Building Interfaith Leadership Initiative (BILI)
A Fellowship Program for Undergraduate Students
Babson University, Bentley University, Boston College, Boston University, Brown University, Central Piedmont, Davidson College, Harvard University, Johnson C. Smith University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Northeastern University, Queens University of Charlotte, Suffolk University, Tufts University, Wellesley College, Wingate University, and Wheaton College.
The Building Interfaith Leadership Initiative (BILI) program is designed for outstanding undergraduate students with a demonstrated commitment to interreligious and cross-cultural engagement on their respective campuses. This fellowship provides participants with the opportunity to engage with peers from other schools in, a structured program of dialogue, study, and leadership development.
BILI has been an amazing capstone to my interfaith experience on campus, and has allowed me to explore and expand what it means to participate in interfaith spaces, as well as how to actively create them for others. It has been so rewarding to learn from the other fellows about what they are doing on their campuses, and I have been consistently inspired by the sensitivity, drive and creativity of the entire cohort — I am so excited to see what these connections lead to in the future!– Miriam Israel, senior, Tufts University, International Relations and Arabic
- Train fellows in the theory and practice of interreligious leadership, using best practices from participating schools and leading intellectuals and practitioners
- Provide interreligious student leaders with a wider network of colleagues and mentors
- Assist fellows in planning meaningful programming for the wider undergraduate student community of New England and Charlotte, NC
- Encourage participants to continue to serve as interreligious leaders on their campuses and beyond
- Develop greater collegiality among religious and spiritual life professionals on local campuses
- Attend the Interfaith Leadership Institute (ILI) put on virtually again this year by the Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC).
- Opening Fellowship Orientation (Sunday afternoon)
- Seven virtual meetings from September to April (Tuesday evenings, 6:30-8:30pm, Hybrid modality)
- Two Conference Calls
- Winter trip to Washington, D.C. (January 11-13th)
- 2 Blog Posts or 1 Podcast (with a partner)
- Interreligious Literacy (with a focus on leadership models and challenges)
- Intersectional Identity Formation
- Facilitation of Courageous Conversations
- Coalition Building
- Program Design & Implementation
- Public Voice: Speaking & Writing on Religion
- Professional Presentations
- Scenarios & Case Studies
- Peer Presentations (texts, objects, memories)
- Group Discussion
- Reflective Exercises
- Committee Work (for winter and spring programs)
This fellowship program is open to outstanding undergraduate leaders from the participating schools with a passion for interreligious and cross-cultural engagement. Religious and spiritual life professionals from the participating schools will nominate 1-2 students. Each student must fill out a brief application form. The Miller Center staff will make final selections of all fellows. Cohorts range in size from 14-20 fellows.
Each participant will actively engage in all of the activities listed above. There will be brief readings to be completed in advance of each in-person meeting. In addition, each participant will also be expected to write two blog posts (750 words, fall and spring) or a podcast (5-15 minutes) on a topic relevant to the fellowship experience as well as contribute to the planning & implementation of the fall and spring student events.
Each participant will receive a $250 stipend upon completion of the program, submission of blog posts, and a brief exit interview and written evaluation with the fellowship coordinator.
The BILI Steering Committee is comprised of representatives of the spiritual, religious, and ethical life departments from each of the partner institutions that participate in the program. Committee members participate in a series of meetings throughout the academic year to help guide the program and build relationships across the partner institutions.
- Rabbi Dena Bodian, Jewish Chaplain and Campus Rabbi, Wellesley College
- Dr. Jessica Chicka, University Chaplain for International Students, Boston University
- Rev. Janet Cooper Nelson, Chaplain of the University, Brown University
- Rabbi Neal Gold, Jewish Chaplain/Hillel Director, Babson College
- Rev. James M. Hairston, Campus Minister for Multi-Faith Programs, Boston College
- The Reverend Elyse Nelson Winger, University Chaplain, Tufts University
- Mr. Alexander Levering-Kern, Executive Director – Center for Spirituality, Dialogue, and Service, Northeastern University
- Rev. Robin Olson, Director – Spiritual Life, Bentley University
- Mr. Adam Reynolds, Assistant Chaplain, Addir Interfaith Dialogue, MIT
- Rabbi Or Rose, Director – Miller Center for Interreligious Learning & Leadership, Hebrew College
- Rabbi Jonah C. Steinberg, Executive Director – Harvard Hillel, Harvard University
- Rev. Charlene Zuill, Spiritual Life Coordinator, Boston University School of Theology
- Rev. Tom Reid, Associate Director, Miller Center, Hebrew College
- Rabbi Or Rose, Director, Miller Center, Hebrew College
- Suzanne Watts Henderson, Dean of the Belk Chapel, Queens University of Charlotte
- Simran Singh, BILI Alumni Liaison, Boston University
- John Lazur, BILI Alumni Liaison, Tufts University
How to Apply
The 2021-2022 application is currently closed. If you are interested in participating next year, please contact the spiritual life staff at your university to discuss nominations.
Questions: Contact Tom Reid, Associate Director, Miller Center, Hebrew College: TReid@hebrewcollege.edu.
2021-2022 BILI Fellowship Recipients
Allison Barbee is a senior at Wingate University majoring in Religious Studies. She has minors in Mathematics, Biology, and Women’s and Gender studies. She is from Concord, North Carolina and identifies herself as a Christian. On her own campus, Allison is involved as the Executive Vice President of the College Panhellenic Council, in addition to holding various campus jobs as a Reference Assistant at the Ethel K. Smith Library, a Global Perspectives in Scripture Supplemental Instructor, and as the department assistant for the Religion & Philosophy Department. She also created Wingate Interfaith Leaders, a student organization dedicated to living out Wingate’s core values of faith, knowledge, and service by uniting the various faith communities on Wingate’s campus. Allison joined the Building Interfaith Leadership Initiative because she wanted to enhance her leadership, communication, and collaborative abilities, especially in the context of interfaith, in order to be a better leader and person. One day, she hopes to become a Religious Studies professor and continue her work in interfaith throughout her career.
Allison Blackwell is a senior at Queens University of Charlotte majoring in Creative Writing and Philosophy/Religion. She has been a part of her campus’s Interfaith Leadership Council (ILC) since her Freshman year and has been the Co-President for the past two years. Allison was also a Resident Assistant for two and a half years, has been a Davies Interfaith Fellow for two years, and is a current member of the Queens Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Task Force. Her interests include embroidery, hiking, reading, and writing, and her favorite book is Dune by Frank Herbert. After graduation, she plans to take a gap year before going to seminary for a Master of Divinity and hopes to one day work on promoting interfaith on college campuses through chaplaincy or academia. She is very excited to be counted as a member of the 2021-2022 BILI cohort, and she is looking forward to connecting with other interfaith leaders across the nation and hearing their stories and experiences.
Zinni Botha, a South African native, is a college senior studying Political Science and Religious Studies. The first summer during COVID-19 she was a part of the Bridge Builders initiative in Charlotte where she help design and create interfaith craft boxes for school children who could not attend summer programs. Shortly after Zinni founded an interfaith organization on her college campus to help further interfaith dialogue at her school. Zinni felt drawn to interfaith work coming from a family that practices more than one faith tradition and has learned through training how to utilize her own experiences to contribute to interfaith dialogue in her own community.
Hi, my name is Lucca Ferreira. I was born in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil. I lived there until I was 11 then my family moved to Charleston, SC in hopes of a better future. We have been here for 8 years now and we consider this our home. I love my religion, playing music, and meeting new people.
I am a sophomore at Brown University studying International Affairs and Arabic. I love how language study can open doors to understanding how different people think and express themselves. I hope to combine these studies with learning about religion in BILI to expand my understanding of the many ways to live in the world. I’m excited to learn more about how to create meaningful dialogue and community across a wide variety of experiences, backgrounds and beliefs. Outside of BILI, I am involved with several Jewish efforts on campus, including a Queer Jewish Text Study. I also volunteer at the Refugee Dream Center where I lead high-schoolers in storytelling workshops, work on a podcast about political issues, am a barista at the student run coffee shop, and run on Brown’s Track team. I’m grateful for this opportunity in BILI to learn with and about my peers and to use these learnings to build strong communities at Brown and elsewhere that are committed to inclusivity and positive change-making.
John Josiah majors in Biology at Johnson C. Smith University and hails from Nigeria, the most populous black country on earth. He’s a proud Christian and believes that his faith plays a central role in who he is as a person. As an international student in a Historically Black University, he is keen on understanding the cultural and religious perspectives of the people around him to better his understanding of America and to appreciate its uniqueness more. Beyond actively engaging in interreligious conversations, John hopes to replicate the concept of religious pluralism sometime in the future in his native Nigeria, where religious tensions and schisms still exist.
I am a junior biology major at Davidson College on the premed track. I have a particular interest in the intersection between religion and public health/medicine, as religion is a source of comfort for many in trying times. I have worked with multiple faith initiatives over the years, from my college’s Religious Diversity Dinner group to the Muslim Student Association on my campus, and recently advised the Board of Trustees on their decision to allow members from other faith backgrounds to join the board. The focus of many different faiths on humanitarianism and helping those in need has inspired me and opened my eyes to the role that interfaith work can play in public health measures. I particularly appreciate the ability for faith to bridge gaps between communities around the common goal of increasing access to quality healthcare for all through volunteerism. I am excited to join BILI’s work and for the opportunity to serve my community!
Kareem King is a Junior at Harvard from Cleveland, Ohio on the pre-med track. He has a passion for issues of health equity and understanding how public policy impacts the health of marginalized communities. At Harvard, he engages in social justice research at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, where he explores factors which contribute to police brutality. He also serves at the Advocacy and Community Engagement Chair of Harvard’s Undergraduate Black Health Advocates to raise awareness about health issues effecting Black and Brown communities. Outside of class, he works with a Boston-based non-profit called We Got Us to increase access to health information and resources in marginalized communities.
Abby (she/her) is a sophomore at Harvard College studying Sociology. Growing up in Philadelphia, she was raised in an interfaith family and identifies as Quaker, but her search for a religious tradition sparked her passion for interfaith. She is the co-director of the Harvard College Interfaith Forum and works as an intern in the BGLTQ Office. In her free time, she loves to read and make things (especially to sew, quilt, and crochet). She is excited to learn and grow with BILI and her cohort members and to bring back successful interfaith practices to her own campus.
