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Program for int’l scholars starts this year

Thanks to a large donation, Duke can now support select international students who would have otherwise been unable to attend the University.

A $20 million gift—donated by University Trustee Bruce Karsh, co-founder and president of Oaktree Capital Management, LLC and Trinity ’77, and his wife Martha in 2008—has made it possible for four international freshmen to enroll this year as part of the Karsh International Scholars Program. The scholarship program, which is in its first year, meets the full financial need of its students and sponsors up to four years of extensive summer research funding, among other trips and opportunities during the year.

The program helps address a void in financial aid for international students, given that the University is not need-blind for international applicants and there is only a limited amount of financial aid available to international students.

The scholarship program will bolster Duke’s international numbers by making the international admissions process closer to being need-blind, said Barbara Wise, associate director of the Office of Undergraduate Scholars and Fellows.

“We hope that this program will encourage excellent students from around the world to know that the Karsh Scholarship will help afford a Duke education no matter their circumstances,” Wise wrote in an email Tuesday.

Five international upperclassmen, who were already receiving need-based financial aid from the University, were also accepted into the program, which considers academic performance as well as need. A total of 10 countries are represented. The Karshes’ gift, announced in January 2008, was responsible not just for the formation of this scholarship program but for bolstering the amount of need-based financial aid available to international students.

Of the $20 million gift, $15 million established an endowment to provide need-based aid to international undergraduate students. The $5 million remainder was split between an endowment to cover expenses for internationals and the creation of the Karsh International Scholars Program.

Freshman Laxmi Rajak, who is from Nepal, said she feels extremely lucky to be a part of the program.

“It has been the most wonderful thing for me,” Rajak said. “I live with [only] my mom.... If I wouldn’t have gotten the scholarship, I wouldn’t be able to come here because my mom’s [monthly salary] is just below $100.”

The scholarship will help promote cultural diversity and benefit the Duke experience for all students, said Ana Barros, professor of engineering and the program’s faculty adviser.

“[The program] is a wonderful opportunity because each one of the students has an amazing story,” Barros said. “They come from very distinct cultures and have had very rich and distinct life experiences, so they’re really representative of the global community.... It’s a privilege to bring them to Duke.”

The funding for summer activities is an integral part of the program as scholars can receive up to $7,000 per summer, Barros added.

Rajak, who said she belongs to one of the lower castes in Nepal, wants to work on a summer project regarding the caste system either in Nepal or India. She said she is inspired by the discrimination she faced while growing up because of her place in the caste system.

The students are adapting to their new lifestyles well, Wise said, adding that the students have already engaged in varied activities across campus, similar to many other freshmen trying to find their way at Duke.

Barros said she is looking forward to opportunities for the students to actively engage with the rest of the student body. The program is taking a particular focus on the students’ development and cultural integration in the first semester. The Karsh Scholars are hoping to lead a Duke-wide activity in the Spring. The scholars will be working with other students from campus, Barros noted, adding that the activity will appeal to different groups on campus.

Rajak noted her gratefulness for this opportunity.

“I’m having a really good time [at Duke],” Rajak added. “I really want to thank Mr. and Mrs. Karsh for supporting me.”

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