Anonymous $6.8 million gift will support Immersion Vanderbilt student projects

A $6.8 million gift from an anonymous donor will support Immersion Vanderbilt and provide funding to students to carry out creative and ambitious projects that deepen their intellect and broaden their horizons.

The new Education Enhancement Fund, established by the gift, provides a grant-funded opportunity for students to conduct some aspect of Immersion Vanderbilt. All undergraduates are required to complete two immersion components for graduation: (1) an immersive experience, such as an internship, study abroad, field research or sustained volunteering with a local organization, and (2) a culminating project, such as a work of art, a presentation at an academic or corporate conference, a senior thesis, a published op-ed or a performance.

Part of Vanderbilt’s $3.2 billion Dare to Grow comprehensive campaign, this gift reinforces Vanderbilt’s commitment to creating transformative opportunities for students so they may learn and grow and bring about positive change in society.

“These funds underscore Vanderbilt’s dedication to offering life-changing opportunities for our students,” Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs C. Cybele Raver said. “This generous gift empowers Vanderbilt students to dare to grow in their educational journey, whether it’s delving into in-depth research experiences or producing artistic works that extend beyond the confines of traditional educational opportunities.”

Funds from this endowment were recently distributed and have already supported immersion projects across a wide range of experiential opportunities, from research abroad to robotics. Some students conducted immersion projects within their majors, while others used the funds to explore experiences and projects outside of their academic discipline.

“This gift will help Vanderbilt students expand their horizons and deepen their knowledge and capacities through access to top labs, studios and internships, whether in their major or in an entirely new area,” Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education Tiffiny Tung said. “It will support students’ growth with regard to critical and innovative thinking, real-world communication and interaction, and help them become well-rounded, global citizens.”

Opportunities made possible through philanthropy

Junior Ashley Settergren, who is studying human and organizational development, was one of six students who received funds to travel to India with Asian studies professor Elliott McCarter as part of the travel-embedded course The Linguistic Landscape of India’s Golden Triangle. This course offers students the chance to embody the experience of moving through and within culturally sacred spaces. Funds covered passport/visa fees and other incidentals that were not included in the course tuition fee.

Student Ashley Settergren received Education Enhancement funds to travel to India for the travel-embedded course, The Linguistic Landscape of India’s Golden Triangle, taught by Elliott McCarter, senior lecturer in Asian Studies.

Settergren visited Old and New Delhi, Jaipur, Fatehpur Sikri and Agra to participate in a 20-hour practicum where she observed and conducted research examining language and cultural dynamics.

“The experience heightened my motivation, bolstered my confidence and deepened my commitment to sociolinguistics and cultural geography,” Settergren said. “It expanded my horizons, helping me recognize the interconnectedness of language and culture in shaping societies.”

Senior Krisha Shah, majoring in psychology and advised by David Schlundt, used the Education Enhancement award for her immersive experience: researching memory suppression and amnesic shadows at the Memory Control Lab at the University of Cambridge with Michael Anderson. This immersion research contributed to Shah’s psychology honors thesis on trauma and dissociative amnesia and shaped her plans to pursue a doctorate in psychology.

Psychology major Krisha Shah used the Education Enhancement award for her immersive experience: researching memory suppression and amnesic shadows at the Memory Control Lab at the University of Cambridge.

“The impact this experience had on me was manyfold,” Shah said. “It solidified my future plans of pursuing a career in academia within the subfield of memory. Surrounded by incredibly dedicated and passionate faculty, postdocs and students, I learned about experimental design in detail while familiarizing myself with the literature. I also gained authorship for an important paper. Overall, this summer was a transformative experience.”

Senior mechanical engineering major Jose Leonardo Brenes presented his research on a novel wearable device to help recognize and prevent falls in at-risk populations at the International Conference on Robotics and Automation in London. Brenes developed the device working with adviser Michael Goldfarb in Vanderbilt’s CREATE Lab, an endeavor that contributes to the School of Engineering’s Inclusion Engineering mission through research in physical rehabilitation, mobility, assistive devices and related areas.

Mechanical engineering major Jose Leonardo Brenes presented his research at the International Conference on Robotics and Automation in London.

“This experience instilled a sense of confidence to share my work and motivated me to work throughout the summer to improve on the previous design of the device,” Brenes said. “It also made me more committed to my goal of going to graduate school for a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering.”

The Education Enhancement Fund application is available online, and this year’s application cycle is open until May 31, 2024. It will reopen each new academic year. The Education Enhancement Fund is earmarked primarily for students with financial need, allowing Immersion Vanderbilt to deepen its impact by enhancing equity.

Please send questions about Immersion Vanderbilt or the Education Enhancement Fund to

About the Dare to Grow Campaign

Launched in Vanderbilt’s 150th year, Dare to Grow is a $3.2 billion comprehensive campaign, the most ambitious in the university’s history. The campaign will succeed through three essential pathways—Destination Vanderbilt, Discovery Vanderbilt and One Vanderbilt—and by furthering the culture of belonging, innovation and collaboration that defines the Vanderbilt Way. Learn more at