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Davis United World College Scholars


Twenty Years of the Davis United World College Scholars Program

Reuniting and recalling the pilot phase of the Davis UWC Scholars Program from left to right are: Amy and Phil Geier; Dominic Muntanga, pioneer Davis UWC Scholar, Class of 2004, College of the Atlantic; and Shelby and Gale Davis

Twenty years ago, philanthropist Shelby Davis and veteran international educator Phil Geier teamed up to create what has become the largest privately funded international scholarship program in the world for undergraduates. Their vision was simple: invest in greater global diversity at American college and university campuses through need-based scholarship support for graduates of the now 18 United World College secondary schools around the globe. Their program was designed to expand educational opportunities for highly motivated students from throughout the U.S. and over 150 other countries, to foster friendships and build networks between these future decision makers, and to help make American campuses more representative of the wider world into which all students will be heading, competing, and coexisting in the 21st century.

To test their design, Davis and Geier started a pilot program in 2000, partnering with five American colleges — Princeton, Middlebury, Colby, College of the Atlantic, and Wellesley — benefiting 43 students from 31 countries. These pioneers graduated in 2004 having brought a new dimension to those college campus communities. The president of College of the Atlantic characterized the program as having “ignited an intellectual fire that transformed our institution more profoundly than any other single event in our history.” The president of Middlebury put]it this way: “The Davis UWC Scholars are absolutely essential members of our robust global community and have been ever since the first year they arrived at Middlebury. They bring to campus a special optimism, fine-tuned during their years at United World Colleges; high academic ability and standards; and thoughtful leadership. Our Davis UWC Scholars offer daily examples of what it means to strive to be our best. We learn from them, and they from us, and we become lifelong partners in improving our world.”

With the pilot program well tested and affirmed by 2004, philanthropist Shelby Davis was ready to fund its growth. Geier, who had been president of UWC-USA since 1993, turned his full attention to leading the expansion as the program’s executive director, headquartering the program at Middlebury College in 2005 and building the program through partnerships with now nearly a hundred American colleges and universities. In this 2019-20 academic year there are 3,400 Davis UWC Scholars, and cumulatively there have been over 10,000 such scholars.