My name is Audrey McGlothlen, and I am a senior at Tufts University studying Biopsychology, Peace & Justice Studies, and French, which comes out to a passion for issues of science equity. I am from Denver, CO and was originally raised Catholic before beginning a spiritual exploration that currently has me more identifying with agnostic or Humanist ideologies. At Tufts, I started my interfaith work through the pre-orientation called CAFE centered around religious exploration and community organizing and have since stayed involved in the interfaith community on campus through the Humanist Community at Tufts and most recently the Interfaith Ambassadors Program. When not in thoughtful reflection at the Chaplaincy or studying participants in a lab, I can be found spinning away on the Ballroom Dance Team! I am excited to be able to carry all of that curiosity, creativity, and experience into my time at BILI and beyond.
I am a first generation Jamaican immigrant passionate about serving underrepresented and underserved populations of socio-economic, racial, sexual minority groups etc. I have just recently enrolled in a graduate program in Global Inclusion and Social development. I know this experience will help me grow as an aspiring Physician-Scientist.
Hannah Patterson is a Senior at Boston University studying International Relations and Religion. In the past, she has participated in a multitude of interfaith programming such as Passages Research Fellowship. In this program, she constructed and delivered a report on a multitude of interfaith issues such as the Second Vatican Council in order to shape new perspectives on interfaith cooperation. As well as participated in Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston: Break the Hate Mission. For this program, she traveled to New York City and visited different religious and historical sites that helped to create a greater understanding of other traditions. Over the Summer, she was a fellow at the Israeli Consulate of New England. While in this current role, she initiates and pitches several project ideas to the Consulate General. As well as created a podcast series which seeks to answer the question, “Why is Israel a political issue?” In addition, she is Vice President of Study of Religions and past Vice President of BU Hillel.
Laetitia is a Senior at Northeastern University studying Behavioral Neuroscience on the pre-med track. She is deeply passionate about education and fighting against healthcare disparities. Laetitia is currently a youth leader of STEMpower , a science enrichment program that teaches high school students about diseases that affect many Black patients and conduct a community health initiative to tackle inequalities in healthcare. In addition, she is an intern at the Center to Support Immigrant Communities where she takes part in projects on tackling food insecurity in Boston and fighting for better allocation of vaccine to minority groups. Laetitia also work for a non-profit organization, We Got Us, where she educated youth on health inequities.
My name is Rose Sall and I am a Senior at Queens University of Charlotte. I am majoring in Human Services and minoring in Peace Studies and Conflict Resolution. I have enjoyed taking part in Interfaith work for the last 3 years. As time moves forward, I began to see the interfaith journey each of us are currently on, but more importantly how that’s affecting the world around us. From being a Davies Fellow to taking IFYC trainings, I have seen my interfaith knowledge and leadership grow exponential. I love forward to BILI contributing to that growth and journey.
Hi I’m Hunter, and I am a history major at Endicott College. I’m in my junior year of college. I was born in Cambodia and adopted at 7 months old. However I grew up in Augusta, Maine and have been practicing Theravada Buddhism for 10 years now. I spend my free time learning more about Buddhism and other religions, last year I helped create a Buddhist sangha for my campus. I wondered why we didn’t have anymore clubs like that represented so I got in touch with my interfaith minister for help. And now we have a Jewish community, Christian community and Buddhist community on campus.
Hello! I’m Nora Sjue and I am a sophomore at Davidson College. I am from Kansas City, Missouri (go chiefs!), and I am the oldest sister to three younger brothers. Academically, I am planning on majoring in Environmental Studies and minoring in Data Sciences. I am currently involved in interfaith work within the Davidson community as well as environmental and health-related activism. I love working with others and meeting new people.I am a firm believer in the value of relationships and believe strongly in connecting with others. In my free time, I spend lots of time outdoors (hammocking, hiking, camping, swimming, etc.) as well as playing board games with friends. I grew up Presbyterian (a christian denomination), but am starting to reevaluate what faith and spirituality mean in my life. I love funny socks and dogs and long chats over ice cream!
Greetings! My name is Thomas Wilson Thermidor. I am a recent graduate from the Boston English high school and a now first-year student concentrating in entrepreneurial studies at Babson College. I was born and raised in Haiti, and I immigrated here to the United States in 2013, soon after the 2010 earthquake. I’ve lived in Boston ever since I departed from Haiti. As a result, I’m a product of the city of Boston. I am the youngest of three sons. I am currently involved in interfaith work within the Babson community. I enjoy spending time with friends in my free time, and I’m a big sports enthusiast (Basketball, Soccer, Football, the Olympics, etc.). I enjoy the arts, and I consider myself a passionate learner of historical events. Although I’m an atheist, I love learning about the different religions people affiliate themselves with.
2020-2021 BILI Fellowship Recipients
Zoe Bair is a junior studying Clinical Psychology at Tufts University. From Grand Rapids, Michigan, she grew up Catholic before getting involved in the Humanist Community at Tufts. Zoe currently serves on Tufts Interfaith Student Council and cherishes the opportunity to promote interfaith engagement on Tufts’ campuses. In her role as a Humanist and interfaith representative, she’s planned a number of events engaging the community including a “Death Cafe,” an interfaith open mic night, and leans on her love of arts and crafts to bring new members into the interfaith community at Tufts. In her free time, she enjoys playing the harp, spending time with friends, and going down interior design rabbit holes.
Sup! I’m Hope, I’m from Deland, Florida, I’m a senior studying Computer Science and History with a concentration in Education at MIT, and I’m a queer progressive Mormon. After my first year at MIT, I volunteered for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in Sweden for a year and a half. Since coming back to school in spring 2018, I’ve spent time in MIT’s Addir Interfaith Dialogue program making new friends and trying to understand the traditions and values that guide us in similar and unique ways. In my free time, I enjoy squash (the sport, but also the vegetable), games, reading, reflection and rock climbing.
