Prepared by M. Gashi and K. Karaja New York 30 December 2020

Vatra’s Educational Foundation awarded four scholarships, $1,500 each, for the academic year 2020-2021.

Each year, Vatra awards scholarships to deserving students of Albanian ancestry. As described in the application packet, the selection criteria for the scholarship recipients is based on applicants’ academic records, extracurricular activities, recommendation letters, and personal statements. High priority and consideration are given to applicants who are related to active members of Vatra. The purpose of Vatra’s Educational Foundation is to provide financial aid in the form of scholarships to deserving students of Albanian descent. Vatra has awarded scholarships for over fifty years to Albanian-American college students.

We have observed a steady trend in which the majority of Vatra scholarship recipients have been female. Our analysis indicates that, in the last seven years, less than 25% of applicants for the Vatra scholarship were male.

This may be an indication that in the Albanian-American community, females are currently outperforming males in educational attainment. This phenomenon is prevalent in other ethnic communities as well. In the United States, girls have overall higher grades and attend college at higher rates.  However, parents can take certain steps to help their male children overcome this performance gap in education. According to a PBS NewsHour article, such steps might include, among many others: providing resources in the home that promote learning, planning ahead with the child to achieve attainable goals each school year, and fostering open, judgement-free communication so that the child can articulate their struggles to parents.

We would like to congratulate this year’s recipients for their dedication to their studies and for their involvement in their communities.

Melita Cekani

Melita Cekani is a passionate architecture student and artist. She came to the USA at the young age of 17, leaving behind her dear town of Gjirokastër, Albania, as well as her family. She wants to get the most out of the experience as a college student.  She has always been passionate about painting and has professionally followed her art path since she was living in Albania. She is awarded national and international prizes, furthermore, her paintings have been part of various international, solo, and group exhibitions. Nevertheless, she aims to spread messages through her art regarding cultural tolerance, cultural heritage, and diversity in other countries as well. She is currently a sophomore at New York City College of Technology, majoring in Architecture. Her biggest wish is to expand her knowledge and to challenge herself in many ways, thus, to become a great professional, a better artist, and most importantly a person that serves society and her people in the best possible manner.

Virginia Kukaj

Virginia Kukaj is a proud Albanian- American mother to 3 boys: Sebastian, Nathaniel and Christian and moved to America from Belgium when she met her husband, Eric in 2001. For the past 14 years, she has dedicated herself to being a wife and mother and has spent countless hours volunteering her time and talents to her church, her children’s school and her community by planning events and fundraisers.Three years ago, she decided to follow her dream to return to school to become a special education and language teacher and is currently pursuing that dream at Nazareth College in Rochester, NY

Dea Gorka

Dea Gorka is an Albanian American who was born in the capital city, Tirana. She graduated as an Honors Scholar at the University of Connecticut in 2017 with a B.S. in physiology and neurobiology and a minor in psychology. Dea is currently a fourth year Biomedical Ph.D. student at UConn Health in the Genetics and Developmental Biology Department. Her research focuses on studying the genetic and cellular deficits underlying a rare neurodevelopmental disorder called Angelman syndrome. She works closely with pharmaceutical companies and other research labs to better understand the disorder and test novel therapeutic targets that could lead to better treatment options for patients. Dea is extremely passionate about her research and helping others. She is especially proud to be an Albanian immigrant and hopes to continue to do significant and meaningful work for both the scientific field as well as her community

Stella Vaso

Stela Vaso is currently a student at Columbia University where she is majoring in political science. She obtained her associate degree in Liberal Arts at Borough of Manhattan Community College, where she graduated with a 3.9 GPA while leading the 3rd division Volleyball team. Her accomplishments as a student-athlete, paired with her volunteering work, have awarded her with the title of CUNY Female Student-Athlete of the year in 2017. Stela is looking forward to continuing serving her community by pursuing a career in law in the future. Her grandparents suffered persecution by the communist authorities in Albania

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