A Sense of Place

Over 100 million. That’s the staggering number of individuals the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates are presently classified as refugees or displaced persons around the world. These individuals find themselves forcibly displaced as a result of human rights violations, war, conflict, and persecution. This number has never been greater. Of this number, the UNHCR estimates that only 6 percent of refugees have access to higher education.

Exactly Two. That’s the number of students at Luther—Tamim Dostyar ’27 from Afghanistan and Matthew Frantsuzhan ’27 from Ukraine—who enrolled in August 2023 as a result of a new scholarship, the Maclay-Tlou Scholarship for Displaced and Refugee Students. The scholarship is designed to provide access to higher education for this particularly vulnerable and underserved group. The scholarship is named in memory of regent emerita Susan Maclay Blackman ’64 and Thomas Tlou ’65. It was established with both endowed and current gift components by Paul Blackman in honor of his wife, Susan, and her long-time Luther friend Tom. In addition, former Luther faculty members Deb (Rusch) ’82 and Bill Fordice ’82 generously contributed to the new scholarship to help ensure that it had an immediate impact.

Matthew Frantsuzhan '27 (left) and Jon Lund, director of international admissions

Because of one place. The scholarship is a meaningful expression of the sense of place cultivated at Luther. Tamim, a computer science major, found his way to Luther due to the advocacy efforts of Washington, DC, alumna Stephanie Heishman ’01 and others. Stephanie and a friend had volunteered their time to help bright students from Afghanistan find college options in the US. Stephanie’s love of Luther, her faith in Tamim, and the newly established scholarship made Tamim’s dream of a college education possible.

Tamim Dostyar '27 (left) and Stephanie Heishman '01

Matthew’s pathway to Luther involved lots of Luther connections too. As a high school exchange student at Valley High School in Des Moines, Iowa, Matthew discovered his passion for music thanks to his vocal music teacher, Haley Gibbons ’11. When the war in Ukraine broke out, Matthew was unable to return to his home country. A Des Moines–area family, Cristina (Webb) ’97 and J. R. Deeds ’99, stepped in to serve as host parents for Matthew. And with the support of Dr. Andrew Last ’97, director of choral activities, Matthew made his way to campus.

It is fitting, indeed, that a college founded by immigrants offers help to those who are displaced or stateless and provides for them a sense of place. And it’s Luther alumni and their attachment to this place that make it possible.

If you’d like to explore ways to assist more students like Tamim and Matthew by contributing to the Maclay-Tlou Scholarship for Displaced and Refugee Students, please contact the Luther College Development Office, 563-387-1862.