Sawiris gift to UChicago expands support for international students

The University of Chicago is creating the Onsi Sawiris Scholars Program to provide funding for academically gifted students from schools in Egypt. The initiative is named to honor the father of University Trustee and College alumnus Nassef Sawiris, who has given a gift of $20 million to establish the program.

Sawiris publicly announced the gift with University of Chicago President Robert J. Zimmer on March 14 at the Egypt Economic Development Conference, hosted by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, in Sharm el-Sheikh. The landmark conference brings together government and business leaders from Egypt and around the world, including World Bank President Jim Yong Kim and Lazard CEO Kenneth M. Jacobs, also a University Trustee and College alumnus.

The program offers support for full-time College students—including tuition, living expenses, travel, and enrichment—and continues funding of the Sawiris Scholars Exchange Program, which brings students to the University for one year. Funding is also available for students working toward a master’s degree or PhD in economics.

This new gift endows the Sawiris Scholars program in perpetuity.

“Nassef Sawiris’s generosity, and his commitment to the strength of ideas and rigorous education, will empower generations of students,” said President Zimmer. “The education they receive at the University of Chicago will prepare them for the complex challenges they will face in the future as leaders in their communities and their professions.”

Sawiris is the CEO of OCI N.V., an international engineering and construction contractor and chemical producer. He earned his AB in economics from the College in 1982.

“The Onsi Sawiris Scholars Program will provide Egypt’s brightest students with the opportunity to receive a world-class education at the University of Chicago, where they will be armed with essential skills to lead Egypt’s economic development in the future,” Sawiris said. “I benefitted greatly from my time at the University of Chicago and believe in the value that a well-rounded education brings to the development of our communities.”

This gift builds upon Sawiris’s extensive history of philanthropy with the University, which has included support of the Oriental Institute, undergraduates from Cairo University in Chicago and from the University of Chicago in Egypt, and a visiting faculty fellowship program between Egypt and the University of Chicago Center in Paris.

Also, Sawiris has funded the Sawiris Scholars Exchange Program, which annually brings cohorts of students from Egypt to the College for one year of intensive study and cultural experience. The scholars then return to complete their educations in Egypt and engage with their communities and industries as active leaders; starting in 2014, students who excel during the exchange may be invited to complete their degrees at the University of Chicago. To date, nearly 40 students have benefitted from Sawiris’ generosity through this program.

Like the exchange program before it, the new Sawiris Scholars program increases the socioeconomic and geographical diversity of the University’s international student population, as well as its diversity of academic interests.

“A rigorous and challenging education requires a diverse academic culture with the widest possible range of perspectives,” said John W. Boyer, dean of the College. “Our University community is enriched by the cultural and academic contributions of these excellent students, and Egypt in turn benefits from the best education that the United States has to offer.” 

More than a century of commitment

Sawiris’s gift supports the University’s longtime commitment to collaboration with Egypt and Egyptian scholars, which began at the institution’s founding. UChicago became the first Western Hemisphere home of the discipline of Egyptology in 1894, when James Henry Breasted—the first American to earn a PhD in the field—joined the faculty. In 1919, through the transformational philanthropy of John D. Rockefeller Jr., Breasted founded the Oriental Institute. Today, the O.I. thrives as one of the world’s leading centers for the study of ancient Near Eastern civilizations, combining innovation in theory, methodology, and significant empirical discovery with the highest standards of rigorous scholarship.

In 1924, the University founded the Epigraphic Survey at Chicago House in Luxor, Egypt, whose ongoing mission is to produce photographs and precise drawings of the inscriptions and relief scenes in major tombs and temples in Luxor for publication, which allows for study of the site by scholars worldwide.

Since 2011, the University of Chicago has offered an overseas Cairo Civilizations program as part of the Core curriculum for undergraduates and research grants for students studying the Middle East.

International student support

The Sawiris gift, along with a recent gift from the Neubauer Family Foundation that creates scholarship opportunities for international students, expands the University’s support of students from outside the United States, who would not otherwise have access to some traditional forms of American financial aid. Comprehensive funding—including travel and living expenses—ensures that students selected for such programs will be able to participate regardless of their financial circumstances.

Sawiris’ gift contributes to the University of Chicago Campaign: Inquiry and Impact, the most ambitious and comprehensive campaign in the University’s history, which will raise $4.5 billion to support faculty and researchers, practitioners and patients, and students and programs across the University.