Elliott School equity fund offering scholarships to bolster school-wide diversity

Media Credit: Eva Devizia | Photographer

The effort comes as officials push a focused, University-wide fundraising effort to support Pell Grant-eligible students.

The Elliott School of International Affairs introduced a new scholarship fund last month to help students access unpaid internships and study abroad opportunities for students from historically underrepresented groups.

The Elliott Equity Fund offers tuition and nontuition awards meant to provide students from low-income backgrounds and minority communities with better access to programs in the Elliott School. Dean Alyssa Ayres said officials will distribute the fund to alleviate tuition costs and financially support students participating in unpaid internships and study abroad programs in hopes of enhancing diversity, equity and inclusion.

“We want to raise more support for scholarships and fellowships, as well as non-tuition support for transformative experiences such as internships or study abroad that may not be possible without assistance,” Ayres said in an email last month. “For this reason we have just created the Elliott Equity Fund, which is a philanthropic priority for our school.”

Officials did not return a request for comment about how much money students can receive from the fund, how many students may receive awards and how much funding the initiative has raised.

Ayres, Senior Assistant Dean of Student Services and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Jonathan Walker and members of the Elliott School’s Council on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, which is composed of faculty, students and staff, collaborated throughout the past year to create the fund. Undergraduate and graduate students are eligible to apply for the fund, according to a University release.

About 54 percent of Elliott School students identify as white, about 13 percent identify as Hispanic, about 11 percent identify as Asian and about 5 percent identify as Black, according to institutional data. The school’s proportion of Black students is less than half of the University-wide percentage of Black students, which is 10.7 percent.

Officials announced in October they would launch a “focused initiative” to make GW more affordable to Pell-grant recipients with plans to allocate roughly $2 million next year for need-based grants, loans and Federal Work Study packages.

Jennifer Brinkerhoff – a professor of international affairs, international business, public policy and public administration and a member of the school’s diversity, equity and inclusion council – said donors will contribute money to the fund, and a committee of officials will review applications to determine each student’s award. She said officials designed the initiative to be “flexible” with funds, so they can designate money to address students with the highest financial need.

“Certainly it can support students who have needs at the time of admission,” she said. “It can also support students in need when they are encountering difficulties once they’re already students. And that might be for tuition support, but it also might be for living expenses.”

Brinkerhoff said the fund’s emphasis on diversity, equity and inclusion will prepare students to work in a “world of diversity,” where they will be exposed to a variety of cultures in their future careers in international affairs. She said the fund will help students overcome financial constraints that come along with attending an expensive school like GW, allowing historically underrepresented students to better access the University.

The University announced last week that the estimated cost of attendance will surpass $80,000 during the next academic year for most undergraduates. Officials said undergraduates who do not qualify for fixed tuition will pay a 3.9 percent tuition bump to more than $60,000 a year.

“A huge constraint to that is that we are an expensive school,” Brinkerhoff said. “And that makes it very difficult for people from diverse backgrounds, and that’s true also of first-generation students.”

More than half a dozen students said the Elliott School’s fund would increase accessibility for marginalized students and assist them in finding unpaid internships and studying abroad.

Josh Blaustein, a freshman majoring in international affairs, said the lack of professional experience among freshmen makes it difficult to find paid internships, and the fund will provide unpaid interns with an alternate form of cash flow. He said the fund will also help students find jobs they are more passionate about like internships in congressional offices and at nonprofit organizations.

“Maybe if they were being paid by the school as opposed to their employer, they can do things that they were actually passionate about and learn more about themselves,” Blaustein said. “And I think that’s what education is all about.”

Kyle Lim, a sophomore majoring in international affairs, said students from wealthier backgrounds have the best chance to live in D.C. while lower-income students need paid positions to live in the District over the summer.

“It will also kind of improve the diversity of the overall IA world that now you’re going to have people who are from much more diverse backgrounds,” Lim said. “And that’s going to be great because there’s a major diversity problem in the government and in IA, so hopefully this is going to help.”

13 percent of the U.S. State Department’s Senior Executive Service are people of color, and only 3 percent of the Senior Foreign Service identify as Black, according to POLITICO.

Sophie Rice, a freshman studying international affairs, said the number of paid internships are limited in international affairs organizations, like policy think tanks, turning Elliott School students to unpaid work. She said the fund makes unpaid positions more appealing because it would allow her to earn income while gaining new work experience.

“For international affairs, especially because most of the jobs here and the opportunities are through the government, they’re unpaid, so the ability to work for it or make money while you’re doing it would definitely be greatly appreciated,” Rice said.

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