The scholarship, partly named for Hamilton’s mother, will cover fees and living costs for one undergraduate student a year for three years beginning in 2020. The value of the scholarship fund is about £220,000 (or nearly $300,000), Oxford said.
A black woman who has written her own unique success story as an entrepreneur and investor in the mostly white and male tech sector, Hamilton is a former music tour manager without a college degree who bought a one-way ticket to San Francisco with the goal of backing underrepresented entrepreneurs. She was so broke that she met with tech investors by day and slept on the floor of the San Francisco airport at night until one of them cut her a check.
Today, she runs Backstage Capital, a venture capital firm that backs women, minority and LGBTQ founders who are overlooked by Silicon Valley and reflects Hamilton's determination to overcome the complex set of biases and barriers that begin in preschool and persist in the workplace that keep women and people of color from gaining equal access to some of the nation's highest-paying jobs.
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Now, Hamilton says she's expanding that mission to Oxford, an elite and storied university considered the oldest in the English-speaking world. She says her goal is to make an Oxford education available to more black U.K. students. Currently at Oxford, black students make up 2.6% of the annual undergraduate student body intake. This is the first scholarship for black scholars at Oxford, Hamilton told listeners in a podcast.
Recipients of the scholarship will be of African and Caribbean heritage and from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, she says. They will have the opportunity to work closely with the Oxford Foundry, an entrepreneurship center at the university that she advises, and with the L.E.V8 accelerator. Each student will get an internship grant of £3,000 (or about $3,900) to prepare them for jobs in their chosen field, the university said.
Hamilton says she hopes her gift will inspire others to create opportunities for black students at universities around the world, including historically black colleges and universities in the U.S. such as Dillard University, her mother’s alma mater in New Orleans. She says she and her mother, Earline Butler Sims, who was the first in her family to attend college, plan to set up a scholarship program at Dillard in the spring so that more students can follow in her mother’s footsteps.
“I plan on doing this for several schools over the next decade, and starting with Oxford because I’ve spent a great deal of time with their students and faculty, and Dillard because it’s my mom’s alma mater and shaped her,” Hamilton told USA TODAY.
Hamilton says she visited Oxford for the first time last year as a guest speaker. As she toured the campus, she saw more black people than she anticipated but still too few and wanted black students to spend less time worrying about how to pay their bills and more time on their studies.
Catalyzing that kind of change has become a recurrent theme for Hamilton, who co-founded Project Cover, a nonprofit she started with $5,000 that her father left her when he died that gives $500 grants to help people pursue their passions. Hamilton also supports emerging artists and musicians.
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The Oxford announcement comes amid growing debate over the rising cost of higher education and the heavy burden of student loan debt. Presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren has made debt cancellation one of the planks of her campaign while fellow Democrat Pete Buttigieg has proposed making public college tuition-free for households earning under $100,000. Some states and institutions are even moving toward tuition-free college.
Some philanthropists have tried to bridge the gap for debt-laden students. In May, Robert F. Smith, the billionaire investor who founded Vista Equity Partners, surprised graduates from Morehouse College, the historically black college in Atlanta, by pledging that he and his family would pay off the entire class’s student debt.
Less than a month after giving more than $1 million to the United Negro College Fund for scholarships to historically black colleges, Oprah Winfrey in October donated $13 million to fund scholarships at Morehouse College, bringing her total financial support to $25 million, the largest endowment in the school’s history.
Other tech moguls such as Bill Gates and wife Melinda Gates have been funding minority student scholarships for years. Last month, former Google chief Eric Schmidt and his wife pledged more than $5 million a year to the Rhodes Trust at Oxford for students from lower-income countries, allowing the university to reach “junior Rhodes” scholars, ages 15 to 17, interested in tackling global problems through a summer program.
Oxford has been stepping up efforts to recruit more undergraduates from underrepresented backgrounds with the goal of such students making up one-quarter of the student body by 2023. Last month, controversy erupted when The Oxford Union, a private debating society that is independent of Oxford University, forcibly ejected a blind postgraduate student from Ghana.
“I am delighted that Arlan has chosen Oxford for this generous gift,” professor Martin Williams, pro-vice-chancellor for education, said in a statement. “Finance should not be a barrier to opportunity or education, and I hope that this announcement reminds black students across the country that there are opportunities for them at the University.”
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Black tech entrepreneur Arlan Hamilton backs new scholarship at Oxford