During a trip the Bartahola Church with the Bucknell Brigade to Nicaragua in January, Samantha McDonough was struck by the vibrant colors and imagination of artist Gerardo Arias, who teaches painting at the adjacent community cultural center in Managua.
"I had such a great impression of him," she said. "He just radiated really good energy, and I was impressed with how humble he was."
McDonough, an art and art history junior, was intrigued about the mural project before she met Arias. A Bucknell Community College Scholar, she had read about the brigade before enrolling at the University in the fall and was aware an artist might be commissioned to paint a mural on campus commemorating the brigade's 10th anniversary. In January, with brigade leaders, Samantha met with the artist and discussed the vision of the project. Arias later came up with a design proposal and was selected to paint the mural this summer.
McDonough, 29, recently was awarded a scholarship through the Bucknell Public Interest Program and the Art Association to work with Arias when he visits Bucknell June 7 to July 6.
During her January trip to Nicaragua, McDonough saw the desperate and hopeful realities of Nicaragua. She was devastated by the scenes at the municipal dump in Managua, where an estimated 1,500 families live, scavenging for food and items to sell. She was encouraged by the efforts of a group of women who gave up their jobs in sweatshops to build a spinning factory to support their future livelihood.
Born in Pittsburgh, McDonough grew up in a steel mill town where poverty was a reality, although her struggles were much different than they are in developing countries. Her dad, an electrician, and her mom, a stenographer, married when they were teenagers and had five children before her mom was 27. They later divorced, and her mom raised the children mostly on her own.
McDonough dropped out of school in the 11th grade and did not return full-time until about three years ago, when she enrolled at the Community College of Philadelphia.
"I've always had the ability to see larger than my situation, knowing there's something better, but it took me 25 years to realize what I am able to do," she said.
As it has for many brigadistas, the trip to Nicaragua changed McDonough's life path. She will be studying in England this summer and will begin blogging about her experiences on the Bucknell website starting in August.
"We'd like to stay for a year and volunteer in whatever way we can be helpful," she said. "We have a lot of skills. We are both artists, and he designs websites."