Jaiden Gividen a senior undergrad at Brandeis University interested in near Eastern and Judaic studies. She is a small-town Jew who has strong interests in religious studies and women, gender, and sexualities studies. Her experience converting to Judaism in a Southern Baptist community has driven her to pursue steps towards pluralism and believes that interfaith conversations are critical for peace in the future. In her spare time she is probably walking her dog, cooking, or on the phone with her family.
Anna Jensen is a second-year student in the Boston University Pardee School of Global Studies where she studies International Relations with a focus on Security Studies and European relations. She is from Cockeysville, Maryland before attending Boston University, beginning in the fall of 2019. Her interest in religious studies grew significantly after taking RN101 in her first semester of freshmen year and has continued to explore the different religious and spiritual traditions that people participate in. Anna is particularly interested in exploring and learning how to rectify the clash between secularization and traditional religious/spiritual culture; instead focusing on how to become and maintain a part in a religious/spiritual community.
My name is Ariel Kayton, and I am a sophomore at Tufts University. I grew in a non-denominational Jewish family in Miami, Florida and later moved Los Angeles, California, where I now call home. At Tufts, I am involved in the Interfaith Student Council and Tufts Hillel where I work with others to create interfaith programming and explore my own Jewish identity. In addition to interfaith work, I am very passionate about issues of social justice such as LGBT rights, economic justice, and climate justice. In my free time, I can be found painting, drawing, or watching movies at the theater! Through BILI, I hope to develop the skills to foster tolerant, inclusive spaces into the future.
My name is Amelia Mahony and I am a sophomore at Brandeis University studying English and history. I was born and raised in Beijing, China, but I am originally Iranian-American. My hobbies include baking, playing sports and making music and art.
My name is Shayna Mandelbaum and I am a sophomore at Northeastern University majoring in Cybersecurity & Criminal Justice. I grew up in Elizabeth, NJ and was raised in a very religiously observant Jewish household but have always wanted to become involved in interfaith work for quite some time. On campus, I am very active in Northeastern’s Hillel and Chabad but I also serve as a Service and Social Action Coordinator at Northeastern’s Center for Spirituality, Dialogue and Service. I grew up in a fairly homogenous environment, among people with a similar spiritual mindset as my own which is what inspired me to become more active in interfaith work on campus. I really enjoy learning about the similarities between different faiths and worldviews and am super excited to become a BILI fellow!
My name is Andrew Mascillaro, and I’m a religious Christian. Specifically, I’m an Assemblies of God, Protestant Evangelical Christian. I study Electrical and Computer Engineering at Olin College. My home is in New Jersey, although I am a second generation Italian (from Sicily) and Indian (Gujarat). In my free time, I like to play chess, take on interesting coding projects, and study the Bible.
Hi! I’m Simran Singh and I am a junior studying psychology at Boston University. I was born and raised in New Jersey and have two younger siblings who are in high school. At home, I grew up with Sikhism and Hinduism. I went to Sunday school for Hinduism and learned about Sikhism from my father. In our kitchen, there are constantly Hindu and Sikh prayers and songs playing leading to a very peaceful and comfortable environment. I am excited to be a part of BILI this year and to learn about my peers, their religious backgrounds, and how to facilitate conversations about interreligious topics with all types of people. I look forward to a great year full of learning new things, meeting new people, and making a lot of memories!
2019-2020 BILI Fellowship Recipients
Reuben is a senior at Boston College majoring in Economics, with minors in Computer Science and Marketing. He is from Natick, MA and grew up attending Temple Beth El of the Sudbury River Valley. Reuben is an active member of Boston College’s Hillel, where he is the Publicity and Promotion Coordinator, and serves on BC Campus Ministry’s Multifaith Council. Some of his other interests include: club lacrosse, kayaking, finding college tickets for the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and photography.
My name is Connor Dedrick, I am a junior at Boston University studying operations in the Questrom School of Business. I was raised Jewish but in a very lax way, occasionally attending services, on and off observing of holidays and the like. Now, however, I love my Judaism and its fluctuating definition. The things that are constant in my Jewish life is learning and mitzvot (commandments). As president of BU Hillel, I had to learn to be conscious and have a purpose in everything I did to bring different kinds of Jews together. My Jewish journey heavily informs the way I organize interfaith communities. Compassion and empathy are the foundation stones of my Judaism and interfaith work. I am always striving to better understand someone else and deconstruct who I am and what my role can be in this world.
Husna is an interfaith fellow with the Boston Interfaith Leadership Initiative. Last summer, she did a dialogue in Jordan to better understand the Syrian refugee crisis through a different lens. She studies bioengineering in the hopes of applying it for greater healthcare accessibility. In her free time, she enjoys staying active by playing sports and keeping up to date on political issues.
My name is Deepu Ganesan, and I’ve been part of interfaith leadership for a little over a year, now. I grew up in a very interfaith environment and I’m an advocate for discovering what makes people similar, rather than focusing on differences.
Shruti is from Minneapolis, MN, where she grew up attending the Hindu Temple of Minnesota. She is currently attending Boston University as a political science student, where she aims to create a greater and more thoughtful interfaith presence on campus as a Marsh Chapel Associate and a fellow in the Boston Interfaith Leadership Institute. Her favorite activity in Boston, besides interfaith work, include her ESL teaching with The Literacy Program at Cambridge Public Libraries.
