Home Washington & Lee junior awarded Obama-Chesky Scholarship for Public Service

Washington & Lee junior awarded Obama-Chesky Scholarship for Public Service

Rebecca Barnabi
Photo courtesy of Washington & Lee University.

A Washington & Lee University junior has been awarded the Obama-Chesky Scholarship for Public Service.

Alina de Zoysa ’25 is the university’s first recipient of the two-year scholarship for juniors interested in a public service career. A sociology major, de Zoysa is minoring in education and poverty and human capability studies. She is from Jackson, New Jersey and a graduate of Jackson Memorial High School.

“I plan to work within a public school system, helping students transform their passions and talents into having lasting impacts within their communities,” she said. “Specifically, I hope to provide students with the services, accommodations and support they deserve.”

The Voyager Scholarship provides juniors financial support and the opportunity to expand their horizons through meaningful travel and access to a supportive network of mentors and leaders. Each scholarship recipient will receive funding and housing for a Summer Voyage experience the summer before their senior year, which will be designed by the student to gain exposure to different communities and experience in their chosen field. Students will also attend an ongoing speaker series where they can meet public service leaders and are invited to an annual summit to help define and inspire their public service journey.

De Zoysa plans to use her scholarship to further her understanding of disability rights and accessibility in the public education system, which will help shape her future career as an educator. In summer 2024, she hopes to travel to a country with a robust disability education system, such as the Netherlands, and observe the different ways students with disabilities can learn and prosper. For de Zoysa, understanding how various students may excel in different environments and how these different classroom settings might function is critical to pursuing a career in education.

“Alina exudes enthusiasm and passion for helping others, and I can’t think of a student who is better suited for the Voyager Scholarship,” W&L Associate Professor of Sociology Lynny Chin said. “I’ve been impressed with her ability to not just speak up about issues she finds unjust, but also act to find ways to solve them.”

De Zoysa has been an active volunteer within the Rockbridge County community. On campus, she is the community service chair for the Student Association for Black Unity, a teaching assistant for the Office of Community-Based Learning, and a career fellow in the Office of Career and Professional Development. She also volunteers in the Campus Kitchen at W&L and the Nabor Service League.

“Alina’s passion for justice is second to none,” said Howard Pickett, associate professor of ethics and poverty studies. “Alina brings a critical yet compassionate eye to everything, and I can always count on her to raise crucial questions about injustice and inequality. She also knows it’s just as important to listen to people as it is to ask questions, and I have no doubt that Alina will continue to make a positive impact on our world.”

President and Mrs. Barack Obama and Brian Chesky, co-founder and CEO of Airbnb, created the Voyager Scholarship, which has been awarded to 100 students for 2023-2025 in 33 states and at 77 colleges and universities.



Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca J. Barnabi is the national editor of Augusta Free Press. A graduate of the University of Mary Washington, she began her journalism career at The Fredericksburg Free-Lance Star. In 2013, she was awarded first place for feature writing in the Maryland, Delaware, District of Columbia Awards Program, and was honored by the Virginia School Boards Association’s 2019 Media Honor Roll Program for her coverage of Waynesboro Schools. Her background in newspapers includes writing about features, local government, education and the arts.