ASU student travels abroad in pursuit of a future career, learns about family’s culture on the way

July 1, 2019

Arizona State University senior Monica Orillo has been tackling different parts of the world in her pursuit of a future career in international affairs. 

She is a double major in Southeast Asia studies from the School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies and political science from the School of Politics and Global Studies. Additionally, she is pursuing a minor in German and a certificate in teaching English to speakers of other languages. Photo of Monica Orillo in the Philippines Senior Monica Orillo in the Philippines on a Boren Scholarship. Download Full Image

Not only did she expand her education to include different histories, cultures and languages from across the globe within the classroom, she took herself across the physical world as well.

Orillo studied abroad in Germany while she was in high school. She participated in the U.S. Department of State’s Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange program for one year and was introduced to a number of other programs related to studying abroad and pursuing a career in the federal government.

As an Arizona resident, Orillo came to ASU because she recognized the opportunity to make her undergraduate studies flexible and her education experience unique.

“I chose political science because I would like to pursue a career in international affairs and I chose Southeast Asia studies because I wanted a chance to learn more about the region from an academic standpoint, since I hadn't previously learned much about the region my family came from in any formal education,” Orillo said.

The degrees offered at ASU allowed her to focus her studies on her passions and allowed her the freedom to study abroad again.

She took one semester to intern in Germany with the U.S. Department of State, but when she came back, she wanted to continue taking her education to different parts of the world.

When she studied abroad in high school, Orillo learned about Boren Scholarships and decided she wanted to apply for one when she got to college. These particular scholarships are an initiative of the National Security Education Program to fund undergraduate students to study languages that are less commonly taught in world regions critical to U.S. interests.

“I contacted the Barrett Office of National Scholarship Advisement about my interest in applying and sent my essay drafts in for review,” Orillo said. “I had an interview with them on campus and after receiving some more feedback, I sent in my application to the Boren committee. The fact that I actually received the Boren was like a dream come true; I'd had my eye set on the program for a long time.”

Orillo has spent the last academic year in the Philippines at a host university for her Boren Scholarship. She took interdisciplinary classes about Philippine art, foreign policy and Southeast Asian environmental history.

“My parents are both from the Philippines and I used this opportunity to learn more about the country's culture and history and get in touch with my family heritage,” said Orillo. “I was also able to reconnect with nearby family members and travel across the country.”

She learned about the U.S.-Philippine relationship from a new perspective while she was traveling.

“It was very interesting to see the long-standing impact of the American colonial period on the country up close; this previous connection between the U.S. and the Philippines was the basis of my Boren essay topic,” Orillo said.

She is now back in the U.S., but as she reflects on the experience, she says her biggest takeaway was learning how diverse the Philippines truly are.

“There are many different cultures in different regions within the Philippines and there are also the added cultures of the Philippine diaspora, who go abroad to the U.S., Australia, Europe, the Middle East, China or elsewhere and bring back with them unique Philippine identities,” Orillo said. “It was so interesting to see how my own Filipino American background fit into all of it.”

For students wanting to pursue studying abroad or a Boren Scholarship specifically, Orillo recommends taking advantage of the resources available here at ASU.

“I would strongly suggest reaching out to Barrett ONSA, even if you are still in the early stages of just considering the program,” Orillo said. “I was initially surprised they were a resource available to me, as I am not a Barrett student. They're very helpful in outlining the process and helping you start to brainstorm topics for the application essays.”

Orillo is set to graduate in May and will be working as a change agent at Changemaker Central in addition to being a student researcher at ASU’s Center on the Future of War during her last year as an undergraduate. Then she will begin the process of applying for jobs to fulfill the Boren national service requirement.

To learn more about the 250-plus study abroad programs in more than 65 different countries offered at ASU, see the Study Abroad Office website.

Rachel Bunning

Communications program coordinator, School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies

Arizona community team wins first place in Alliance for the American Dream competition

Project Benjamin uses chatbot to increase FAFSA completion rates, with ultimate goal of increasing incomes of 10,000 local households

July 1, 2019

Project Benjamin, a cross-sector coalition of organizations from Arizona, was provisionally awarded $1 million from Schmidt Futures in the Alliance for the American Dream competition Thursday in New York for its plan to use a chatbot to scale a strategy to boost Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) completions in 67 area high schools.

