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New scholarship exposes students to travel-based experiences

LAPLACE — A couple with local ties is offering a new scholarship program exclusively to students of the River Parishes.

St. John the Baptist Parish native Bradley Becnel has visited more than 50 countries across six continents.

He met his wife, Ashley Becnel, when they were both working for President Barack Obama in 2009. Travel has been an integral part of their life together and has shaped their worldviews. Now, they want to extend the opportunity to a new generation of students.

The Becnels have discussed ways to give back to their community. Plans to donate to a local organization evolved into the Becnel Family Scholarship after they agreed to make their charitable contribution a more personal reflection of who they are.

“We were both fortunate to build careers that allowed us to travel both domestically and internationally,” Bradley said. “It opened our eyes to a new world. It fundamentally changed who we are and the trajectory of our lives. A travel scholarship is a chance for us to open that door for someone else and to inspire them to see beyond the world they grew up in.”

The Becnel Family Scholarship will be launched in August to coincide with the start of the 2020-2021 academic year.

The scholarship will provide up to $5,000 to pay for a summer learning program and some related travel experiences. Students will join a reputable company specializing in high school and college programs throughout the world.

Bradley said one student would receive the scholarship each year, with the potential for additional students to receive it based on the number of applicants and available funding.

Programs could include language classes, cultural immersion, leadership training, sightseeing and volunteering, among other opportunities.

“We’ve pre-selected multiple programs for 2020/2021 we believe will offer a unique and rewarding experience. The options include Mexico, Canada, Ghana and Costa Rica,” he said. “We’ll work closely with the winner on the final selection and will assist in all related travel planning activities.”

In order to be eligible for the scholarship, a student must be a junior or a senior attending school in the River Parishes. The student must have a 2.7 GPA or higher and be in good academic standing. A letter of recommendation from a faculty member is required.

This scholarship is financial need-based. Completed application forms are due by Nov. 1, 2020, and the student should have the ability to travel for two or three weeks during the summer of 2021. This requires the student to obtain a U.S. passport prior to the anticipated travel time.

Bradley and Ashley were both part of Advance, a White House department that coordinated and executed the president’s events and travel around the country and internationally. Their first interactions were abroad working for President Obama in Turkey and Italy.

The couple now has two sons, ages 4 and 2, and they reside in downtown New Orleans. Bradley currently works in LaPlace, managing a family business.

Ashley said travel has exposed her to the goodness of people. It has taught her to embrace and fight for all types of people while respecting their culture and religion. Travel has ultimately changed her perspective of the world.

“For me, the more I travel, the more I want to travel. I want to keep meeting new people. I want to try their food. I want to get lost in their neighborhoods – the sights, sounds and smells – and see how they live. I want to find a café and watch the world go by,” Ashley said. “At the heart of it, we are more similar than we are different. Regardless of where you live, what language you speak or what religion you follow, we’re all people just trying to get by.”

Bradley added that exposing students to new places and cultures will ultimately change how they look at the world, as well as challenge their cultural values and biases.

“We want to force them out of their comfort zone- the feeling of being scared and excited at the same time is what travel is all about,” Bradley said. “It can also impact their education and career direction, while building confidence and critical thinking in unfamiliar surroundings. It’s a bit cliché, but we both truly believe this will be a life-changing experience for these young students.”

Students, parents and teachers can learn more about the scholarship and download an application at www.BecnelScholarship.org.