Hello! My name is Ione Heigham and I am a sophomore at Brown University. I grew up in Arlington, Massachusetts and was raised in a Protestant and Jewish interfaith household. Currently I am a practicing Jew and am very active in Jewish and Religious life on my campus. I plan on concentrating in Sociology and Religious Studies and find the intersection of the two extremely interesting. Since coming to college I have recognized the purpose of interfaith work especially on campuses and am excited to learn in this upcoming year.
Jessica is a sophomore at MIT who is studying Biological Engineering. She is Jewish and half Episcopalian and loves to lead the Reform services at MIT’s Hillel. In addition to BILI, she is involved with MIT’s Interfaith Dialogue group, Addir. In her free time, Jess enjoys overcommitting herself: she is an officer of the gymnastics team, is choreographing Shrek the Musical, sings with the Centrifuges, volunteers with LTI, works 2 jobs, and more. She is excited to be a BILI fellow and is looking forward to the retreat!
John Lazur is from Minneapolis, MN where they grew up attending a UU Humanist congregation. They are now a student at Tufts University where they are pursuing a major in Anthropology, working with the University Chaplaincy to promote a pluralistic campus culture, and wondering on the Big Questions of Life with friends. They seek to open spaces to share personal stories as a form of community building and to encourage others to reflect on personal values and practices. They are a fellow in the Boston Interfaith Leadership Initiative (BILI) for 2019-2020 and look forward to forging ever-widening circles of interfaith community with their peers.
My name is Chloe Noll, and I a sophomore at Northeastern University majoring in Behavioral Neuroscience. I’m from Tucson, Arizona and was raised Lutheran but am now agnostic. On campus, I am president of the Secular Humanist Society and am heavily involved in interfaith work. I love exploring existential questions and the great outdoors
Hannah Pérez is an undergraduate student at Babson College. She has worked on campus as a chapel coordinator and interfaith liaison for the past 2 years, planning student leadership trainings and interfaith events based around social justice. Passionate about law and humanitarian rights, she hopes to one day work for the UN. In the meantime, she spends her time on campus advocating for students in Student Government, making people laugh in monthly improv shows, and writing music in her spare time. Originally from Miami, and a proud Cuban-American, Hannah hopes to help people recognize the intersectionality of religious and spiritual life, as it has touched so many aspects of her own identity.
Maaya is a current undergraduate student at MIT studying Electrical Engineering. She was raised in a Hindu household in Yorktown, VA. Her experience as a religious minority motivated her to join and advocate for interfaith communities upon entering college. She is a 2019-2020 fellow of both the Boston Interfaith Leadership Initiative (BILI) and MIT’s interfaith group, Addir. In her free time, she sails for MIT’s varsity sailing team and is a counselor for Camp Kesem
Zahra is a sophomore at Tufts University studying clinical psychology on a pre-med track. She grew up in Aiken, South Carolina, an environment that shaped her view of faith and interfaith, as a religious minority. On campus, she works for the University Chaplaincy, to help support religious programming and also serves on Tufts’ Interfaith Student Council, which seeks to promote interfaith engagement on campus. She is a 2019-2020 Boston Interfaith Leadership Initiative Fellow, in which she discusses issues and concepts related to interreligious spaces. Some of her other interests include the intersection of mental health and spirituality, brunch, road trips, and baking.
McKenzie Wilkins is a second-year student at Wellesley College studying Religion and English. She lived in Qatar for high school, and has been passionate about facilitating interfaith dialogue ever since then. She is enjoying discovering the East Coast while exploring her liberal arts education. She strongly believes in the importance of diversity, and is fascinated by brainstorming ways that people of all faith traditions, cultures, race, gender, and mental and physical capabilities can have their voices heard for the benefit of everyone. When she’s not studying the intersections between religion and culture, she works on editing her fantasy novel and practicing to test for her next belt in Tae Kwon Do.
2018-2019 BILI Fellowship Recipients
Sarah Bickford is a junior at Boston University where she is majoring in Psychology and double minoring and Deaf Studies and French. She is from Newton, Massachusetts, but has lived in a few different states and experienced several manifestations of Christianity. As a second-generation “preacher’s kid,” active participation in church life and liturgy were integral parts of her childhood. She is now actively involved with her campus’ Episcopal ministry, which has sparked her interest in how different campus-based faith groups can work together to achieve common goals. In her free time, she can be found dancing ballet, ballroom, or west coast swing.
Ilana is a junior at Brown University and has been deeply involved in interfaith work since her time at Gann Academy, the New Jewish High School of Greater Boston. She is the co-founder/co-director of BRIJ (Building Relationships: Islam & Judaism), a Brown-based program that works with Partners in Peace, a partnership between Rhode Island’s Islamic School and Jewish Community Day School. Through collaboration with Partners in Peace, Ilana and the other BRIJ student leaders meet weekly with Muslim and Jewish fifth graders for text study and service work. Ilana also co-leads MOCHA (Multifaith Organizing for College Hill Activism), a network at Brown that connect activists from all faith backgrounds to work together for social change. Finally, she is honored to serve as the Brown-RISD intern for the Avi Schaefer Fund, a program that works with over a hundred campuses across the country to pursue interfaith and peace initiatives. Ilana enjoys studying languages (Spanish, Arabic and Hebrew), writing, comedy, and spending time in nature. She is thrilled to be participating in the Boston Interfaith Leadership Initiative!
