LAU’s scholarship program now in its fifth year
The University Scholarship Program, made possible by donations from United States Agency for International Development (USAID), sponsors students who are dedicated to civic engagement.
Over 300 Lebanese students with limited means from all over the country have enjoyed the benefit of an LAU education courtesy of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID)-University Scholarship Program (USP).
Now, five years after the LAU enrollment team set out to first introduce the program and the university at each one of Lebanon’s 250 public schools with tertiary education, they’re at it again for a fifth time, thanks to the support of the American people through USAID.
“We have received over $33 million in grants over five years, since USP first launched in 2010,” explains Dr. Elise Salem, Vice President for Student Development and Enrollment Management at LAU. “I was fairly new to LAU when the first USP call for proposals was announced and I was so excited because it reflected 7 LAU’s mission, to help the underprivileged gain a strong education,” says Salem, adding that of all her achievements, USP is among those that make her most proud.
The first intake of USP students in 2011 included 52 students, 18 of whom have since graduated. “They go back to their home towns and are treated like celebrities. It’s like they’ve won the lottery. When we launched the program, many of these small rural schools were skeptical and didn’t believe us. It seemed too good to be true. Over 300 students later, they are all eager to see their students selected.”
Selection is based completely on merit and criteria agreed upon between USAID and LAU. “In the first year we were opting to select one girl and one boy from each of the districts of Lebanon,” says Salem, laughing as she recalls how difficult it was. “The aim was to ensure that women were not marginalized, but we had far more difficulty finding strong male candidates. The women were very impressive and applied in great numbers.”
Around 1,000 students apply each year to join the program; with approximately 200 making it to the interview stage. “The interview is very important. You get so many amazing kids and their personalities have to be receptive to what’s going to be required of them in this grant. It’s not just academics.”
All the students lucky enough to gain one of the 40-60 places offered each year have one thing in common. It’s not their religion or cultural background, nor their proficiency in English or their choice of major. It’s their dedication to civic engagement, which is further nurtured through the program.
“As part of their time at LAU, much like a thesis, the students have to run a project in their own village. They gain a lot of support from the Outreach and Civic Engagement office at LAU, who from day one offer training and workshops to help the students settle into university life and life away from home.”
The workshops include those addressing sectarian differences and conflict resolution, “and many say this was the first time they were living, hiking, working on projects with someone from another sect. There’s a strong agenda for citizenship building and it continues throughout the four years,” explains Salem, who writes the project proposals submitted every year to USAID.
“We have learned from the experiences of each year and continue to develop the program to bring out the best in our students. It’s a heavy program in terms of our operational and managerial load, but it’s well worth it to give these kids the opportunity to excel.”
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