Elon family endows global engagement scholarship to honor daughter’s experience

The gift from Jeff Russo P’24 and Nahla Azmy P’24 will help broaden access to life-changing study abroad or Study USA opportunities.

Inspired by the life-changing study abroad experience their daughter enjoyed, Elon parents Jeff Russo P’24 and Nahla Azmy P’24 of Princeton, New Jersey, have endowed a global engagement scholarship to help make these transformative learning opportunities available to students with financial need.

The Ranya Alexandra Russo ’24 Global Engagement Scholarship, named in their daughter’s honor, will provide financial assistance to students pursuing a major in the School of Communications who are interested in a study abroad or Study USA experience. First preference will go to a student interested in studying in Spain.

“We love Elon and wanted to give back to the university,” Azmy said. “It was because of our daughter’s experience abroad and her passion for Spanish that we decided to create this scholarship.”

Ranya Russo, a communications design and Spanish double major, spent a semester studying in Seville, Spain, in fall 2022. She lived with a host family who spoke no English and took all her courses in Spanish, which allowed her to become fully immersed in a different culture. She also volunteered by teaching English and American culture to Spanish middle schoolers through the Council on International Educational Exchange.

“That turned out to be the best experience for our daughter,” Jeff Russo said. “We had the ability to help her participate in this study abroad experience and not every family does. We wanted to honor Ranya’s experience and make it possible for others to have the same opportunity she had.”

Ranya said she chose to study in Seville because English is not as predominant there compared to other parts of Spain. In addition to classes in journalism, painting, current events and the history of food, she completed four intensive Spanish courses, which, along with living with her host family, enabled her to become fluent in the language.

Ranya Russo ’24 spent hours at Plaza de España during her fall 2022 semester abroad in Seville, Spain.

“Studying abroad was one of the greatest challenges and most rewarding experiences of my life,” Ranya said. “My courses were not only insightful in learning the language, but about Spanish culture as well, and they helped me grow my knowledge of intercultural media in different ways.”

Living with her host family was equally powerful.

“For three months, the entire family made me feel like I was one of their own,” Ranya said. “We were always talking to each other at dinner about my life back home, having movie nights, going out in the Alameda de Hercules plaza where we lived, and joking when I would mess up a Spanish word or phrase. They made my entire experience better, and helped comfort me when I was homesick.”

“It took a lot of courage, but I felt that Elon really helped facilitate that experience for Ranya and she felt she had that support,” Azmy said. “It’s part of the culture and community at Elon. She came back a different person, and now she looks back and feels she can do things independently.”

Elon’s national leadership in study abroad initially drew the family to the university. Once Ranya enrolled, the family’s admiration for Elon deepened as they learned about the variety of programs and activities available to students.

“There’s something for everyone at Elon,” Azmy said. “The breadth of the academic programs, the experiential learning opportunities, and the faculty are all fantastic. There’s a lot of spirit at Elon.”

The couple believes strongly in investing in education, and experiencing different cultures is an essential component of students’ learning.

“Students need to get out of their comfort zone,” Russo said. “One of the ways you grow is by testing yourself and seeing what you can handle and how you adapt to change and uncertainty.”

Azmy agreed, adding, “It changes your perspective and hopefully opens your mind up to other people’s differences.”

As she prepares to graduate, Ranya said she has high hopes for the scholarship her family has established.

Ranya Russo ’24 (center) tutored middle school students in English and American culture during her semester abroad experience.

“I am proud of the legacy that my family and I are establishing at Elon, one that emphasizes the importance of global education and the impact that it can have on someone’s life,” she said. “By starting this scholarship, I hope to encourage and enable more students to embark on their own international journeys. One that will change their lives forever, just like it did for me.”

She’s also grateful to her alma mater for preparing her for the next chapter of her life.

“Elon did an incredible job in pushing me to explore my creativity through graphic design, tapping back into my love for art,” she said. “I am grateful for the lasting memories and the strong foundation Elon has provided for my future endeavors.”