Graduate students don’t simply provide extra brainpower for research. They set in motion a cycle that lifts the entire research and educational enterprise. They help realize their advisors’ research agendas by conducting experiments, creating simulations, and publishing papers. They enhance the quality of undergraduate education by serving as teaching assistants and mentoring undergraduates. For UVA’s faculty—world-class researchers who are also passionate teachers—the ability to recruit and work with outstanding graduate students is invaluable.

With this in mind, the School of Engineering and Applied Science launched the Graduate Fellows Initiative in October 2016 to create a $5 million fund to recruit the nation’s top graduate students, providing more than 100 first-year fellowships over a 10-year period.

“Our success over the next decade and beyond will be defined in part by the graduate students we recruit today,” said Craig Benson, the school’s dean. “We see leveraging graduate student excellence as one of the highest-value investments alumni and friends can make in helping us achieve national excellence in engineering research and education.”

Fellowships give faculty members the ability to recruit graduate students to ambitious, high-risk, high-promise projects regardless of the availability of grant funding from industry or the government. Without fellowships, these initiatives would remain dormant, and graduate students would go elsewhere.

The school’s supporters have responded enthusiastically to the graduate fellowship strategy. The campaign launched with a $1 million lead gift and other alumni and parents have committed an additional $900,000. Longtime benefactors Chip Blankenship (Engr ’92) and his wife, Belinda, have contributed to the fund, as have a number of alumni including Blaise Warren (Engr ’02) and his wife, Sarah. The Blankenships’ gift supports students in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering and the Warrens’ gift is designated for students in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering. “I was drawn to supporting graduate fellowships because it will help raise the Engineering School’s research prolife in key growth areas,” Warren said. “I benefited tremendously from my engineering studies at UVA. I wanted to ensure that others have even better opportunities.”


Our success over the next decade and beyond will be defined in part by the graduate students we recruit today…”

—Craig Benson, Dean, School of Engineering and Applied Science


To underscore the importance of this initiative, the Engineering School has made a $2 million commitment to provide a one-to-one match for donations of $50,000 or more. At the same time, the school is making significant investments in enhancing the value of the graduate program by offering professional development and entrepreneurship training and by promoting diversity and access. The school plans to double its graduate program from 750 students currently to 1,500 over the decade.Investing in high-caliber graduate students has another long-lasting benefit for the school, Benson noted. “When graduate students go on to successful careers in academia or industry, their success reflects well on the school,” he said. “And they are often our most enthusiastic champions, recommending the graduate program at UVA Engineering to their best students and associates.