In 2018, Schmidt Futures enlisted four public universities — Arizona State University, the Ohio State University, the University of Utah and the University of Wisconsin-Madison — to participate in the Alliance for the American Dream, an initiative aimed at sourcing solutions to increase the net income of 10,000 local households by 10%. With an average annual federal financial aid award of nearly $9,900, Project Benjamin is poised to exceed the grant challenge. Project Benjamin team poses for a group photo From left: Andrew Magliozzi (AdmitHub), Karla Robles (Be a Leader Foundation), ASU President Michael M. Crow, Jacqueline Smith (ASU), Rich Nickel (College Success Arizona), Rachel Yanof (Achieve60AZ), Heidi Doxey (College Success Arizona), Julie Sainz (Arizona Commission on Postsecondary Education), Andrew Nelson (ASU), Missy Pizzo (ASU), Edmundo Hidalgo (ASU), Sylvia Symonds (ASU) and Eric Schmidt (Schmidt Futures). Download Full Image

Arizona is 49th in the country for FAFSA completion, with only 45% of high school seniors completing the form that determines current and prospective U.S. college students' eligibility for federal financial aid. The state has a goal that by 2030, 60% of adults in Arizona ages 25 to 64 will hold a licensed degree or credential, about 15 percentage points above current rates.

“There are a lot of steps that have to be taken to actually get to that culminating point of attainment, and FAFSA completion is a great leading indicator that we are moving toward the right direction,” said Rachel Yanof, executive director of Achieve60AZ, part of the Project Benjamin coalition. “Given that we only have 10 more years until we hit the year 2030, we need as many leading indicators and actions toward those leading indicators to show that we’re making progress. So to me, this is a massive step.”

Before this competition, the team had successfully piloted a three-tiered support model in Phoenix Union High School District and Mesa Public Schools, significantly improving FAFSA completion rates. Project Benjamin will scale the human-capital-intensive model by integrating an artificial-intelligence-powered chatbot, Benjamin, to offer effective one-to-one support for FAFSA completion. Students will be able to text Benjamin their FAFSA questions and get immediate answers at any time of the day. Additionally, Benjamin provides text-message nudges about events, items to complete and important next steps.

“We knew going into this that we had a successful model that was labor-intensive,” said Rich Nickel, president and CEO of College Success Arizona. “What we really wanted to think about — and what this challenge allowed — was for us to envision technology and smart technology as an amplifier of what we were already doing. ... This is really what's going to move the needle with FAFSA completion.”

Project Benjamin shared first place with the team LIFT Dane (Wisconsin) and was awarded $1 million, pending the execution of a contract. Sharing second place were the teams Coal Country Strike Team (Utah), Power of Home (Ohio) and We Care for Dane Kids (Wisconsin). With the additional funding, the Arizona team will deploy Benjamin in 15 school districts starting in August and begin statewide marketing campaigns to shine on light on the benefits of completing the FAFSA.

“This investment on the part of the Schmidt Futures will have a catalytic effect on our collaborative partnerships, benefiting our schools, students and families,” said Sylvia Symonds, associate vice president for Educational Outreach and Student Services at ASU. “We will utilize technology in a way that previously we have not had the means to do so. This will allow us to scale some very promising initial efforts into a more comprehensive FAFSA completion strategy.”

Project Benjamin is composed of subject-matter experts from ASU, College Success Arizona, Achieve60AZ, the Arizona Commission on Postsecondary Education, Helios Education Foundation, Mesa Public Schools, Maricopa Community Colleges, Be A Leader Foundation, AzCAN and AdmitHub.

“This crucial project demonstrates our institutional commitment to encourage the growth and resilience of the communities we serve,” said ASU President Michael M. Crow. “We are excited and appreciative of the opportunity to make this new tool available to more learners in support of their academic access and success.”

ASU is also participating in the second cycle of the Alliance for the American Dream, with the target year of 2022 for the challenge of increasing the net income of 10,000 middle-class households. Teams will be selected from a local competition to compete at the national level, with the winners set to pitch for up to $1 million of implementation funding. Learn more at 

The Alliance for the American Dream is supported by Schmidt Futures, a philanthropic initiative founded by Eric and Wendy Schmidt that bets early on people who will make our world better — helping people to achieve more for others by applying advanced science and technology thoughtfully and by working together across fields. ASU is an inaugural member of this alliance along with The Ohio State University, the University of Utah and University of Wisconsin-Madison. 

Please direct all inquiries about ASU’s participation in the Alliance to Andrew Nelson, program manager, Strategic Network Advancement: 480-727-3491 or