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Office of Undergraduate Research

Circumnavigators Travel-Study Grant

Jointly funded by Northwestern University and the Chicago Chapter of the Circumnavigators Club, the Circumnavigators Travel-Study Grant Program offers a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.  The winner will receive a $9,000 award to spend the summer travelling to at least five different countries (excluding the U.S. and Canada) on at least three different continents.  Applicants must be full-time Northwestern juniors (see "Grant Guidelines" for additional eligibility requirements).  During the trip, the winner will study/research a topic of her/his choosing. 

The next proposal submission deadline is November 19, 2014 for Summer 2015 travel-study.

The 2014 winner Elizabeth Larsen is traveling to Guatemala, Peru, Cambodia, Bangladesh, Nepal, Uganda, Rwanda, and Cameroon. Her project, "Tackling Childhood Malnutrition: A Global Study of Scaling Up Grassroots Approaches to Catalyze World Progress" investigates the implementation science behind nutrition initiatives around the world, allowing her to examine how these interventions may be scaled up to tackle the problem globally.

The 2013 winner Catherine Althaus traveled to England, France, Spain, Morocco, Thailand, Australia, New Zealand, Chile, and Peru.  Her project, "The Treatment of Human Remains: Scientific Specimens or Human Beings?" examined the scientific, practical, and ethical concerns of the treatment and display of human remains in museums around the world.

Previous winners include Kevin Short (2012), who investigated how the rise of digital technologies fosters both the promotion of government accountability through increased information flows, and civic engagement in the form of public discourse online.  Ben Shorofsky (2011) studied the organization and funding of sustainability initiatives in developed and developing countries. The 2010 winner Meixi Ng visited schools that are focusing on transformative education in marginalized communities, while 2009 winner Sam McAleese studied conservation efforts in national parks around the world. 

In other words, you can study whatever you want as long as it fits into a global context.


Video of 2010 winner Meixi Ng talking about her project "Education as Transformation."

Visit the web sites of the Chicago Chapter of the Circumnavigators Club and the Circumnavigators Club Foundation to learn more about the organization and its support of around-the-world travel-study projects.

Grant Guidelines


  • Applicants must be full-time Northwestern juniors who will be returning to campus next year.  NU students with senior standing may apply only if they will be returning to Northwestern as full-time undergraduates for the entire academic year following the summer circumnavigation.
  • Students who will be studying abroad or otherwise away from campus during the winter/spring before the trip or during the academic year following the trip are not eligible.
  • Applicants must be available for an in-person interview on campus in early January.
  • The grant is open to students in all disciplines.
  • No group submissions are allowed; the grant is only for a single individual. The travel-study trip, furthermore, must be undertaken by the grant recipient alone, unaccompanied by friends, significant others, relatives, a research partner or partners, or larger group of associates.

Grant Requirements

  • During the summer award period, the grant recipient is required to spend a minimum of ten continuous weeks on the road outside of the United States and Canada in conducting her/his travel-study project.  The project must include travel to, and research in, a minimum of five countries (excluding the U.S. and Canada) on at least three continents. 
  • The grant recipient will be required to maintain a blog, provided by Northwestern.  The blog must be updated at least twice a week for the duration of the trip.
  • After completion of the trip, the grant recipient is required to submit a 50-page (minimum) research paper to the Circumnavigators Club Chicago Chapter and Foundation.  A draft analytical outline is due to the Chapter's Foundation Coordinator within 30 days of the end of the trip.  The final paper must be submitted no later than 90 days following the end of the trip.  Within 60 days, a summary of all expenses, such as travel, food, lodging, extras must be sent to New York headquarters. Additionally, the winner will speak to at least two Circumnavigators Club banquets during the nine months following the trip. After completion of the requirements, the grant recipient is expected to complete an application and join the Circumnavigators Club.
  • The grant recipient will be expected to help advise applicants for the following year’s competition, including speaking at the Fall info session in October, and to help mentor the following year’s winner by passing on tips and suggestions.

