University Distinguished Fellowship Program

Initiated in the early 1990s following the release of the historic Report of the Council on the Review of Research and Graduate Education (CORRAGE), the MSU Graduate School’s University Distinguished Fellowship (UDF) Program has played a significant role contributing to the university’s commitment to inclusive excellence in graduate education. Over the last three decades, more than one thousand talented scholars from various fields of study have received this competitive recruitment fellowship.

Providing financial support for outstanding graduate students from diversified disciplines and backgrounds who plan to enroll in any of MSU’s doctoral programs (and Master of Fine Arts programs), the UDF Program is part of the Graduate School’s and university’s overarching goal of student success. In alignment with the MSU Strategic Plan 2030 and the Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion Report and Plan, the UDF Program helps MSU sustain an intellectually vital and inclusive educational community that will prepare graduate students to pursue their goals in an everchanging society. We appreciate the special role that graduate education and high-quality mentoring practices play in preparing the next generation of scholars, thinkers, and leaders in and outside of higher education. Though not formally part of the Graduate School’s Cohort Fellowship Programs, the UDF Program will provide awardees with unique opportunities for community building and professional development (i.e., programmatic activities that are designed with these fellows in mind).

The Graduate School aims to promote the values of inclusive excellence by encouraging the admission and collaborative funding of talented students who represent a broad array of life experiences and perspectives. As aptly stated in the MSU Strategic Plan 2030, “we cannot serve a diverse local, national and global society if our community does not reflect that diversity and support the success of its members in an inclusive and equitable way.”

Eligibility & Criteria

Incoming graduate students do not apply directly for the UDF. Departments, programs, and colleges may nominate newly admitted graduate students to doctoral programs (and MFA programs) whose research interests match well with the program to which they have been admitted and the faculty they will work with; who have been accepted with what are considered full funding packages in their program; and who meet a robust combination of the criteria listed below.

The UDF Program supports the university’s “Student Success” goal of attracting newly admitted students who:

  • demonstrate excellent academic accomplishments, especially considering their life experiences and available educational and professional opportunities;
  • exhibit impactful leadership within their disciplines, communities of practice, volunteer efforts, or professional activities;
  • may have overcome significant obstacles such as financial hardship and other challenges;  
  • show the potential to contribute positively to a diverse educational community, as evidenced in research goals, scholarship, professional experience, and/or outreach and engagement activities.

Nomination & Selection Processes

Colleges must submit complete UDF nomination packets by the end of the business day on Monday, January 29, 2024. The Graduate School will be reasonably flexible in considering late nominations of truly outstanding candidates. We expect to select awardees and notify the units before March 1, 2024. A limited number of exceptional candidates may be identified and notified earlier.

Before being submitted to the Graduate School, all nominations must be vetted through a college-level screening process and approved by the college dean and/or the associate dean of graduate studies. Colleges will determine the deadlines for their internal selection processes. Approximately 40 UDFs will be awarded to incoming students for the 2024-2025 academic year. Therefore, colleges are asked to only submit the most outstanding candidates from their pool of nominations.

Nominations must include the following:

  • the nominee’s complete admissions application once they have been recommended for admittance by the academic program within Slate;
  • a compelling joint letter of support from the nominee’s graduate program director and potential or determined advisor that: (1) speaks to the nominee’s specific qualifications according to the criteria for the fellowship as listed earlier, (2) explains how the nominee is an ideal fit for their program and how their research objectives can be supported by the faculty, and (3) briefly discusses how the nominee is actively being recruited to the program;
  • a brief mentoring statement (500 words maximum) from the nominee’s potential advisor or graduate program director describing their approach to mentoring and advising, including how they will help the nominee meet their academic and career goals (see the MSU Guidelines for Graduate Student Mentoring & Advising,

Using the criteria for the student plus the nomination packet, candidates will be evaluated by the UDF Selection Advisory Committee, a group composed of faculty representing participating colleges. After meeting with the committee to discuss the rankings, the Graduate School’s UDF coordinator will make first-round offers. These first-round offers will be made no later than the beginning of March. In accordance with state law, the selection process “shall not discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin.”

UDF Collaborative Funding & Support Model

In alignment with one of the university’s core values, collaboration, the UDF Program represents a cooperative effort and provides funding packages in which the Graduate School and individual graduate programs work together to recruit and support outstanding students who fit the qualifications and purpose of the fellowship. Starting in 2024 the funding model has been changed to be more beneficial to the student and improve recruitment rates.

For the incoming 2024-25 UDF recipients, the Graduate School will provide a ½ time Graduate Assistantship (GA) for their first year (12 months) at a biweekly stipend rate of $1,200 (totaling approximately $31,400). The fellows will participate in programmatic activities offered by the Graduate School, such as career development and mentoring workshops, to fulfill their GA work duties. Awardees will also receive an annual $10,000 fellowship from the Graduate School for the nominal duration of their funded program (5 years for PhD students, 3 years for MFA students). Fellows are expected to meet the satisfactory academic progress standards established by their graduate degree program and be in “good” academic standing during their fellowship tenure.

The graduate program/department/college is obligated to provide at least the same level of assistantship funding, not including the annual $10,000 fellowship, for the remaining years so long as the student continues to maintain “good standing” in the program. It is expected this support will usually be in the form of teaching or research assistantships unless they are awarded external fellowships such as the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP).

Questions pertaining to the UDF Program should be directed to Graduate School Associate Dean and UDF Coordinator Kirsten Tollefson at

Nomination Form

Nominations will be submitted within Slate for 2024-25 nominations.

Additional Recruitment Fellowships

During the University Fellowship process, candidates will also be considered for the following awards: