Prior to the creation of the Karsh International Scholarship, the University provided no opportunities for need-blind aid to international students.
Now in its third year, the Karsh program began with a $20 million donation from University Trustee Bruce Karsh, co-founder and president of Oaktree Capital Management, LLC and Trinity ’77, and his wife Martha in 2008 to provide funds for a need and merit-based scholarship for international students to attend Duke. The program meets the full financial need of its students, funds special trips and opportunities for its students during the school year, and sponsors up to three summer projects that a student may choose to organize. It started with only four students and now has 19 scholars, including two alumni.
“Financial aid availability for foreign students is very limited generally, not only at Duke, but also elsewhere,” said Ana Barros, faculty director of the Karsh Scholarship. “However, other institutions may have larger financial aid funds, which can also be used to support international students. Thus, the vision and leadership of the Karshes at Duke is especially noteworthy.”
Sixteen countries are currently represented among the Karsh Scholars. Current scholars feel that the diversity of the program, as well as its strong support structure, is the core of the program’s success.
“It makes it so that you come to Duke with a group of people who come from all over the world but are facing the same issues as you. This makes for an extremely supportive environment that really helped with my transition to college life freshman year,” sophomore Karsh Scholar Isabella Kwai said.
The program, Kwai said, provides support and networking resources to the scholars, while affording them with the independence necessary to focus their interests and forge their own unique student experience.
“For example, you can organize whatever project you want to do over the summer and they’ll support you, and I think that’s amazing,” she said.
Junior Winnie Biwott, a Karsh Scholar born and raised in Kenya, said that one of the main benefits of the program is the diversity of its student network.
“The main thing I’ve really gained from being a scholar is getting to meet students from all over the world, getting to talk to them at symposiums and getting to hear their stories—this really inspired me to challenge myself,” Biwott said.
Barros noted that the Karsh Scholars are engaged students who participate in a wide range of activities from student government to DukeEngage to the arts and to athletics.
Biwott added that the program helps make an education from a leading university a financial possibility for some international students. She noted that this can help the students further their goals in their native countries.
“The Karsh program is really important for being able to bring in students from all over the world who may come from disadvantaged backgrounds, and give them a chance to tell their stories at one of the best institutions in the world,” she said. “I know that most other Karshes want to influence their communities back home once they graduate, as well.”
Biwott plans to return to Kenya after graduation to improve conditions.
The Karsh Scholarship is highly competitive, as only five new students are recruited on average each year. Despite the selectivity, Barros said, the presence of a merit scholarship for international students enables the University to compete with other prestigious institutions for top international students that would otherwise be unable to afford attending Duke.
Current Karsh Scholars would welcome the expansion of the program in the future to accommodate more students from more locations around the world.
“I look forward to seeing a very cool global alumni network rising out of the Karsh community,” Kwai said. “It’s kind of cool to think of the possibility of having a Karsh scholar from every country.”