Travel Restrictions

  • The itinerary cannot include travel to a location that has been rated as high (H) or extreme (E) risk by International SOS. This policy is university-wide and is non-negotiable. To check the rating of a country and areas within a country, go to the International SOS member website using NU's group account number: 11BCAS000003. 
  • In general, undergraduates are not permitted to travel to a country subject to a U.S. Department of State Travel Warning. However, if the ISOS security rating of the location is Insignificant, Low or Moderate, exceptions may be made in certain circumstances when the student’s experience is facilitated, sponsored, monitored or controlled by Northwestern faculty or staff. The supervising faculty or staff (not the individual student) must apply to the Study Abroad Risk Assessment Committee (SARAC) on the student's behalf for permission to travel at least eight weeks prior to the student’s planned travel. For details please see the University Undergraduate International Travel Policy and Procedures. Requests for travel permission should follow the guidelines provided in Appendix B of the Travel Permission Application Process.
  • If safety issues exist in a research locale to which travel is permissible, the applicant should address in the application steps that will be taken to ensure personal safety.

Selection Process

  • A Northwestern Review Committee will evaluate applications and select three finalists to be interviewed by the Chicago Circumnavigators Club Selection Committee.
  • Finalists must be available in person for an on-campus interview with members of the Circumnavigators Club in early January (see above for specific day and time). No phone, Skype, or alternate day interviews will be permitted.  The Circumnavigators Club will choose the grant winner and notify all three finalists, the University, and the International Foundation in New York of its decision.
  • Both Northwestern and the Circumnavigators Club are looking for interesting, pertinent, and globally-based topics, undertaken by persons who can easily think on their feet in any situation they might encounter abroad. Final selection will further be based on a number of factors, including: (a) merit of the subject to be studied, (b) student's academic record, (c) poise, maturity and communication skills, and (d) inherent discipline and enthusiasm of the candidates.

Research with People or Animals

  • Research that involves human subjects, including interviews, must receive certification from the University's Institutional Review Board (IRB) that no human subject will be put "at risk." Circumnavigators Grant applicants are not required to obtain IRB approval prior to the grant application deadline, but research cannot commence until IRB approval is obtained.  The winner is responsible for obtaining  this approval, if applicable, before beginning the summer circumnavigation. 
  • There are two parts to obtaining IRB approval.  First, all NU researchers, including undergraduates, who wish to use human subjects in research must complete the Human Research Subjects Training.  Approved options for completing this training are available on the IRB website. Second, researchers must submit an electronic application to IRB (eIRB) to receive approval for the proposed project.  Research with human subjects may not be undertaken prior to receiving IRB approval.
  • All IRB applications must be submitted by a faculty PI (Principal Investigator), who takes primary responsibility for the research. Students should list themselves as Co-investigators or Study Coordinators on the IRB application. The PI’s department chair also must approve the application in the eIRB system before the application can be forwarded to the IRB office.
  • Anyone wishing to conduct research involving live vertebrate animals must have an animal use protocol approved by NU's Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC).  All IACUC protocols must be submitted by a faculty PI (Principal Investigator), who takes primary responsibility for the research.  All persons working with animals must be trained, and enrolled in the occupational health program, before being allowed access to the animal facility.  Please see the IACUC website for more information, including instructions on how to enroll in both training and occupational health, the protocol review process and how to submit a protocol, and contacts for further questions.

Past Winners

Since 2000, the Chicago Chapter of the Circumnavigators Club has partnered with Northwestern University to send twelve Northwestern students around the world as Foundation Scholars. Catherine Althaus (2013), Kevin Short (2012), Ben Shorofsky (2011), Meixi Ng (2010), Sam McAleese (2009), Harris Sockel (2008), Christopher Ahern (2007), Alex Robins (2006), Susannah Cunningham (2005), Sarah Graber (2004), Dan Hoyle (2002), Alex Ortolani (2000). For more information on past award recipients and their projects, visit the Circumnavigators Club Chicago Chapter Foundation Scholars page.

Visit the Circumnavigators Club Foundation national office website for a list of all previousFoundation Scholars and projects sponsored nationally.

Check out "Around the World for 40 Years: Reflections by the Circumnavigators Club Foundation Scholars" to learn even more about past winners from across the nation, their projects, and how the grant affected their lives. This 2011 collection was compiled to honor the 40th anniversary of the Circumnavigators Around the World Travel-Study Grant Program.

