Undergraduate Academic Affairs

March 18, 2015

Robinson Center student Varsha Govindaraju selected for prestigious Luce Scholarship

Undergraduate Academic Affairs

Portrait of Varsha Govindaraju, 2015-16 Luce Scholar

Varsha Govindaraju, 2015-16 Luce ScholarTim Han

Varsha Govindaraju, a senior student majoring in anthropology and law, societies, and justice with minors in human rights and diversity was recently selected as a 2015-16 Luce Scholar. A graduate of Federal Way Public Academy, Govindaraju is one of only 18 students nationwide to receive the award this year.

The Luce Scholars Program is a major national scholarship designed to raise awareness of Asia among young American leaders and funds a stipend and language training, and places scholars in professional worksites in Asia. This year, more than 156 candidates were recommended by 16 nominating institutions. A unique element of the Luce Scholars Program is that the foundation seeks students with little to no experience in and of Asia. Students who have had broad experience in Asia or who are majoring in Asian studies, for example, are ineligible for the scholarship, as are students older than 30 years old.

At 18 years old, Govindaraju is this year’s youngest Luce Scholar. Her intellect and curiosity found an outlet in the Honors Program and at the Robinson Center for Young Scholars, an early college entrance program. Both programs are housed within Undergraduate Academic Affairs (UAA).

Govindaraju happened to be visiting New York’s Central Park with a friend when she learned of her acceptance as a Luce Scholar, which led to an impromptu celebration. “When I got off the phone, we both began laughing and hugging and it was a really surreal moment,” she remembers.

Growing up in a low-income neighborhood in Federal Way with immigrant parents, Govindaraju cares deeply about social justice and activism and found many outlets at the UW to express her passion. Currently, she serves as the director of diversity efforts for the Associated Students at the University of Washington (ASUW) student government managing nine diversity commissions on campus like the Sexual Assault and Relationship Violence Activists (SARVA), where she once served as assistant director. She has helped build a safer campus through educational workshops and community support and also helped develop large-scale events such as 5k runs and open-mic events for survivors to raise awareness of sexual assault and relationship violence. In the community, she worked for Columbia Legal Services, a local public-interest firm serving low-income communities through legal education and legal support.

Wherever she is placed—East or Southeast Asia—she hopes to broaden her understanding of activism, noting, “The U.S. is often held up as a sign of progress and modernism, but other activists in other countries have amazing ways of supporting their communities and creating change, [and] we just don’t hear about it.”

Govindaraju hopes to pursue a career as a public interest lawyer and law professor and believes that an expanded global awareness will inform her strong commitment to advancing equality, equity and safeguarding human rights. She says, “For me, going to Asia is my opportunity to learn from others and my environment…and bringing that consciousness into my work will just make me a more competent and aware advocate and lawyer.”

The Luce Scholars Program campus nomination process is supported by the Office of Merit Scholarships, Fellowships and Awards (OMSFA), a UAA program. OMSFA works with faculty, staff and student groups to identify and help promising students develop the skills, personal insights and interview practice necessary to become strong candidates for this prestigious award.

Update: We caught up with Varsha after she returned from her Luce Year. Read about her experiences as a Luce Scholar in Cambodia.