Arts & Culture

Rockefeller grants open up world for undergrads

4 min read

Nearly 500 Harvard undergraduates will learn about other cultures by participating in high-quality international experiences this summer, thanks to the generosity of David Rockefeller, longtime University benefactor and member of the Harvard College Class of 1936.

Students from the classes of 2009 through 2012 will pursue a range of international interests, including study for credit, internships, service, work, and research. In April 2008, Rockefeller pledged $100 million to dramatically increase learning opportunities for Harvard undergraduates through international experiences and participation in the arts.

“Our understanding of the world and the very foundations of our societies are shifting rapidly and perhaps permanently,” Rockefeller said. “I believe that we need to invest in our best institutions so that they can train the young women and men who will address the economic, political, and environmental needs of this new world in which we find ourselves. I am thrilled that my gift is being used to educate future generations to be responsible, global citizens.”

David Rockefeller International Experience Grants for the summer of 2009 have been awarded to undergraduates who will be traveling to every region of the globe. From neurobiological research in Paris to archaeology in Peru to teaching life skills through soccer in Africa, student projects span the humanities, social sciences, and life sciences.

“David’s international experience during his Harvard undergraduate years enhanced what he was studying, but it also transcended the classroom and the curriculum in ways that shaped his outlook on the world and shaped his life choices. It seems entirely fitting that David’s remarkable gift will ensure that all undergraduates, regardless of financial means, will have the opportunity to follow David’s example and to become citizens of the world,” said Drew Faust, president of Harvard University and Lincoln Professor of History.

The Committee on Education Abroad, a faculty group led by Robert A. Lue, professor of the practice of molecular and cellular biology, carefully evaluated all grant applications with an eye toward ensuring that the proposed international experiences would deeply engage students in local culture as well as contribute to their intellectual growth.

“International summer programs transform students’ subsequent studies at the College, both in content and in the relationships formed with faculty and peers,” said Lue. “David Rockefeller’s visionary gift will prompt further exploration of the language and culture that undergraduates experience abroad, while deepening its connection to their academic and extracurricular lives.”

As one student planning to study environmental policy in South Korea said, “I hope to learn more about a critical part of the world that I would otherwise never have had the chance to experience.” Another student, traveling to Japan to work in an immunogenomics laboratory, agrees. “I have never had the opportunity to fully immerse myself in another culture, and I know it will broaden me as both a person and a scientist.” More than two-thirds of the students will be living in places outside of Europe and the United Kingdom.

The David Rockefeller International Experience Grants also complement many other University-sponsored opportunities for international study, work, and research. Representatives from some 25 different funding sources at Harvard came together this spring to share information, collaborate, and explore how to make maximum good use of available resources.

“David Rockefeller’s generosity will enable an unprecedented number of undergraduates to experience another culture this summer,” said Evelynn Hammonds, dean of Harvard College and Barbara Gutmann Rosenkrantz Professor of the History of Science and of African and African American Studies. “We hope their experiences will prove as inspirational and transformational as did David Rockefeller’s, 72 years ago.”

Rockefeller has previously given $40 million in gifts to Harvard, including $25 million to create the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies. Established in 1994, the center has become one of the pre-eminent institutions of its kind in the world, and is distinguished as the first interfaculty initiative for international studies at Harvard.

Rockefeller is the former chairman, president, chairman of the executive committee, and CEO of Chase Manhattan Bank, and former chairman of the board of the Rockefeller Group. A past member of the Executive Committee of the Committee on University Resources, he also served as honorary chair of The University Campaign, which raised a record $2.6 billion for Harvard between 1994 and 1999. An active Harvard alumnus for decades, he served on the Board of Overseers from 1954 to 1966, and was president of the board from 1966 to 1968. In recognition of his many forms of service to the University, he received an honorary degree in 1969.