The UMKC Women’s Council is accepting applications through Nov. 3 for the 2015 Graduate Assistance Fund fellowships. The GAF aims to enhance women’s educational goals in graduate programs and first professional fields, such as dentistry, law, medicine and pharmacy.
The Graduate Assistance Fund was pioneered by late UMKC trustee Martha Jane Starr in 1971, who also founded the Women’s Council in 1967, and has grown from a small group of women helping other women into a $1.5 million endowment that has helped more than 1,700 women achieve academic and professional success. The GAF was one of the first organizations of its kind in the nation. In the early days, Starr relied on her friends in the community to fundraise.
“It was a real grassroots effort,” says Amy Loughman, UMKC director of advancement for alumni and constituent relations. “These women would take their grocery money and their allowances to put into this fund to help women.”
Today, the GAF receives donations from faculty, staff, community members and volunteers. The endowment is able to provide financial assistance to an average of 70 women per academic year. The money is intended to enhance recipients’ educational goals, including travel to conferences, travel for research or purchasing research materials. However, money from the endowment cannot be used for textbooks or tuition.
According to Loughman, the GAF application provides enough flexibility for women to think outside the box in their funding requests.
“We’ve provided funds for childcare so women could have the time to complete their research,” Loughman says. “I think the beauty of it is it’s really open, so people can get creative when asking for funding.”
Loughman recommends that applicants create a detailed budget for how the endowment money will be spent in order to ensure a strong application to the program. “The selection committee takes that very seriously,” she said.
Many women who have received the award have utilized the endowment to help create a successful future. Wumi Alabi, who earned her doctorate degree from UMKC in 2010, received a GAF fellowship to fund her research as a student. After graduation, she returned to her homeland of Nigeria, where she worked as head of a space education outreach program.
Alabi soon identified a need for Africa to attract more women to the physical sciences, so she founded a nonprofit organization that provides free math and physics classes for Nigerian girls. Alabi kept her tie to Kansas City by naming the organization after her friend, mentor and GAF donor at UMKC, Linda Hood Talbott.
“It’s exciting,” Loughman said. “It’s amazing the different things that the women at UMKC are pursuing and the success they’re having. It’s an opportunity that UMKC can offer students that many universities can’t.”
To apply for the Graduate Assistance Fund, visit umkcwc.org.