Students can afford to go abroad thanks to USC Dornsife fellowship
USC Dornsife’s Fisher Fellowship enables USC Dornsife students to participate in valuable study-abroad programs, including the Problems Without Passports and Maymester summer courses. (Photos: Courtesy of Fiza Khan.)

Students can afford to go abroad thanks to USC Dornsife fellowship

International travel, field research and community service projects are accessible to first-generation students at USC Dornsife through the Fisher Fellowship program.
ByEric Lindberg

Some college students can afford to study abroad or go on community service trips over the summer. But students from low-income families often miss out on these life-changing experiences.

At USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, first-generation undergraduates with limited finances have an option that can help: the Fisher Fellowship.

The program provides three years of funding for opportunities like the school’s popular Problems Without Passports and Maymester courses, which involve travel and typically require students to cover their expenses. Fellows can also use the funds to develop research projects with faculty members, attend academic conferences and pursue other enlightening experiences.

“It’s all about personal growth and finding out what they want to do in life,” said Amanda Bloom, who teaches writing at USC Dornsife and is the fellowship program’s faculty advisor.

“When they study abroad or do academic research alongside professionals in a foreign country, many of these students discover what they are good at, what their skill set is,” she said. “And it’s not always what they’ve been told.”

Fisher Fellowship helps ensure full college experience

Becoming a Fisher Fellow felt like a blessing to Fiza Khan, who graduated in 2017 from USC Dornsife with degrees in international relations and Russian language and culture. Coming from a low-income background, she worried about missing out on important experiences at USC.

“Those programs can cost upwards of $7,000,” she said. “That was completely out of the question for me. Without the Fisher Fellowship, I would have never been able to participate in something like that.”

But as a member of the program’s first cohort, Khan received funding to join a 3-week Problems Without Passports course in Iceland, Norway and Finland led by Steven Lamy, professor of international relations, spatial sciences and environmental studies and director of USC Dornsife’s Task Force for Global and Political Studies. Khan studied how climate change is affecting indigenous populations throughout the Arctic region. 

Fiza Khan ’17 studied abroad in Russia with support from the Fisher Fellowship at USC.

She said the summer class and a study-abroad program she completed in Russia are part of why she will be studying law this fall at Yale Law School.

“I believe those experiences were something that stood out to the admissions officers,” said Khan. “I don’t know if I’d be going to Yale right now if I wasn’t able to afford such programs.”

USC Dornsife ensures students in need thrive

The Fisher Fellowship program launched in 2015 thanks to a donation from USC Dornsife alumnus Sam Fisher, who collaborated with Lamy to create the initiative. Fisher wanted to ensure that other USC Dornsife students could go abroad and potentially change their lives, even if they couldn’t afford to travel.

Students with financial need, a declared major in USC Dornsife and whose parents didn’t earn a college degree are eligible for the program, which is administered through the school’s Office of Experiential and Applied Learning. Between six and 10 scholars are selected each year to receive support beginning when they are sophomores.

“If [the students] have expenses that are beyond reach,” said Debbie Williams, the fellowship’s program and scholarship administrator, “we try to help them so they can have transformational experiences.”

In addition to providing access to valuable educational opportunities, the fellowship creates a community that ensures participating students feel welcome and supported at USC.

“It’s easy to feel left out as a first-generation or low-income student,” Khan said. “With the Fisher Fellowship, I had this built-in family of people who had similar backgrounds, and I knew I could always go to them if I was feeling down.”

See USC News for the full story >>