Information for Faculty

Faculty Role

  • The Circumnavigators Travel-Study Grant offers students a unique and exciting opportunity to pursue an independent project on a global scale. Faculty serve primarily as recommenders for the purpose of this grant, rather than project supervisors, but faculty support in developing the project and selecting appropriate research sites is tremendously beneficial for applicants.  The unique travel requirements of the grant (to a minimum of five countries and three continents) pose challenges distinct from those of traditional, more narrowly focused research projects, and having the opportunity to discuss ideas with faculty has been key to students' successful development of meaningful and feasible global projects.  
  • If the student’s research involves human subjects, including interviews, s/he may need to receive certification from the University's Institutional Review Board (IRB) that no human subject will be put "at risk." Only members of the IRB staff can make determinations on the need of students to receive IRB authorization. 
  • Students cannot, however, directly submit proposals to IRB.  A faculty member serves as the Primary Investigator (PI) for all IRB aspects of the project.  Questions about IRB should be directed to Kathleen Murphy, IRB Manager, at kemurphy@northwestern.edu or Deborah Coleman, IRB Coordinator at d-coleman2@northwestern.edu.

Guidelines for Writing Endorsements

  • All Circumnavigator applications require an endorsement by two faculty recommenders. Outside faculty may be used as a recommender; graduate students and post-docs are not eligible, unless they are added as a supplemental third endorsement. If a recommender falls into one of these categories, contact the Circumnavigator Coordinator (uradvisor@northwestern.edu) prior to the application deadline for details.  
  • Faculty endorsements are due 48 hours after the student deadline. The Northwestern Review Committee meets to vote on proposals soon after the deadline, and proposals cannot be evaluated until faculty endorsements are received.  If you need more time to complete your assessment, you should make arrangements with the student to receive copies of the application materials well in advance of the deadline.  Un-endorsed proposals will not be considered by the Review Committee.
  • All endorsements are submitted online after the student submits her/his application.  Once  the student completes her/his portion of the online application, the system will generate an email to you containing instructions for online submission of the endorsement. 
  • The committee asks that your endorsement address the following questions: 
  1. Please offer your opinion on the quality and significance of the proposed project.
  2. How, in your opinion, does this project fit into the student’s overall academic/career goals?
  3. Please offer your opinions on the student.  How long have you worked with the student, and in what capacity? 
  4. How confident are you that the student will successfully complete the proposed project?  How well prepared do you feel this student is to undertake the world travel associated with this award?
  • On the endorsement submission page, you will find each of these questions followed by separate text fields in which to write your response.  Please answer these questions in place of a standard letter of recommendation as they help the review committee fully assess each candidate. Each field has a limit of 4,000 characters, which is equivalent to 1 ½ single-spaced pages.

How to Apply

Basic Info

All students must apply through the online application system. Applications are due by 11:59 pm on the due date.


A complete application consists of:

  • a project proposal of no more than five double-spaced pages, using Times Roman font of 11 or 12 points in size and one-inch margins
  • a resume
  • an official academic transcript
  • two faculty endorsements

The project proposal and resume must be uploaded in the online system in .doc, .rtf, or .pdf format.  Official transcripts can be ordered online from the Office of the Registrar .  Electronic transcripts are preferred and should be delivered to uradvisor@northwestern.edu.  Paper copies must be sealed and delivered to the Office of Undergraduate Research, Rebecca Crown Center, 633 Clark Street- West Tower, Room 1-225.

Faculty Endorsements

Once you have submitted your portion of the online application, your faculty advisors will receive an email containing instructions for their online submission of the endorsements. Faculty endorsements are due within 48 hours after the student deadline.  Well in advance of the application deadline, you should ask your recommenders to review the "Information for Faculty" section and provide them with a draft of your proposal so that they have sufficient time to prepare their endorsements. 

Outside faculty may be used as a recommender; graduate students and post-docs are not eligible, unless they are added as a supplemental third endorsement. If a recommender falls into one of these categories, contact the Circumnavigators Grant Coordinator (uradvisor@northwestern.edu) prior to applying for details.   