I’m Joseph, a junior at MIT majoring in Philosophy. I grew up in Houston, Texas as a Baptist Christian. Looking for a personal experience of spirituality and dissatisfied with the lack of inclusion in my community, I’ve been studying Taoism and Sufism to learn about how spiritual practices deepen life. Some of my hobbies include computer security, soccer, and reading. I joined the MIT Addir Interfaith Fellowship because I believe that interfaith has the power to bridge conflicts and promote understanding. In addition to solving sectarian and diversity problems, I think interfaith can help us learn about how our traditions mirror each other and discover the purpose of spiritual teachings across religions. As Interfaith Council Chair of Addir, I’m trying to bring together the different student faith and non-faith groups on campus into an Interfaith Council, the goal of which is to support and increase the visibility of these groups on campus.
Maddie is 21 years old and a Senior at Wellesley College, where she studies Religion and English. She was born and raised Roman Catholic, having attended Catholic schools from Kindergarten through 12th Grade. She has lived in several cities around the U.S., but spent most of her childhood in Los Angeles, California. Maddie’s three favorite things are, in this order: Jesus, her dog Ruthie, and soup. Maddie is deeply concerned with issues of social justice, particularly as they relate to environmental racism, children’s access to education, and LGBTQIA rights. Maddie hopes to volunteer with the Catholic Worker Movement upon graduation and eventually work her way into the religious life. She approaches the world with an open, loving heart, hoping to share experiences of pain and happiness with others, and has very much internalized the mantra, “One Truth, many paths.”
My name is Olaoluwa and I am a sophomore at Tufts University. I am majoring in Mechanical Engineering. I am from New, Carrollton, Maryland which is near our nation’s capital, Washington DC. My favorite book is the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and my favorite movie is Forrest Gump. I am a Christian. I enjoy visiting museums and my favorite TV show is Planet Earth, beautiful imagery. An instrument I play is the tenor saxophone and my favorite artist is J Cole. Both my parents are Nigerian so I am a big Super Eagles fan, Nigeria’s soccer team, and I also speak Spanish. In a past life I was an Eagle Scout and camping was my favorite thing to do and now a dorm room is my humble abode.
I am a first year Resumed Undergraduate Education (RUE) student at Brown. I am pursuing my bachelor’s degree after an 11-year gap from high school to pursue an Olympic cross-country skiing career. From Colorado, I have lived more recently in Utah and New Hampshire. At Brown I am interested in studying Economics and Public Policy with a focus on opportunity inequality. I am also working as an athlete presenter for the US Anti-Doping Agency. I currently identify as Jewish Agnostic and am honored and excited to be a part of the Boston Interfaith Leadership Initiative.
Hello! My name is Najma Jama and I am a Sophomore at Tufts University interested in studying History, Philosophy, and Cognitive Brain Sciences. I was born and raised in the Greater Boston Area, with a brief detour in Cairo, Egypt as a child. These two transitions, from Boston to Cairo and Cairo to Boston and from faith minority to majority and vice versa, marks the beginnings of my ever-evolving conception of faith and the importance of interfaith work. Faith is an entity by which many hold central to their identity, and to be able to bridge across difference in relation to faith is a necessity in our global and local communities, and this is the belief that I hold dearly and serve as a basis for my intellectual and academic pursuits. Apart from interfaith and religious interests, I love restful days, long slumbers, quiet spaces, cozy furniture, and warm hugs. I am thrilled to have joined BILI, as I wanted to join a space that celebrates diversity of philosophy and faith tradition, as well as utilize a platform to engage with the environment through interfaith activism.
May peace and blessings be with you!
Elizabeth Little is a senior at Bentley University finishing her bachelor’s degree in Marketing with a minor in Information Design and Corporate Communication. She is an avid reader and food lover from South Shore Massachusetts. If she is not working or studying, she is probably in the kitchen trying out a new recipe or watching Netflix. Last semester she studied abroad in Barcelona, Spain where she lived with a host family and traveled often. She has been working as an assistant at the Spiritual Life Center on her university campus since her freshman year and she really loves the people she has met and the opportunities it has given her.
Hello! My name is Molly McGreevy. I am a sophomore at Bentley University, but I call Narragansett, RI home. I have two younger sisters whom I miss dearly. My major is currently Undecided Business, but I will definitely be minoring in International Affairs. I was raised in the Catholic Church and have delved deeper into my faith since arriving at Bentley. I am the events coordinator for Bentley’s Catholic Association and I love every second of it. Encouraging students to get involved with their faith in college is challenging, but when is a better time to focus on your growth than school? I am also the treasurer of the Bentley Literary Society. In my free time you can find me reading inspirational books, singing with my roommate, cheering for Boston sports teams, or exploring this great city.
I’m Matisse, a junior at MIT studying philosophy and pure mathematics. I grew up in the Presbyterian church, but lost faith in high school; for years I identified as an atheist, but these days I’m more interested in the semantics of ‘belief’ than the question of whether God exists. In college, I found a home at a Lutheran-Episcopal service, and now care deeply about the Bible and Christian tradition. I joined the Addir Fellowship, MIT’s interfaith dialogue program, last year on the recommendation of a philosophy TA; I found not just the good conversation for which I had come, but a new and well-oriented way of posturing oneself in the world. I’m now interested in dialogue theory, and also the limits of dialogue and what interfaith engagement looks like past dialogue. I’m excited to work and learn with the other BILI fellows this year!
