Oct. 23, 2023

NDSU student receives prestigious scholarship


Focusing on school and research are top priorities for NDSU student Joelle Hannam this year. After being named a recipient of the Obama-Chesky Voyager Scholarship, Hannam will be able to put more energy into her field of study.

“It’s exciting. I’ll have the opportunity to meet a lot of other students who have received the scholarship as well, and it’s also relieving because it relieves some financial burden so it allows me to focus on school,” said the junior from Montgomery, Alabama.

The Voyager Scholarship was created by former president Barack Obama, his wife Michelle, and Brian Chesky, the co-founder and CEO of Airbnb. The competitive scholarship is awarded to 100 rising college juniors across the country who plan to pursue a career in public service. Hannam is the only student from North Dakota to have been named a recipient in this year’s group. 

Recipients receive up to $50,000 in financial aid for their junior and senior years, and a $10,000 stipend to go on a summer voyage to pursue a summer work-travel experience before they start their senior year. Additionally, recipients are invited to attend an annual summit and ongoing speaker series to help network and support students as they pursue public service careers. 

Receiving the scholarship has opened up opportunities for Hannam.

“This allows me to get my feet into the door for public service and to be able to serve communities better as well,” she said.

Hannam, who originally attended NDSU to study architecture, is now double majoring in sociology and psychology. Hannam said she chose to change her line of study to center on her interest surrounding mental health.

“About halfway through my second semester I started realizing that I really wanted to learn more about mental health and how to incorporate that into communities,” she said. “I’ve always had an interest in community development and serving communities in the best way possible.”

Her love for psychology and sociology, along with her passion for public service prompted Hannam to apply for the scholarship.

“I just have a desire to continue to serve the community,” she said.

Before starting college, Hannam completed two years of service building affordable housing with the Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity. Currently Hannam does volunteer work with Bridges International, an organization at NDSU that connects, serves and engages with international students. 

Each scholarship recipient determines a public service vision that they want to focus on. Hannam plans to focus on mental health, community wellness and the built environment.

Aspects of her public service vision are tied to the research Hannam is currently working on under Katherine Duggan, NDSU assistant professor of social and health psychology. The research focuses on sleep equity by evaluating the role of socioeconomic factors in sleep-related beliefs and daytime health behaviors.

Within her lab work, Hannam said she has already done some community outreach with sleep and heart health information. Long-term research Hannam is working on strives to help individuals and communities improve sleep outcomes.

“I am interested in how socioeconomic factors and sleep behaviors and beliefs are related because it may impact the way the science community communicates with the general public,” she said.

Hannam’s hard work has been noticeable to Duggan, who said she got emotional when learning Hannam was selected as a recipient of the scholarship. Duggan describes Hannam as a brilliant, passionate and creative student who has a serious approach to her studies and a passion to ensure science reaches people who will benefit the most from it.

“I am lucky to have Joelle working in my lab for the next few years while she explores these opportunities,” Duggan said. “It's an honor to be her research mentor, and to be able to support her in launching her own mentored public service research project with the financial support of the Obama-Chesky Foundation.”

As for the traveling aspect of the scholarship, Hannam will interview community members to learn how to best support them with getting a good night's sleep.

“I plan to somehow incorporate the work that I’m doing within the research lab and the summer voyage to allow me to gain more perspective on community as well as more practice with research,” she said.

After Hannam completes her undergraduate degrees, she plans to attend graduate school with a focus on counseling.

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