Cassandra Varanka Contributed photo

Each year, Rotary International awards up to 50 fully-funded fellowships for dedicated leaders from around the world to study at one of its seven peace centers. This year Cassandra Varanka, sponsored by Bridgton-Lakes Region Rotary Club, was one of these 50 winners.

Chosen from some 600 applicants across the globe, Varanka will study at the University of Queensland’s (Australia) Rotary Centre for International Studies in Peace and Conflict Resolution starting in early 2023. This center is part of a global program to advance research, teaching, practical training and knowledge on issues of international relations, conflict resolution and peace-building. It offers a tailored Master’s Degree in international studies, aimed at potential world and community leaders, designed to have a practical effect on addressing international and regional conflicts.

The fellowship, worth more than $75,000, will fully fund tuition and fees, room and board, round-trip transportation, and all internship and applied field study expenses.

Each year the Rotary Peace Fellows begin an 18-month program of study. Fellows are selected from countries and cultures around the globe, based on their prior experience in peacebuilding and their potential for future leadership roles in conflict resolution. Varanka has had extensive policy experience in nuclear disarmament as a congressional aide, and in leadership positions at Foreign Policy for America and Women’s Actions for New Directions. Her goal is to use newly-acquired skills to forward the use of diplomatic rather than military solutions for conflict resolution.

Varanka heard about this prestigious award from her uncle, George Szok, a long-time Rotarian with the Bridgton-Lake Region Rotary Club. She thought the fellowship could be an extraordinary opportunity to advance her knowledge and practical skill in conflict resolution. And after her presentation at a Bridgton-Lake Region Rotary meeting in April, it was clear to all that she was an excellent candidate for this global fellowship, according to a news release from the club.

Varanka was interviewed by members of the Rotary District Peace Fellowship Subcommittee, and ultimately endorsed as the sole candidate from District 7780 that comprises 41 clubs from Rumford, to Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

Varanka now lives and works in Washington, D.C., but has strong ties to New England, where she was born, finished her college studies, and where her parents still live. She is especially attached to Bridgton, where her parents have a vacation home and her uncle resides.

Members at the local Rotary Club are indeed proud of Varanka and her successes to date, and look forward to seeing her progress through this fellowship program and beyond. Rotary Club President Jessica Putnam said, “We couldn’t be prouder. This is the first time we have recommended a candidate for this global fellowship and it has inspired us to seek out candidates in the future. We work with so many outstanding young people in the Lakes Region. Another global peace fellow could be among them,” according to a news release from the club.

For more information, visit

Comments are not available on this story.

filed under: