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GU junior Mae Cramer wins Voyager Scholarship

Nov. 22, 2022 Updated Tue., Nov. 22, 2022 at 9:12 p.m.

Mae Cramer has won the Obama Foundation Voyager Scholarship.  (Courtesy)
Mae Cramer has won the Obama Foundation Voyager Scholarship. (Courtesy)
By Nina Culver For The Spokesman-Review

Gonzaga University junior Mae Cramer is one of 100 college juniors across the nation to recently be awarded a Voyager Scholarship by the Obama Foundation.

The scholarship, which launched this year, is funded by the foundation and by Brian Chesky, CEO of Airbnb. It’s based on the premise that exposure to new places and experiences helps generate understanding and empathy for others, necessary attributes for future public service leaders.

Cramer grew up in Lynnwood, Washington, and has long had an interest in social justice issues. She follows the Obama Foundation on social media and saw a post about the inaugural scholarship, but thought she wasn’t qualified for an opportunity designed for future public service leaders.

“I’m just some girl from a Seattle suburb,” she said. “I didn’t think there was anything special about me. I don’t go to Harvard or Stanford.”

But two of her former high school teachers texted her a link to the application and told her she should apply, which gave her the push she needed.

Cramer said she spent hours and hours on her application, carefully crafting her responses to questions and creating a video essay. Still, she was surprised to be notified in August that she had been selected. She recently returned from the Democracy Forum and Fall Summit hosted by the Obama Foundation in New York, where she had the opportunity to meet the other scholarship recipients, attend speeches and workshops and listen to former President Obama speak.

“It was incredible,” she said of the experience.

She said she was also struck by the quality of the scholarship recipients despite the fact that there were no interviews of the 1,800 applicants.

“They picked amazing individuals who are so kind, so caring,” she said.

Cramer said she is the only recipient from Washington state. Other West Coast recipients include a student from Oregon and a few from California.

Gonzaga was a natural fit for Cramer. Her grandfather, Dennis Conners, has been a professor there for 20 years and her stepmother graduated from the university in 1997. But despite that, it was a research project on the university that Cramer completed when she was 9 that sealed the deal.

“I actually set my heart on it in the fourth grade,” she said. “It’s their commitment to social justice and community service that drew me in, as well as the stories from my stepmom. In fifth grade I was the youngest ever to have an official tour.”

She’s majoring in political science and pursuing a minor in women and gender studies. She said she wants to be involved in some sort of activism or human rights work once she graduates.

She’s confident that the Voyager Scholarship will help her achieve that goal. It’s a last dollar scholarship, meaning that it will cover up to $25,000 in tuition and fees left after other scholarships and grants are applied. Recipients are also given a $10,000 stipend for a Summer Voyage between their junior and senior years, plus free housing through Airbnb. The voyage can be anywhere as long as it falls under the public service umbrella, Cramer said.

She has been applying for internships with members of Congress and advocacy groups in Washington, D.C., with the hopes of making that her Summer Voyage.

But in addition to the financial aspects, Cramer said receiving the scholarship will look good on her resume and should open new doors. It also puts her in contact with mentors who have done what she hopes to do.

“The Obama Foundation did see something in me,” she said. “Hopefully, it will help propel me into opportunities like internships.”

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