My name is Jules Poupard, and I am a student at Wellesley College. I am a believer of the Pagan system of faith. I am avid promoter of interfaith efforts, hoping to spread understanding, acceptance, and community with those of any and all spiritual backgrounds. I believe in connections, tolerance, harmony, and love; I hope to contribute all of these things in as many ways as possible with my time on earth. I say hello to the sun every morning, stir my hot cocoa clockwise for good luck, and am in love with the moon. Most of all, I want to be mysterious, adventurous, and daring. We all could afford to be a little more daring.
Sophie Wiener is a Film and TV student at Boston University who, somehow or other, ended up with a sincere passion for understanding people from different religions and helping people connect with each other. Seriously, your guess is as good as hers. Growing up on the Jersey Shore, she had little exposure to any religion but Judaism. She attended services as well as Hebrew School at Temple Beth Miriam in the town of Deal, and later worked as a teacher’s assistant there. So of course, when she got to college, she immediately joined CRU, a Christianity club—life comes at you fast, folks. Her years of experience in this club have left her determined to help shape a world where people are less ignorant of different religions, and more importantly, the of the people who practice them.
2017-2018 BILI Fellowship Recipients
My name is Amitai Abouzaglo — I was born in Dallas, Texas to a Costa Rican mother and a Moroccan-Israeli father. I grew up in an insular Jewish community, attending religious day school through the week and community synagogues and centers on the weekend. In those spaces I made my first friends. In those spaces I first considered my own strangeness. Those narrow spaces cultivated within me an undaunted love for people. I came to my current engagements with peacebuilding movements in Israel/Palestine and interfaith community building in accord with this love. I think abstractly: in the clouds of thought-formulation I am attached to realities of unfettered equality. Yet the clouds, I have found out, expand and thin out. The consistently grounding feature of my life is referencing that engulfing love emanating from my original narrow community. Bringing those particular (local/familiar) elements and eccentricities together with the universal conceptions of common brotherhood and sisterhood (international/other) is what I care most deeply about.
I am from Kashmir Valley. I am a sophomore at Wellesley College, studying Economics and Political science. I want to work to innovate and better the education system overall and want to help create a peaceful environment in Kashmir. Education could be made a force to unite people, cultures and nations for a peaceful and sustainable future (UWC mission). Given the current state of affairs, creating a strong understanding, awareness and tolerance of each other’s values is essential and need of the hour. I feel honoured that I have been given a chance to be a part of this fellowship. I look forward to broadening my understanding of other cultures and religions though this fellowship. I love badminton, volleyball and rock climbing. And I love to smile.
Celine was born in New York City in 1999 and is a French, Swiss and American student. She graduated from the Lycée Français de New York in 2017 and is now studying at Wellesley College. She is a practicing Roman Catholic and was an Interfaith Youth Fellow at the Interfaith Center in NY. For the past four years, she has been deepening her understanding of different faiths and actively working towards creating a more accepting society for everyone. She was part of a program called My Faith Your Faith, which bring together teens from different faiths and encourages dialogue, engages students to participate in religious traditions, reflect on the problems surrounding faith in society and creates a better understanding of other faiths. In the future, she wants to help build bridges between people of different religions, especially in this divisive time and combat the stigmas that surround different faiths.
Anna Del Castillo is a senior studying International Relations and Colonialism studies at Tufts University. She is a Mississippi native and engages diversity as a member of the Bridge to Liberal Arts Success (BLAST) program at Tufts. She is the student body Vice President, an organizer of the Tufts Indigenous Peoples Day movement, a Career Fellow, a Synaptic Scholar through the Institute of Global Leadership, a representative on the Undergraduate Admissions and Financial Aid Committee, and a member of the Interfaith Student Council. Anna is the lead ambassador for the Andrew Goodman Vote Everywhere team and because of her civic engagement work was invited to speak at the National Civic Leadership Summit in New York, was featured on National Public Radio (NPR) and in the Christian Science Monitor, and serves as a Harvard Institute of Politics National Campaign Ambassador. Anna is passionate about pursuing social justice and currently interns for Centro Presente, an organization focused on immigrant and worker rights.
Oelmis “Emi” Fermin is an undergraduate student at Boston University majoring in Middle Eastern and North African Studies. Born and raised in Miami, Florida, to immigrants from the Dominican Republic, Emi grew up speaking Spanish along with learning the cultural traditions of the nation such as dancing bachata, merengue, salsa, and playing baseball. Although raised in a Catholic household, Emi converted to Islam after fasting during Ramadan. Emi began his Studies at Florida International University as Theatre and English Major before transferring to BU. Aside from speaking English and Spanish Emi also speaks Italian and is learning Arabic, hoping to be fluent in the language. Upon graduation Emi hopes to join the Peace Corps and help make the world a better place. Emi also serves as a Marsh Associate at Boston University’s Marsh Chapel. With a great interest in interfaith relations, Emi hopes to encourage positive interfaith dialogue and collaboration to promote a more unified community in the greater Boston area.
Alden Fossett is a freshman at Harvard College, interested in studying philosophy or history of art and architecture. He is a part of dual degree Master’s program with Berklee College of Music, also in Boston, where he intends to study songwriting and music business. Originally from Los Angeles, California, Alden was raised attending Second Baptist Church and now considers himself to be a non-denominational Protestant. He became interested in interfaith work because he is very passionate about bringing the conversation of spiritual/religious/ethical traditions to a secular college campus, that, as of now, seems to be “allergic” to those discussions. He is also interested in how to facilitate and grow spiritual/religious/ethical life for the LGBTQ+ community and making them feel welcome in interfaith discussions.
