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Provost Office Support for Recipients of Major Grants and Fellowships

November 6, 2019

By Kay Ágoston, Ph.D.

Director of Graduate Fellowships, George Mason University

Did you know that the Office of the Provost at George Mason University now offers supplemental funding for Mason graduate students who win certain types of major external awards?  It’s true! As of Fall 2019, Mason graduate students who win external awards may qualify for supplemental internal support, including supplemental funding, tuition assistance, and subsidized student health insurance. The type and amount of supplemental support will vary according the status of the student and the type of award.

More about this exciting development in a moment, but first, some backstory:

Several years ago, when I first arrived at Mason as the Director of Graduate Fellowships, I set about doing what I do… letting students know about all the exciting grants and fellowships out there in the world, and encouraging them to apply.

However, I soon became aware of a problem:  Many of these awards offered generous stipends – much more than an assistantship – but no help with tuition or health insurance. This put prospective applicants in a tough spot. The prospect of a prestigious award and the opportunity to focus full-time on their work were enticing, but tuition costs could eat up even a relatively generous stipend, especially if the student was out-of-state. And what about health insurance? More than once, talented students who would have made great candidates for external awards told me they would not apply because they could not afford to accept the award. Even worse, I saw cases where a student worked hard on an application and was offered a major award, only to face an impossible decision about whether they could afford to accept it.

I knew that most top research universities had systems in place to support to students who won external awards, so I decided to see what could be done. After all, Mason’s profile is fast rising in the world of research universities, and students who win major external awards are among our best talent. Their awards bring not only funding for the student, but prestige and publicity for the university.

Over the next few years, though the hard work and collaborative effort of many in the Office of the Provost and beyond, Mason now has policies and guidelines in place to support students who win qualifying awards.

So How Does It Work?

You can read the fine print here, but to summarize:

A qualifying award must:

  • Be offered to an individual student in their own name.
  • Carry a minimum stipend of $10,000 for a minimum award tenure of one academic year.

Awards that meet these criteria can include:

  • Federally funded grants and fellowships for graduate students, such as NSF GRFP, NIH F31 awards, and NIJ Graduate Fellowships.
  • Merit-based fellowships, scholarships, and grants made by non-governmental funding agencies (including research institutes, professional organizations, nongovernmental organizations, and private philanthropic trusts.) This includes awards such as the Ford Foundation Fellowships, Soros Fellowships for New Americans, AAUW American and International Fellowships, and most dissertation completion fellowships.

Some awards automatically qualify for support. You can see a list here. However, awards that are not on this list may also be supported if they meet the criteria of a qualifying award.

Recipients of qualifying awards receive:

  • Tuition (up to 9 credits) and required fees covered by the Office of the Provost.
  • Depending on student status and need, subsidized Student Health Insurance coverage, paid by the Office of the Provost.
  • Depending on student status, a modest “top off” (currently $4,000) covered by the student’s academic unit. Please note that this benefit is only available to terminal degree students (Ph.D. and MFA).

Support is also available for advanced doctoral students who secure external funding awards for international dissertation fieldwork. This includes awards such as Fulbright U.S. Student Program, Fulbright-Hays DDRA awards, and SSRC IDRF awards.  Doctoral students who win these awards (and others like them, details here) are required to remain registered for dissertation hours in order to maintain their candidacy status even when they are away from campus completing their fellowships. In cases where tuition costs are not covered by the award, the Office of the Provost will cover the cost of tuition for these students (limited to the required number of dissertation credit hours.)

To reiterate: Some awards automatically qualify for support. You can see a list here. However, awards that are not on this list may also be supported if they meet the criteria of a qualifying award.

But here’s the thing – and this is IMPORTANT:  In many cases, we don’t know when a student has been offered a qualifying award unless they tell us! If you have been offered an award that you think may qualify for support, it is critical that you inform the Office of Graduate Fellowships as soon as possible after the offer is made. If we do not learn of your award well in advance of when support must begin, we are not be able to activate supplemental funding.  Details about the process of verifying eligibility and receiving support can be found here.

We created this system because we want more Mason grad students to apply for (and win!) external awards, secure in the knowledge that Mason will support them in a way that enables them to accept and make full of their awards.

If you want to learn more about external awards in your field and how to apply, contact the Director of Graduate Fellowships, Dr. Kay Ágoston, at kagoston@gmu.edu.

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