Family starts scholarship to spur government careers

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By Ed O'Keefe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Heirs to a supermarket fortune will launch a multimillion-dollar scholarship foundation on Tuesday that is designed to encourage graduate students to pursue government careers in national security, foreign policy and international development.

The Robertson Foundation for Government plans to eventually provide full financial support to hundreds of graduate students in those fields who agree to at least three years of service with a federal agency within five years of graduation.

"We are very serious about the mission of getting these people to work for the government," said Bill Robertson, the foundation's director.

His mother, Marie Robertson, donated $35 million worth of stock in the A&P supermarket company in 1961 to Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. But her heirs sued Princeton in 2002, arguing that the university diverted her original donation from its stated purpose of preparing college students for public service.

The suit was settled last year after a prolonged battle closely watched by universities, nonprofit groups and donors increasingly eager to keep close tabs on their contributions. Terms of the settlement require Princeton to pay approximately $60 million in payments and interest to the foundation by 2018.

The foundation plans to name four or five partner universities in coming weeks and then select its first eight fellows by the start of the 2010-11 academic year, Robertson said. Partner universities must agree to pay some student costs, and none of the schools will be members of the Ivy League, he said.

Although most scholarship recipients may consider careers with the State Department or the U.S. Foreign Service, Robertson hopes they will also consider jobs with the U.S. Agency for International Development, congressional committees, intelligence agencies and international development programs.

The foundation's board of directors includes former Virginia governor and senator Charles S. Robb, former national security adviser Brent Scowcroft and Paul Light, a government scholar who is now a professor at New York University. The group plans to establish a public service award program and work with federal agencies on retention efforts.

"We would like to attempt to make federal jobs more enticing to graduate students and also make these jobs more interesting," Robertson said. "One of the things students find after a few years is that they don't find [public service] as interesting or rewarding."

Few other endowments have provided such generous or specific support to students pursuing government careers, said Max Stier, president of the Partnership for Public Service.

"It's certainly not unique, but it's important, and there aren't enough of them," Stier said. His group was founded in 2001 by businessman Samuel J. Heyman, who established public service fellowship programs at Harvard and Yale universities.

Interested applicants can obtain more information at www.rffg.org.


© 2010 The Washington Post Company

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