Miriam Israel is a senior at Tufts University studying International Relations and Arabic. She is from the D.C. area and attended Jewish day school for many years where she learned about the importance of religious diversity and debate. Outside of academics she is involved with Tufts Hillel, serves as a Head Delegate for the Model United Nations team, volunteers as a tour guide and is on a traditional Indian dance team. She has spent significant time studying and living abroad in Muslim-majority countries and loves being exposed to different faith traditions. The study of language is also very important to her, particularly in the context of interfaith dialogue because it provides a way to connect with new people and gain a deeper understanding of their belief systems. She is very excited to be a part of BILI this year and can’t wait to work with and get to know the rest of the fellows!
Hello! My name is Ann-Marie Lee, but my friends call me Annie! I’m a sophomore and Community Health and Religion double major at Tufts University, originally from Roseland, New Jersey. On campus, I run the Conversation, Action, Faith, Education (CAFE) interfaith student group, and am a core leader of both the Buddhist Mindfulness Sangha and Tufts Progressive Alliance; I’m also a devoted and motivated member of Tufts Labor Coalition and the Left Unity Project at Tufts. The common theme I pursue is that of justice through interfaith collaboration – my motto is that whenever you have two people working together, you have interfaith work. Bringing together people of different backgrounds and ideologies to achieve fairness and opportunity for self-determination is one of the greatest challenges we face today, not just in Boston but across communities all over. I’m excited to be a part of BILI, and can’t wait to sow some seeds of change!
Emmanuel Nicolella is a queer Latinx Syncretic Humanist and Existentialist born in Barranquilla, Colombia in the evening hours of August 10, 1995. They are currently in their 5th and final year as a biochemistry major and sociology minor at Northeastern University. Emmanuel is also a painter and a poet and believes in the revelational synergy of science, art, and the study of human society and culture as quintessential to the human experience. They are a member of the leadership of various extracurricular activities on campus including Northeastern’s Interfaith Council, the Onyx Informer, an online publication by and for students of marginalized identities, and SAID (Students Against Institutional Discrimination), a campus organization that works to end institutional injustice at Northeastern and its surrounding communities. They are passionate about many things, and thus have little to no clue what they’ll actually be doing after graduation.
Maritt Nowak is a senior at Boston University studying international relations at the Pardee School of Global Studies and minoring in religion. She’s originally from St. Louis, Missouri, but loves the opportunity to be living and studying in Boston with other students from around the world. Maritt grew up attending Catholic school, but spends her time today between interdenominational Protestant worship and studying Islam. Her passion for interfaith was sparked at a Shabbat service during her freshman year and she’s been exploring the landscape of religious diversity on campus ever since. Although she is unsure what her future in faith will be, she enjoys the supportive community and spiritual fulfillment she’s found working at Marsh Chapel as an undergraduate associate. She hopes BILI will be an opportunity to be in contact with more opportunities for interfaith engagement, as she believes the best way to learn about who you are is to see yourself in others.
Phoebe Oler is a junior at Boston University studying Biological Anthropology. She is a Marsh Associate for Boston University’s Marsh Chapel, where she leads congregation, engages with the community, and contemplates her faith. She is also a member of the Marsh Chapel Choir, singing first soprano because she loves singing high notes. Phoebe grew up singing in an Episcopal Church in Greenwich, Connecticut. She continued singing throughout high-school in a secular setting. Phoebe found her faith again at Marsh Chapel her freshman year, where she feels strongly connected to the Methodist tradition. However, she still considers herself undecided on her spiritual journey.
Katie Owens is a third year student at Northeastern studying Behavioral neuroscience. She is a leader of Northeastern’s Interfaith Council and truly believes in its mission to promote understanding, respect and friendship between people of different backgrounds. Katie is also apart if Intervarsity Multiethnic Christian fellowship and has enjoyed the space to explorer identity in Christ, particularly as a part Latina woman. After college her tentative plan is to be a doctor for underserved populations in the US or abroad. She believes that our conceptions of what life could look like is nothing compared to what God has for us, so she continues to embrace uncertainty and live one step at a time. She hails from the beautiful Southern California, she loves to walk long distances, ice cream, birkenstocks and musical theatre- oh and Jesus, she loves Jesus.
Hello! My name is Sanjana Thakur. I grew up in Mumbai, India, with my parents, sister, grandparents, and a succession of tortoises, cats, and dogs. When I was fourteen, my family moved to Dubai. That’s where I graduated high school – in an international school surrounded by peers from over eighty countries. It was a wonderful experience that exposed me to different cultures, religions, perspectives, and beliefs, and it prepared me well for where I am now. I am currently a sophomore at Wellesley College double majoring in Anthropology and English with a concentration in Creative Writing. I am part of the editing team for two magazines on campus and a member of Darshana, the Hindu organisation. I am also a research assistant for a professor in the Anthropology department. Here are some fun facts about me: I skype my dog and cat at least once a week, my name means ‘gentle’ in Sanskrit, and I burnt myself with a firecracker on Diwali when I was five so now I am terrified of fire. Through the BILI Fellowship, I hope to participate in cross-cultural, interfaith conversations with people from varied backgrounds and gain insight into the role that religion plays in the world today.