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Isabel Plakas '19 Earns Mitchell Scholarship to Study at Trinity College Dublin

December 12, 2023
Isabel Plakas '19

Isabel Plakas '19, who majored in psychology at Bryn Mawr and is now pursuing a master’s degree in nursing at Johns Hopkins School of Nursing, is the first Mawrter to receive a George J. Mitchell Scholarship.

Plakas is one of only 12 individuals selected to be a 2025 scholar out of nearly 350 applications.

Named to honor former U.S. Senator George Mitchell's contribution to the Northern Ireland peace process, the scholarship program is designed to introduce and connect generations of future American leaders to the island of Ireland, while recognizing and fostering intellectual achievement, leadership, and a commitment to community and public service.

Plakas will study addiction recovery at Trinity College Dublin.

"I started doing harm reduction work in 2018 when I studied abroad in Spain through Bryn Mawr’s collaboration with Hamilton College," says Plakas. "I didn't know there was a term for the work I was doing with Medicos del Mundo, but when I returned in the fall I took a course taught by Dr. Anne Montgomery at Haverford College which looked at the overdoses crisis in the United States, specifically Philadelphia. It was there I first learned about harm reduction. The philosophy challenged preconceived notions I had about drug use and the war on drugs."

After graduation, Plakas moved to Boston to do research but found herself unfulfilled.

"I recalled meeting a Bryn Mawr alum named Sarah Mackin (Class of 2007) during my senior year at Bryn Mawr who did harm reduction work in Boston. I reached out and began volunteering at the syringe exchange she ran. I will always be grateful that she accepted me into the community and mentored me," says Plakas.

Plakas soon got a job next door as a harm reduction specialist at Boston Health Care for the Homeless.

"During my first week, a nurse told me, 'You’re either going to love it or hate it, and you’ll know right away.' I loved it."

After three years Plakas left to go to nursing school at Hopkins but Bryn Mawr has continued to find her.

"I work at Sex Workers Promoting Action, Risk Reduction and Community Mobilization (SPARC), a drop-in center for female and nonbinary sex workers in southwest Baltimore. The team here is incredible, and during an outreach shift last year, I was excited to learn that my coworker, Dr. Sangeeta Lyer (class of 2002) is also a Bryn Mawr graduate. Since arriving at Hopkins, I have also gotten the opportunity to teach an undergraduate course on harm reduction. During our last class this year a student stayed behind to tell my co-teacher and me how much the class meant to them, and how they would take what they learned and use it in their work going forward. It all felt very full circle—from being that student in 2018 at Bryn Mawr to being on the other end of that conversation at Hopkins as adjunct faculty."

At Hopkins, Plakas has received the Nursing Scholar Award from the National Association of Hispanic Nurses and she serves as co-president of Nursing Students for Harm Reduction.

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