Top scholarships seek out students from underrepresented backgrounds

Besides financial assistance, top awards provide mentoring, networking support


Students walking through the Student Pavilion at ASU.
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Growing up in rural Kentucky, Morgan Beaven said he didn't know many other LGBTQ people.

“I didn’t have LGBTQ mentors or folks to look up to,” he said.

But last year, as an incoming student at Arizona State University, Beaven won the Point Foundation Flagship Scholarship, a prestigious award for LGBTQ college students. In addition to financial assistance, the scholarship offers networking with LGBTQ professionals.

“Honestly, to have that mentorship through the program is one of the aspects that I appreciate the most,” said Beaven, who is majoring in public service and public policy with a concentration in nonprofit leadership management. He said he has lunch or coffee with his mentor about once a month.

The Point Foundation scholarship is one of a growing number of awards intended for students from backgrounds that have been historically excluded from prestigious scholarships and fellowships, according to Shay Masterson, program manager in the Lorraine W. Frank Office of National Scholarships Advisement at ASU.

Often, the value of these awards is more than financial, she said.

“We try to help students understand that for these types of awards, when it comes to undergraduates, most are not general education funding like you think of when you think of scholarships, and even the ones that are are very specialized, like the Point Foundation,” she said.

“But all of them, whether they provide general education funding or not, have a higher value in the experience — in study abroad, research, internships, mentorship or a combination of those, and in building the professional network with other scholars and the alumni of the program.”

The office provides a range of support for scholarship applicants, including information sessions, application reviews, writing workshops and interview preparation.

ASU has produced several recent winners of these awards.

Point Foundation Flagship Scholarship

Beaven said that besides the mentorship, the financial award was helpful because he’s an out-of-state student. During his senior year of high school, he was applying for a variety of scholarships and homed in on the Point Foundation, though he didn’t believe he had a chance.

Morgan Beaven

“I did feel like my experiences and the things I had been involved in were relevant to the interview questions, but it never crossed my mind that I would be selected,” he said.

In high school, Beaven started working in state politics when he learned that Kentucky had no laws protecting LGBTQ people from discrimination in housing or employment.

“That struck a nerve, so I joined a few activist groups and had leadership roles in the LGBTQ caucus in the Young Democrats,” he said.

“In my head, that wasn’t that big of an accomplishment, but when it’s on paper, it does sound pretty good.”

This year, ASU student Sami Al-Asady won a Point Foundation Flagship Scholarship.

“As a member of the LGBTQ community, I was looking for a way to elevate my academic experience while also finding this network of like-minded individuals doing great things in higher education, but also in terms of societal impact, and the Point Foundation scholarship was a great fit for my goals,” said Al-Asady, who is majoring in political science and civic and economic thought and leadership.

He got interviewing tips from the Office of National Scholarships Advisement.

Sami Al-Asady

“They helped me identify some of the things I wanted to communicate and how to frame my experiences in a way that would be compelling and understood by the foundation,” he said.

Al-Asady said he has been enriched by the opportunity to connect to the LGBTQ community.

“And I’m grateful for the financial support to make living on campus possible,” he said.

The Point Foundation Flagship Scholarship provides financial support, renewable up to four years, leadership development programs, mentorship and networking. The application is now open.

Brooke Owens Fellowship

Brooke Owens was American pilot and space policy expert. After she died of breast cancer at age 35 in 2016, a group of her friends founded a nonprofit that provides paid internships at aerospace companies and organizations for 40 women students every year.

Rosemary Ferreira, an ASU Online student, was a fellowship winner this year and was an intern at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland. Originally from the Dominican Republic, she moved to New York as a teenager and taught herself English.

“I didn’t think I had a chance because it’s very competitive,” she said of the fellowship.

“I have the typical imposter syndrome – ‘I shouldn’t be here even though I work so hard.' But I was dealing with cancer treatment and thought, ‘What’s the worst that could happen?’ It all happened so fast I didn’t have time to get excited.”

Ferreira started becoming interested in space when she was a child living in the Dominican Republic.

Rosemary Ferreira

“I would see the moon during blackouts — it was the only light we would get. It became my obsession — ‘What is this?’ I needed to know,” she said.

As a first-generation college-goer, she didn’t have much guidance. She decided to enroll in ASU Online because it was the only way she could pursue a degree and still work full time. She started in physics, then switched when the astronomical and planetary sciences degree was offered.

Ferreira said her internship with the NASA communications staff was “a dream come true.”

“They have a Spanish team, so I had the opportunity to do both English and Spanish,” she said.

“I did research and translating. I did live shots behind the scenes in a control room and coordinated with media all over. It was intense and I loved it.”

Ferreira, who would like to become an astronaut, now mentors potential applicants. “In the beginning, it intimidated me, but then I realized that they care so much about the applicants,” she said.

“I love the fact it’s a well-rounded application because they try to get every aspect of your personality.”

