Barros Backs New Scholarships for International Students

November 3, 2011 | By David Jarmul

Durham, NC - Without Duke's new scholarship program for international students, Laxmi Rajak says, "I would probably have been washing clothes at other people's houses like my mother does because she could never have afforded my further education."

Rajak, a first-year student from Nepal, calls her scholarship "a wonderful opportunity that would otherwise have been denied to someone of my caste and economic status. Coming from a family that was not only poor but also treated as untouchable because of my caste, I would have never been able to attend a school like Duke."

Milkie Vu, a junior from Hanoi, says her scholarship has been "life-changing for me. Had I stayed in Vietnam for college, I would never have been able to take my amazing classes at Duke, through which I discovered my passion for history and anthropology. I would never have met wonderful friends and faculty who support me wholeheartedly and at the same time challenge my perspectives every day."

Rajak and Vu are among the first Karsh International Scholars at Duke, receiving extensive financial aid, based on their financial need, along with other support. Bruce Karsh, a university trustee, and his wife Martha gave $20 million in 2008 to establish the competitive program, which Duke President Richard Brodhead credits with "enriching our community and advancing Duke's global connectivity."

Launched officially this fall, the program invited four first-year students -- Rajak and students from Ethiopia, Kenya and Pakistan -- to form its inaugural class. It also invited two sophomores, from Spain and Ukraine, and three juniors, including Vu and classmates from Ecuador and Zimbabwe, to join the program and serve as mentors for the newcomers. The five sophomores and juniors were already receiving financial aid from the university.

Milkie Vu from Vietnam, faculty adviser Ana Barros and Laxmi Rajak from Nepal (front row, left to right) joined other Karsh International Scholars on a trip to Washington, D.C., during fall break.

"Our goal is to recruit the brightest and most promising kids who need financial aid and bring them to Duke," said Ana Barros, the program's faculty adviser and an engineering professor who lived in Angola and Portugal herself before moving to the United States. "Then we do the best we can to support them and help them become the outstanding world citizens and leaders we know they can be. We have a wonderful group of students, all from different countries and with diverse personalities."

Barros and graduate student Lauren Lee-Houghton, along with Duke's Office of Undergraduate Scholars and Fellows (OUSF), maintain close ties with the students. They eat some meals together, meet with guest speakers and organize trips such as one to Washington, D.C., during the recent fall break.

"What I find particularly exciting," Barros says about the program, "is that it includes funding for summer activities including research and internships, which we plan to implement in a way that will enrich the students as individuals, strengthen their academic and career prospects and allow them to be bold and pursue ambitious goals."

"The directors of the program work very hard to create opportunities to foster interaction and conversations between us," says Vu, who hopes to pursue a doctoral degree and become a researcher or professor.

Babs Wise, OUSF's associate director, says "all of the students seem to be doing really well" as they've adapted to college life in the United States. "We took them to dinner at Alivia's one night, and I needed to explain to someone what sweet potato fries are. Another student told me he couldn't believe how much food people were throwing away, which he said could feed half a village."

Such interactions educate both the Karsh Scholars and their American counterparts with whom they now share dorm rooms and classes. "They gain a better understanding of the United States, while we learn about their culture," Wise says. "Duke students are entering a global world. They need to appreciate difference as an important part of their education."