip and spearheaded a drive to gather supplies like toys, candy, diapers, wipes and formula to create care packages for refugees. These gifts filled seven large duffle bags.

The Galicia Jewish Museum in Krakow had set up a day care for refugees, and the AC students donated the supplies
on the last day of the trip. They also saw a peaceful demonstration in support of Ukraine in Rynek Square.

“It was really eye-opening. Ukrainian flags were in every shop, and people wore the colors in an outpour of support. That doesn’t really happen here,” Liv Cawthon, an English major, said.

The group visited Wawel Royal Castle and the first college in Poland.

Wawel Castle

They also went to Oświęcim, Poland, to see the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, with the concentration camp preserved as it was during World War II. “At first, we saw a little bit of hair—a few strands. Then we turned around, and there were mounds of hair. It was sad. Their stuff was more useful than them. They were just living regular lives, and then it was all taken away. They didn’t deserve this,” Faith Diaz, a sonography major, said.

Bethany Shaffer, a biology major, was surprised by how big the Auschwitz concentration camp was. “It opened my eyes. To see how they were getting their humanity stripped away. It showed me the possibilities to help our world be a different place,” Shaffer said.

The scholars also raised $1,500 to give to a friend in Poland, Szymon Makuch, who drove with his wife into Kharkiv, Ukraine, to deliver supplies to the stranded and then bring back as many refugees as his car would carry.

“The trip was just what we imagined and more. It was extra special because we lent a helping hand in a small way,” Ingham said.

The trip has inspired the students to fundraise to help KHUB (Kind House Ukraine Bakery) and Makuch as much as possible. Students will be volunteering for KHUB’s Run Your Buns for Ukraine 5K on Saturday, April 30, 2022, at 9 a.m. at John Stiff Park, area 14. For more information or to get involved with this fundraising effort, contact Glenda Moore through the KHUB Facebook page.

COURTESY PHOTO – Campbell Lowery-Hart and Breanna Gordo

Each year, 15 students are admitted to the application-only Scholars program, following a competitive process that includes an admissions essay and interview.

Throughout the year, these students learn about leadership and build lifelong skills designed to propel them toward success. The highlight of the program is travel abroad.

The travel destination varies. Past Scholars have visited Peru, the Dominican Republic, Japan, Cambodia, China, Lithuania and India. The Scholars have not traveled since 2019 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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