The family of a GW Law School student who died last year donated $1 million to help aspiring lawyers from poor nations fulfill their courtroom dreams.
The Ben Gupta Endowed Fund for International Legal Education, to be announced this month, will use the funds from the Gupta family to pay tuition for students from developing countries starting next fall.
Gupta died in December 2011 at 28 years old while working on graduate degrees in business and law. He was remembered as a fierce leader with a passion for international work. He died from a mix of alcohol and oxycodone.
Gupta’s father Vinod, chief executive officer of a Nebraska-based data and marketing services company, said the scholarship would help the law school establish stronger ties around the world, as well as honor his son.
“The fact that we lost him so early, we thought it would be a beautiful memorial to him, having that scholarship in his name at GW,” he said.
Vinod Gupta has collaborated with the law school before to expand legal education in developing countries.
He worked with the Indian Institute of Technology Kharagpur, where he graduated, along with GW’s law school to help start a law school in India in 2006.
“We are in a global village. That type of concept and that type of education is valuable all over the world,” he said.
This will be the first named scholarship fund at the law school geared toward “increasing educational opportunities for students in the developing world,” outgoing law school dean Paul Schiff Berman said.
The scholarship fund will be available to international students seeking J.D. and L.L.M. degrees, as well as to those hoping to participate in short-term exchange programs.
“The loss of a child has to be among the most wrenching and debilitating events that a family can go through – nothing will address that loss,” Berman said. “But I hope that with this fund, we can keep the name and memory of Ben Gupta alive and honor his desire to contribute to the world.”
Berman said the school has been looking to increase offerings for students from countries with booming populations and overflowing education systems.
The law school has doubled the number of international students over the past decade, with more than half of the 166 foreign students this year coming from developing countries like India, China, Colombia and Tanzania.
Berman, who announced in November he was stepping down as dean for a post in the provost’s office, also visited India last month to help forge stronger ties with Indian schools and alumni.
“Historically, law schools did less internationally simply because law tended to be local. But increasingly, over the last two decades, law schools have globalized their curriculum and education,” Berman said.
That increase in international students could help shield the law school from a deeper dent in enrollment. A 25 percent bump in foreign enrollment this year came as the school welcomed its smallest first-year class in at least a decade. Prospective students nationwide have shied away from law schools’ high price tags and shaky job prospects.
Berman said appealing to more international students, including ones from developing countries, can help buffer that enrollment as long it maintains strict academic standards.
“There’s a growing international population that is interested in American legal education, and they are growing more and more qualified in terms of ability to speak and write English, and educational background generally,” he said. “These are students that GW wants to have.”
During Berman’s 18 months at the helm, the law school has also looked to expand financial aid to help offset the debt burden of its $45,750 tuition.
Susan Karamanian, associate dean for international and comparative legal studies, said the Gupta scholarship would help entice the top students from developing countries interested in legal education.
It would attract “somebody who has a lot of promise for leadership and would be able to, within five to 10 years after returning home, be able to make a difference in his or her country,” she said.
Attracting international students could allow GW to have a hand in improving the standing of global freedom and human rights, she said.
“Students are able to take their law tools and go back and apply those tools to their own unique society. You can’t simply transplant U.S. law, but you can train students who have an appreciation for certain principles to attempt to apply those principles in their home country,” Karamanian said.