No distance too great
From extreme poverty to unlimited potential, two UC students from India prove they were worth the investment
When Anjani Lahane crosses the stage at UC’s commencement in April, she will complete a journey that started 8,000 miles away in an impoverished farming village in India.
Her accomplishment will mark an important step for someone who has grown used to going to great lengths to pursue her education. As a teenager, Lahane left her family’s simple soil home to walk 90 minutes to and from school — often through blistering heat or monsoon flooding — because they couldn’t afford bus fare. With no money for schoolbooks, she copied the textbooks of her high school friends as fast as she could to prepare for exams.
For UC, Lahane’s graduation represents the university’s reward for investing in two needy students from halfway around the globe. Lahane and Karishma Randhave, also from a rural village in India, are the first-ever recipients of UC’s Global Opportunity Scholarship, a full-ride, life-changing offer valued at more than $150,000 each that paid for tuition, housing, meals, health insurance, travel costs and more.
As the two wrap up their time at UC, they reflect on their experiences and how the university forever changed the trajectory of their lives starting in 2011. That’s when UC’s scholarship brought them together on campus, where they became roommates and lifelong friends.
“This was a dream come true for me,” says Randhave, a biology major from the McMicken College of Arts and Sciences who graduated in December. She is now applying for graduate schools in the U.S. and hopes to work toward curing disease. “It is like UC made my life possible.”
After she finishes her education, Randhave plans to return to India to help the homeless. “I went back to India in the summer, and I saw so many homeless people. It was heartbreaking to see the ones who are begging and just sleeping on the roads.”
Lahane, who is majoring in information systems in the Carl H. Lindner College of Business, returned to India for a time in December with UC graduate Bipin Shedge to get married. The two met and fell in love at UC while Shedge, M (Eng) ’12, was president of UC’s Indian Students Association. After Lahane graduates, she intends to move to California, where Shedge works as a mechanical engineer, but ultimately they, too, plan to return to India to help the less fortunate.
Though traditional Indian weddings often involve several days of elaborate celebrations, the couple scaled back their ceremonies with friends and family in India so they could put money aside to help the poor pursue higher education there.
“After what UC did for me, I have this feeling that I have a responsibility to do something for someone else,” says Lahane. “We want to sponsor at least one child in India and help them get an education.”
Both Lahane and Randhave credit Jon Weller, UC’s director of international admissions, for pushing them toward such success. It was Weller who first dreamed up UC’s outreach idea, an international scholarship for two students who demonstrate outstanding academic success despite serious financial hardship.
“The vast majority of our international students are coming from privileged backgrounds,” says Weller, who points out that international students pay nearly $45,000 a year for out-of-state tuition, housing and living expenses.
“We wanted to focus on students who we knew this would be a life-changing opportunity for them.”
Weller has overseen UC’s international admissions effort since it began in 2008, when he was the only employee who focused on recruiting undergraduate students from foreign countries. The gamble UC took to open an office of international admissions has more than paid off as the number of international students seeking an undergraduate degree at UC has grown from around 200 in 2008 to more than 1,000 today.
Weller says the current focus is to “craft the class” with the most promising international students, all of whom are supported by UC International, which works on behalf of international students, facilitates study abroad opportunities and builds strategic partnerships with universities worldwide.
All told, UC’s total international enrollment has increased to more than 3,000 students on campus, with two-thirds seeking graduate-level degrees.
Along the way, Weller’s office has grown from just him to a team of 10 in Cincinnati, plus representatives in India, China and Vietnam. It is out of this success that UC was able to create and fund the initial Global Opportunity Scholarships. Weller is working with the U.S. Department of State to identify and sponsor UC’s next two Opportunity Scholarship winners, who will have overcome similar obstacles to accomplish their academic success.
To find the first students, UC partnered with a nonprofit that assists the poor, Lend-A-Hand India, to comb the country for qualified applicants. An original pool of 50 finalists was narrowed down through a series of interviews and academic competitions over a 10-month period, and ultimately Lahane and Randhave emerged the winners. The awards became national news in India, and the students were featured in multiple Indian newspapers and news broadcasts.
Being in the limelight was a transition that took some adjustment, especially for Lahane, the daughter of a rice farmer, who went from being a student who couldn’t afford textbooks to one with a backpack full, some of which cost as much as an entire year of university in India.
For both students, coping with the language barrier was much harder than they expected. In fact, in their first year, their grades were nosediving, and their confidence was fading. Their rescue came in part from ELS, an independent English language center on campus that offered its services and additional assistance to both students after Weller reached out on their behalf.
After months of developing their language skills, both began to turn things around and see success in the classroom. Lahane even made the dean’s list the last several semesters.
Besides their academic achievements, Lahane and Randhave also secured campus jobs and paid internships that allowed each of them to send siblings to college in India and help with family expenses.
Lahane’s family even built a new and larger cement home this year. As she reflects on how much everything has improved for her and her family, she shares what her father said to her when she was 18 and they found out she had won UC’s scholarship.
“He told me, ‘You have done a lot of good, Anjani, and that is why this is happening for you. Good stuff happens for good people.’”
She’s now convinced her father was right.
UC's international trends
As editor of UC Magazine, John enjoys the opportunity to put a human face on a large institution by telling compelling stories of the University of Cincinnati's incredible community of alumni, faculty, staff and students.
Additional credits: Photos by Lisa Ventre. Graphics by Kathy Bohlen. Interactive map web development by Ben Stockwell.