The Brooke Owens Fellowship is available to undergraduates who are cisgender women, transgender women, non-binary, agender, bigender, two-spirit, demigender, genderfluid, genderqueer or another form of gender minority and are interested in a career in aerospace. The paid, 12-week internship positions are a mix of on-site, remote and hybrid. The 2023 application is closed, so the next round will be for summer 2024.

Gilman International Scholarship

Third-year ASU student Kathy Ly won a Gilman scholarship last year and studied at Yonsei University in Seoul, South Korea, for the fall 2021 semester. The Gilman pays for study abroad for students who are eligible for Pell Grants.

Kathy Ly

“Originally, I didn’t think I would have the time or resources to study abroad because being pre-med, you don’t have that much wiggle room in your schedule,” said Ly, who is double majoring in biological sciences and global health with a minor in engineering management.

“But I think everyone should take the opportunity. It changed my perspective with how I approach school and how I want to approach my career. It had an impact on realizing my priorities and how I want to spend my time.”

Ly’s experience was affected by the pandemic in an interesting way.

“Because classes were on Zoom, I had so much flexibility and I was able to immerse myself in the day-to-day culture, not necessarily as a student but as someone living in the city,” she said.

“I was able to study in cafes or anywhere that had Wi-Fi, which was everywhere in South Korea.

“Study abroad made me reconsider if I want to go in a traditional route to med school or whether I want to explore other opportunities and take a gap year to work in a different career field.”

ASU is a top Gilman-producing institution, with 113 winners from 2016 to 2020. Ly was one of 15 Gilman Scholars for 2020. The application opens in mid-January 2023 and the deadline is March 9.

Support for applicants

Any student applying for a scholarship can get support in the Office of National Scholarships Advisement at ASU, Masterson said.

Students can just make an appointment to ask, “What can you do for me?”

“Sometimes students are very clear – ‘I’m going to apply for a Rhodes scholarship,'" she said.

“Often those conversations shift to, ‘OK here are things you can pursue in the meantime to help you gain experience and build toward being an applicant.'”

Masterson recommends that students who aren’t sure what they want to apply for attend an information session and check the scholarship database.

“Sometimes they need to get tuition covered for next semester, and if that’s the focus, we’re not a good resource at that stage,” she said.

“But even when that happens, I do my best to shift gears to show other resources and talk about long-term goals. I always leave them with something.”

Some of Masterson favorite awards for students from underrepresented groups are:

Doris Duke Conservation Scholars: The two-year program includes a summer field experience the first year and a summer internship the next. Both summers have all expenses paid and students receive a stipend along with professional development and mentorship.

“This is a great feeder into Udall for students who want to go into the conservation field who don’t have a lot of experience,” she said.

“It is not exclusively for underrepresented students but they do have a focus on diversifying the conservation field, so individuals from those backgrounds are encouraged to apply.

“The other thing I like is it that is open to DACA students, which is one category for which there is not a lot out there.”

Udall Undergraduate Scholarship: This award is for three groups: undergraduates interested in conservation and environmental issues; American Indian and Alaska Natives pursuing health-related careers; or American Indians and Alaska Natives working on an array of policy issues in Indian Country. Winners attend a four-day gathering in Tucson and up to $7,000 for academic expenses.

Foreign service fellowships: Masterson said that the foreign service is trying to widen representation within its ranks.

“It’s not just racially and ethnically, but also geographically because most foreign service officers come from the northeastern part of the U.S.,” she said.

“They’re also looking for individuals with immigration backgrounds in their families.”

The Office of National Scholarships Advisement works with applicants for several of these awards, most commonly the Thomas R. Pickering Foreign Affairs Fellowship Program, which provides two summer internships and an annual tuition award of up to $37,500 for undergraduates and graduates, and the Charles B. Rangel International Affairs Fellowship, which offers internships and up to $95,000 for two years of graduate study.

Both require a five-year commitment to the foreign service.

“It’s like interviewing for a job. They don’t want to hear in the process that you want to do it for five years. They’re looking for folks interested in a lifelong career,” Masterson said.

Other awards listed on the Office of National Scholarships Advisement database include:

The Washington Program: This award, for second-year, African American male students, is for two summers in Washington, D.C., and includes classes, paid internships, mentorship, grad school preparation and networking. Housing is provided.

Accelerator Engineering Fellowships for Underrepresented Minorities, or ASPIRE: This Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory fellowship provides paid work at Fermilab, near Chicago, to undergraduate and graduate engineering students who are historically and contemporarily underrepresented in accelerator engineering fields, including Black, Latino and Indigenous identities, and women. Housing and transportation are partially subsidized.

Soros Fellowships for New Americans: This award, for up to $90,000 in tuition support and stipend, is for immigrants, and the children of immigrants, who are pursuing graduate education in the U.S.

The Latina Leadership Fellowship: Undergraduate and graduate Latina women pursuing careers in research or policy advocacy can apply to be fellows, who receive an $8,000 stipend, virtual training and professional development, an in-person convening in August and collaboration with leaders in the field of gender-based violence.

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