Alumni Scholarship Program Adapts to a New Context

October 5, 2020

Since launching in 2001, CEU’s Alumni Scholarship has awarded 261 students from a total of over 60 countries. The alumni-funded scholarship is presented each year to a set number of students that reflects the university’s age, who – in addition to academic merit and financial need – are selected according to their previous accomplishments in community service and volunteering. Additionally considered is each applicant’s potential for remaining engaged with CEU post-graduation and becoming an active member of the alumni community.

Alumni Scholarship Recipients (ASRs) volunteer with various university units for a total of 40 hours during the academic year. This year, students volunteered for a combined total of 868 hours, assisting the Student Recruitment Office, the Career Services Office, the InnovationsLab, various Community Engagement programs, and even the Vienna inauguration ceremony. Furthermore, ASRs reflected via the end-of-year survey that giving back and contributing to CEU is more important than the scholarship’s financial incentives.

To learn more about the program and how its operations continued this year in the face of the global pandemic, we spoke with Alumni Volunteer Programs Coordinator Nurangiz Khodzharova (IRES ‘08) and Alumni Scholarship Recipient Lishu Gang (NATI ‘20), who revealed the challenges and opportunities emerging from this atypical situation.

Giving Back to the CEU Community

Nurangiz’s experience as a student and alumna inspired her to return to her alma mater in a professional capacity. After graduating from CEU in 2008, she worked in various cities across Europe, North America and West Africa but always found herself seeking out fellow alumni in her new locations.

“I knew for a fact that the CEU alumni community would provide me with instant access to like-minded people.” she said. Upon joining the Moscow alumni chapter and becoming its leader, Nurangiz found herself in regular contact with CEU once again. She became increasingly involved with the university through volunteer activities and visited Budapest annually through the Alumni Reunion Gala and Alumni Leadership Forum. Consequently, when she learned of an opening at the Alumni Office, Nurangiz said she did not have to think twice about applying for the job and returning to CEU.

The Alumni Scholarship Program took its current structure approximately five years ago, as it re-centered focus from a financial aid supplement to volunteering. The community engagement component was added to make the experience more meaningful for recipients with the main criteria for student projects being that they benefit the university community in some way. Consequently, the majority are university-facing, in that ASRs participate in recruitment projects, career events, alumni reunion weekends, the InnovationsLab, or write for the Student Space portion of the university’s website.

Students are involved in community-facing projects as well, as the Community Engagement Office involves ASRs in various artistic and cultural events held on campus as well as in public lectures. In other cases, ASRs volunteer at local community organizations in Hungary or provide English-language tutoring at local schools and through the OLIve program, which offers weekend courses to individuals with refugee status.

Shifting Focus for a New Reality

With the emergence of COVID-19 and the subsequent lockdown, Nurangiz revealed that the first objective was to make sure that ASRs were safe. Once the program was reconfigured, ASRs continued working together with CEU units on various remote projects. Lishu, for example, who was scheduled to be the master of ceremonies for the Alumni Reunion Gala, instead recorded a video for the event held online.

Despite the pandemic, ASRs remained responsive and engaged, including those who opted to continue their studies from their home countries. Nurangiz was pleased to note that ASRs did not waver in their responsibilities.

Another example of ASRs rising to the occasion involves Esther Ebimoghan (LEGS ‘20) and Katerina Krejcova (LEGS ‘20), who as part of the Student Task Force at the Student Residence Center, delivered food or notes of encouragement composed by alumni to self-isolating students. Esther and Katerina were subsequently presented with a volunteer award at this year’s graduation ceremony.

ASRs also assisted in developing new projects such as the Thesis Buddy initiative, whereby alumni encouraged students to remain focused on their theses during the lockdown. As Nurangiz observed, necessity is the mother of invention, and several new initiatives were invented to adapt to the rapidly changing situation.

An Upside to Online Organizing

Nurangiz was quick to organize virtual ASR meetups to keep the community together. Lishu noted that while COVID-19 interrupted the in-person part of her program, this online mobilization allowed the students to support each other during the lockdown.

Lishu commented that the necessity to move volunteering activities online may have actually been a blessing in her case. “I can’t physically go to another country and speak with high school students there,” she began, “But once it moved online, I was able to reach more people. I also feel that taking my recruitment activities online was a very effective use of my time.”

With respect to the program’s future, Nurangiz revealed that while the incoming cohort of ASRs will consist solely of graduate students, the year after will expand to include undergraduates, whom current ASRs have already been actively involved in recruiting.

Opportunities for Personal and Professional Growth

Highlighting how the Alumni Scholarship program allows participants to develop their own initiatives, Lishu discussed her recruitment project that focuses on specific high schools. For this, she collaborated with Undergraduate Recruitment Specialist Andrea Vagi and worked together with other scholarship recipients who attended her former high school in order to develop a more holistic approach on how to present the undergraduate program.

ASRs also participated in webinars to share their experiences in Vienna so that incoming students could become familiar with student life at CEU. Lishu considers the Alumni Scholarship program among her most memorable experiences from the previous year, since it provided her with the opportunity to work on something new while also providing a sense of ownership in developing projects and supporting existing initiatives.

She found that the scholarship fund provides an excellent platform for master’s students seeking “a really good entry point to find opportunities so that they can quickly establish connections within the community.” Lishu noted how the inclusion of ASRs in programs such as the “Vagina Monologues” performance or the launch of the undergraduate program made recipients feel more integrated into the student body and university.

Interested in encountering opportunities to grow both personally and professionally, Lishu found that the Alumni Scholarship program enhanced the extracurricular side of her life. In closing, she said that the program inspired her to remain connected with the CEU community and motivated her to give back to the university.