Up to two years of free tuition, paid living expenses and an opportunity to travel around Europe for free may seem too good to be true.
However, the Thouron Award, a Penn-only fund that exists to facilitate exchange between American and British students, offers graduating seniors, graduate and professional students alike the opportunity to study at certain graduate schools in the United Kingdom for up to two years for free while pursuing a specific field of study.
The Center for Undergraduate Research and Fellowships announced Jan. 29 that five Penn students and alumni won the award. The recipients are College senior Elena Gooray, Wharton senior Tarub Mabud, Engineering senior Cassi Henderson, 2011 College graduate Allison Mishkin, and 2012 College and Wharton graduate Jacob Blumenfeld-Gantz
Last year, there were a total of eight scholarship recipients.
The funding for travel within this award is something that makes this particular scholarship very attractive to and unique for students.
“The cultural exchange aspect, in addition to funding our studies — which is very generous — is incredible,” said Gooray. “They provide for travel and cultural aspiration within the country, and I’m excited to have the opportunity to do that.”
According to CURF Assistant Director for Communication Aaron Olson, the award has existed since 1960. CURF has been aiding in maintaining the relationship between Penn and the U.K. schools since 2001.
The application for this award is a multistep process, lasting from October to late January. In addition to submitting transcripts, a standard application and a personal statement, finalists must go through an intensive day-long round of interviews and discussions.
“Not only is it multiple interviews but there’s also a speech and discussion component on a topic that’s not related to your academic or professional background,” said Mishkin. “It was certainly incredibly intense, and there was a lot going on, but everyone that I met was so friendly and so wonderful.”
Students alike said that the day-long process, while intense and nerve-racking, was extremely rewarding and their favorite part of the process as a whole.
In addition to the presentation portion of the process, where students present a topic and then discuss it in small groups, there are two additional interviews: the interview that includes a Thouron family member where finalists discuss their academic interest in more depth and the free-form interview where finalists talk about their aspirations and personal background.
“The part that I was most dreading and the part that I had the most fun was the discussion element,” Mishkin said. “The discussion got me excited to go back to school, to hear about these random topics … I was reimpressed by the intelligence and the unique approaches to learning that come out of Penn.
Mishkin also emphasized this familial aspect when describing the characteristics of the award.
“For what it was, there was very little competition going on,” Mishkin said. “It was very clear the extent to which they’re really not looking for the best applicant — they’re looking for who was going to fit in to their ‘family.’”
Mabud agreed. “The whole award is very family-focused, and the Thouron family personally sponsors the award,” he said. “You build a network with a bunch of smart people … [and] they have events for the winners and pay for you to fly in from anywhere in the world to spend time with each other.”
Mabud went on to say that he has built and maintained good friendships with fellow Thouron members after the day-long interview process.
CURF was there to help students who were finalists for the Thouron Award.
“We are there to answer any questions they might have. We give feedback and advice on the personal statements, resume preparation and so forth,” Olson said in an email.
Mishkin said she appreciated their help. “You kind of internally panic, and I think CURF did a really good job preparing us for the day and also calming our nerves.”
A previous version of this article stated that there were seven recipients of the award last year. There were 8 recipients in total, seven students and one alumni.