From Access to Impact: Opportunity Vanderbilt Scholarship Recipients Aim High

Photos by Daniel Dubois unless otherwise noted

A service leader who spent last spring break in Ghana. A younger brother and Best Buddies member. A mass transit planner. And a spinal-cord injury researcher. Four undergraduate students—each a scholarship recipient, each enriching the Vanderbilt community.

In the midst of the financial collapse of 2008, Vanderbilt took a bold step to replace all need-based loans with scholarships and grants for undergraduates. Known as Opportunity Vanderbilt, this initiative relies on unwavering institutional commitment and the generosity of thousands of donors to grow the scholarship endowment. To date, donors have contributed nearly $198 million to Opportunity Vanderbilt.

“We continually aspire to expand access, to bring talent that knows no bounds to this campus,” says Chancellor Nicholas S. Zeppos. “Opportunity Vanderbilt is transforming the undergraduate experience and our larger campus community.”

A glimpse into the lives of four scholarship recipients shows not only how Opportunity Vanderbilt is empowering individuals, but how they are contributing to Vanderbilt, their communities and the world.


Zach Elliott, Class of 2016
Jeff and Marieke Rothschild Scholarship
Winston–Salem, North Carolina

Zach Elliott has a deep concern about missing out on life. A double major in civil engineering and public policy, he usually takes more than the required number of classes each semester. Zach also is currently working with Nashville’s Metropolitan Planning Office to help design a mass transit network for the region and serves as vice president of outreach for SPEAR, Students Promoting Environmental Awareness and Responsibility. Through SPEAR he and his fellow students helped encourage the university to conserve energy by switching from coal power to natural gas.

“They say it’s good to balance grades, friends and sleep, but I still don’t do the sleep part very well,” Zach admits. “With the financial support I’ve been given to come to Vanderbilt, I feel compelled to take advantage of every opportunity possible here.”


Ariana Fowler, Class of 2017
Allison A. Poarch Scholarship
Northlake, Texas

“My mom and nana have always encouraged me to dream big,” says Ariana Fowler, a Peabody student intent on inspiring others to do the same. As a resident adviser in Murray House, a Dance Marathon member, and a Speakers Committee leader, Fowler serves as an energizing force for other students. “I want to be part of conversations that make people think about important campus issues.”

Ariana’s Vanderbilt experience reaches far beyond Nashville. Last spring she went to Ghana for spring break with a medical and public health brigade. The trip fueled her passion for sustainable development and coincided with a class about Kenyan development and education with Brian Griffith, assistant clinical professor of human and organizational development. Both deepened Ariana’s career interests in combining microfinancing, health care and education.

“From my mentors to my peers to the scholarship support I receive—I feel empowered here.”


Nicholas Crowther, Class of 2018
Turner Family Scholarship
Suwanee, Georgia

As a high school student, Nicholas Crowther spent time working in a special-needs classroom. “It was the highlight of my day, every day,” says Nicholas. Now a first-year chemistry major with interests in pediatric and developmental medicine, Nicholas joined other Vanderbilt students on a cold January Sunday to attend the annual talent show for Best Buddies Vanderbilt, an outreach program that fosters one-on-one friendships between students and young adults with intellectual disabilities.

While his heart is still in children’s health, Nicholas also is exploring new territory at Vanderbilt. He’s currently taking a prison literature class, where Orange Is the New Black—Piper Kerman’s memoir about a year in a women’s prison—is a topic of great conversation. He also is growing alongside his fellow first years at Gillette House, one of the 10 houses of The Martha Rivers Ingram Commons at Vanderbilt.

“I never intended to follow my brother, Michael [Class of 2015], to Vanderbilt. But when I visited him on GameDay Saturday, I knew I wanted to be here. Our scholarships made Vanderbilt a reality for both of us.”


Mikaela O’Connor, Class of 2016
Anonymous Scholarship
Naples, Florida

Mikaela O’Connor’s interest in medicine began when she was 12 years old. “When I was in seventh grade, I went to Jamaica with my youth group,” she remembers. “One day we went to an infirmary, which was basically two huts with men and women in cots who were essentially waiting to die. I knew I wanted to help change that.”

A neuroscience major and sociology minor, Mikaela plans to attend medical school. In the meantime, she works in a research lab led by Jon Kaas, Gertrude Conaway Vanderbilt Distinguished Professor of Psychology, where she investigates recovery from spinal-cord injuries. She is on the executive board of her sorority and on the fundraising committee for the largest philanthropic student organization on campus, Dance Marathon, which supports Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt.

“The support from this scholarship has allowed me to do so much here on campus. I am grateful to have been given the opportunity to give back to Vanderbilt and my community.”



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