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ASU Thunderbird alum creates scholarship to send students on Semester at Sea


Woman smiling in front of a backdrop of flowers.

Karen Simon, a 1983 graduate of the Thunderbird School of Global Management at ASU and founder of the Karen J. Simon '83 Semester at Sea Scholarship for Thunderbird undergraduate students. Photo courtesy Karen Simon

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September 14, 2023

Karen Simon, a retired banking executive and distinguished alumna from the Thunderbird School of Global Management at Arizona State University, has made a generous donation to create the Karen J. Simon '83 Semester at Sea scholarship for Thunderbird undergraduate students.

This philanthropic initiative aims to provide Thunderbird undergraduates with the opportunity to embark on a transformative global journey through the Semester at Sea program.

Simon's deep appreciation for her European ancestry, fueled by her father's post-World War II immigration from Berlin, Germany, inspired her passion for international experiences. After graduating from the American Graduate School of International Management, now ASU Thunderbird, in 1983, she joined a global financial institution, which eventually led her to relocate to London, where she resided for over two decades. 

In 2019, after a 36-year career at J.P. Morgan, Simon retired as vice chairman in investment banking, during which she conducted business in over 50 countries. Today, she serves on the board of directors for three public companies, two of which are in Europe and one in the United States. 

Recently, Simon was invited to join the Semester at Sea board of trustees, which sparked her idea to establish this scholarship due to the strong synergies between Semester at Sea and Thunderbird, both of which emphasize international leadership education.

"I always wanted to live overseas and explore diverse cultures," Simon said. "My goal with the (Semester at Sea) scholarship is to encourage as many T-birds as possible to learn about the Semester at Sea program and, hopefully, sign up for this magical study abroad opportunity — with or without financial assistance. It is truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and if I can pay it forward and inspire others to pursue an international career, that is an added bonus!"

Semester at Sea offers students a unique opportunity to gain insight into diverse cultures, economies, geographies and artistry. Beyond the traditional on-campus experience, students develop valuable life skills, such as handling travel challenges, interacting with host families and collaborating with peers from different backgrounds. These experiences foster self-confidence and resiliency, and provide a first-class academic education.

Portrait of ASU Thunderbird student .

Paw Na

Simon's Thunderbird degree opened doors to a fulfilling international career. Reflecting on the advice she wishes to impart on current and future T-birds, she said, "You have more power than you think. Seek out what brings you joy and be persistent in pursuing your goals. It took me seven years to get transferred to London! Remember to take risks and develop constructive relationships."

The impact of the Karen J. Simon Semester at Sea scholarship is already felt by Thunderbird students Paw Na, Jesse Marquez and Emma Salazar, three of the recipients whose lives and academic journeys have been significantly influenced by this initiative.

Na, a current Bachelor of Global Management student, shared her experience and said, "I once thought Semester at Sea was impossible until I attended a Thunderbird seminar about the Karen Simon scholarship. It became a dream come true during my junior year of college.

"I feel very privileged and fortunate to be a member of a community with such a dependable networking environment that always gives back to their community. Thunderbird has taught me the value of always giving back and remaining humble."

Portrait of ASU Thunderbird student .

Jesse Marquez

Marquez is a first-generation Mexican American and the first person in his family to attend college. He is enrolled in Thunderbird's Online Bachelor of Science in International Trade degree program through the Uber and ASU online partnership and is passionate about creating a more prosperous and peaceful world.

“Growing up in poverty, I know firsthand the struggles that come with a lack of financial resources and access to education. Breaking the cycle of poverty for as many people as I can is something I am deeply passionate about,” he said. 

"Being awarded this scholarship has proven to me that there are good people in the world who continue to pay it forward. In Karen Simon, I see a role model of what I hope to achieve someday. I want to do the same someday and provide scholarships that financially empower dedicated students to help them achieve their goals."

Portrait of ASU Thunderbird student .

Emma Salazar

Salazar is a current Bachelor of Global Management student pursuing the international business, language and culture track, which requires two years of foreign language study. She has traveled a lot already in her life and has always had a sense of wanderlust for more.

“I am excited to truly challenge myself and see how everything in my life will affect how I take on this journey. This scholarship allowed me to see a better future for myself, full of opportunities, and look out for positives because you never know how life will gift them to you.

"I want to set an example as a scholarship recipient who made the most of this experience. I am sincerely grateful for Karen Simon; she has truly improved my life, and I can’t wait to make her and my family proud,” Salazar said.

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