Interdisciplinary fellowships help doctoral students reach their highest levels of achievement

Dr. Thomas and Mrs. Caroline Royster in 1996 with the first dissertation fellows within the Carolina Society

Dr. Thomas and Mrs. Caroline Royster in 1996 with the first dissertation fellows within the Carolina Society, which was renamed the Royster Society of Fellows in 1998.

It all began with Dr. Thomas and Mrs. Caroline Royster and their determination to help graduate students succeed in their careers. Twenty years later, close to 700 exceptionally talented graduate students have pursued their doctoral education at Carolina as members of the Royster Society of Fellows.

Lanier Walker is one of the 24 newest five-year Royster fellows and a doctoral student in English and comparative literature. Walker received her bachelor’s degree in English from Harvard. After graduation in 2014, she completed a year of master’s-level graduate work at the Royal College of Art and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

The Graduate School’s prestigious interdisciplinary fellowship program helps doctoral programs campus-wide recruit exceptional graduate students like Walker from around the world.

In 1996, Thomas and Caroline Royster made a generous and enduring commitment to graduate students at Carolina by endowing this fellowship program. Additional donors have also provided gifts enabling The Graduate School to extend one-year fellowships to more students so they may focus fully on completing their highest quality dissertations.

Having the offer of a Royster fellowship was a major factor in Walker’s decision to attend UNC-Chapel Hill, she says, because she already knows she wants to pursue interdisciplinary work.

“I’ll have the chance to meet, learn from and even teach with students from other departments – a level of collaboration that wasn’t available to me at other schools.”

Graduate students and graduate education at Carolina have benefited tremendously from the Roysters’ vision and commitment, says Steve Matson, dean of The Graduate School.

“Students selected as Royster fellows tell us that being offered this prestigious fellowship is very important in their decision to attend Carolina over other top universities that have also offered them generous financial support. The Graduate School is grateful to Dr. and Mrs. Royster, whose generous support created a national model for innovative graduate education.”

Royster alumni share their thoughts on how their fellowships shaped their professional lives:

“Beyond the financial support, the Royster gave me the opportunity to network and learn from the best, brightest and diverse graduate students and faculty at the University.”
Julie Lauffenburger

“The best aspect was becoming lifelong friends with people with completely different – but somehow complementary – backgrounds, interests and ways of approaching problems. … I count Roysters as some of the best friends I made as a grad student.”
Maya Nadimpalli

“Getting to know students from across UNC, beyond my school and department, and being able to complete my doctorate without incurring debt was a tremendous gift!”
Francie Likis

“It provided me with essential time and freedom to complete my dissertation without distractions.”
Michael Yonan

“As a Royster Fellow I had a home outside of my own college. This helped me to feel a part of the larger campus and of the work my peers were doing in their respective disciplines.”
Mark Ellis

“I’m proud to have been a member of the first cohort of Fellows to design and teach an interdisciplinary course … for freshman undergraduates in the Honors College … I learned from my Royster colleagues, and gained invaluable experiences in course development and teaching.”
Michelle Leslie

“It was a real gift, and one that now, as a professor, I recognize as a rare opportunity that I wish my own students could have.”
Christina Ewig

A pie chart titled Royster Society of Fellows by Program Area 1996-2016 and divided into 5 wedges. Clockwise from the top of the chart the wedges and their percentages are Biological/Biomedical Sciences – 12%, Fine Arts & Humanities – 28%, Natural/Physical Sciences & Math – 20%, Professional Programs – 14%, Social/Behavioral Sciences 26%.

Royster Society of Fellows by Program Area 1996-2016

A pie chart titled Five Year Fellows and Dissertation Fellows 1996-2016 and divided into 2 wedges. Clockwise from the top of the chart the wedges and their numbers are Dissertation – 232, Five Year – 458.

Five Year Fellows and Dissertation Fellows 1996-2016