by Jessica Breed
Riding the waves of one successful
fellowship, Theofanis Stavrou decided to create a second fund for graduate students. “I saw how the Laourdas Fellowship was really helping people finish [their dissertations]. I thought to myself, That’s going so nicely. Well, why don’t you try it again?”
The Theofanis G. Stavrou Eastern Orthodox History and Culture Fellowship may be awarded as early as 2009. Designed to assist students in completing their dissertation, the fellowship supports research in a variety of fields: Russia, Balkans, Mediterranean, the diaspora, or “anywhere there has been interaction between Orthodox people and their environments. It is conceivable that even someone researching the religion and politics of Greek communities in the U.S. or the relationship between Orthodox Christianity and Islam could receive this fellowship,” Stavrou explains.
Upon reaching $200,000, the fund’s interest will be matched dollar-for-dollar by the 21st Century Graduate Fellowship Endowment. If the interest in one year reaches $3,000, for example, the University will provide an additional $3,000, doubling the payout of the fellowship. The matching will continue for the duration of the fund.
When Stavrou launched the Basil Laourdas Fellowship in the Modern Greek Studies Program thirty-five years ago, “People thought it couldn’t be done,” he said. Now at the helm of a robust program, Stavrou is planning for the next generation. “The more technologically advanced we become, the greater the need for training in the humanities,” he says. “You can’t have a good graduate program without good graduate students.”
The history department’s investment in graduate students has paid off. At a recent international conference on Russia and the Mediterranean, 14 participants were from the U.S. and all but one graduated from the University of Minnesota. Stavrou beams, “We have a pretty good future here if the past is any indication.”
Although this fellowship will go far to secure Stavrou’s legacy, it is only one part of his three-pronged philanthropic vision. The second goal is to make his journal series, the Modern Greek Studies Yearbook, independent financially. “The monographs are
already self-sufficient. There is a good demand for them, and it provides an excellent opportunity for graduate students to publish,” says Stavrou. Finally, he is involved in the college’s strategic plan to attract the best faculty to replace a large contingent of retiring professors in history. Stavrou even has ambitions of establishing a chair.
Between his research, teaching, advising, and the publications series, Stavrou recognizes that those who follow in his wake will need some assistance: “Young people who come here will be encouraged to establish their own fields and develop their own research. They can’t do what I am doing, running around and gathering support from everywhere.”
A past recipient of a Ford Foundation Fellowship himself, Stavrou recognizes the financial obstacles in academia. He quotes the poem “Ithaca” by Constantine Cavafis for inspiration: “I tell all my students, do not allow the Cyclops and angry Poseidon to distract you. ‘Always keep Ithaca in your mind. To arrive there is your ultimate goal.’”