  • Your first step should be to discuss your ideas with faculty members who may be able offer insights on what you want to do. Faculty advisors also can help you assess and refine the proposal.  In fact, given the scope of a Circumnavigator project, it is a good idea to ask a number of faculty members for input on your ideas.  You can find faculty with interests related to yours by searching the Northwestern Scholars database.  You should also take full advantage of library resources.
  • Second, there will be a special information session dedicated to the Circumnavigators Grant in late October. The previous year's winner will speak about her/his experience, and members of the Circumnavigators Club Chicago Chapter will be present to answer questions.  In addition, Northwestern representatives will be present to go over the application process and to answer questions.
  • Finally, as an additional resource, you may seek feedback from a Circumnavigator Advisor, by email (uradvisor@northwestern.edu) or in an arranged meeting, once you have written a draft proposal. While a faculty advisor can best apply his or her expertise to the intellectual and methodological foundations of the project, the Circumnavigator Advisors can offer useful writing assistance in shaping the proposal for readers from both the Northwestern Review Committee and the Circumnavigators Club.

Jana Measells - Circumnavigators Grant Coordinator/ Advisor

     847-467-0501     uradvisor@northwestern.edu

Peter Civetta - Circumnavigators Grant Coordinator/ Advisor

     847-467-0499     undergradresearch@northwestern.edu

Gretchen Oehlschlager, Administration

     847-491-6720     adminur@northwestern.edu

Preparing the Project Proposal

Proposal Requirements

The proposal may be no more than five double-spaced pages (use Times Roman font of 11 or 12 points in size and one-inch margins). The proposal must include the following elements:

  • A description of the proposed study topic. Examples of past study projects include: youth movements; the death penalty; freedom of the press; care for the aged; and the uses of technology in the elementary grades.
  • Explanation of the project's significance/importance. Discuss the intellectual merit and original nature of the research with reference to scholarly literature.
  • A description of specific case studies that you plan to explore during the trip and their anticipated relevance to the overall project goals.  The research (as well as the final paper) must examine specific case studies in the context of global, or at least trans-regional, issues.  In the final paper, the grant recipient will be expected to compare and contrast her/his case-study findings across regions of the world, generating conclusions and policy recommendations at the case-study, national, and global (or at least trans-regional) levels.  You should choose your case studies with these goals in mind.
  • A general itinerary. The itinerary must include a minimum of ten weeks of continuous travel outside the United States and/or Canada, must circumnavigate the globe, and must include substantive research conducted in at least five countries on at least three continents. Applicants should clearly explain the rationale for the selection of the proposed countries to be visited.
  • The plan of study, including research and planning activities to be undertaken in advance of the trip and research methods proposed to be used in the field during the trip itself.
  • An explanation of the relevance of the study project to the student's field of academic endeavor or interests, as well as to the student's life goals and career plans.

Developing the Proposal

While designed to support URG proposals, the guides on the Proposal Writing page will be useful for helping you write your Circumnavigators application.  It is highly recommended that you review these documents before submitting your proposal.

In general, it is helpful to think of your proposal in terms of the sections explained in the Crafting a Research Proposal document; these sections cover the elements key to most any effective research proposal.  The following overview, together with that document, will help you better understand how to present your proposed Circumnavigators Grant project as effectively as possible.

  • Your Introduction should succinctly indicate 1) what your project is about, 2) how you plan to undertake it, and 3) why it is important to do.
  • In the Background section, briefly provide your readers with any information that is essential to their understanding the context, parameters, and/or importance of your topic.
  • In your Literature Review, identify scholarly trends or key works that help situate your proposed project within the larger academic discourse about your subject.  Use this discussion of what has already been done, what is already known, etc., as a way of making the case for the novelty of, and need for, your own particular research project.  The point is not to prove how well read you are on the subject matter, but rather to provide intellectual context for your own research questions and project—the details of which you will elaborate in the next two sections.
  • Research Questions will highlight the knowledge that you want to gain through this trip.   What are the goals of your project? What are the questions that you hope to answer?
  • The Methodology section is the heart of your proposal.  Here you will outline specifically what you will do to obtain that knowledge: What countries/sites do you plan to visit, what are your proposed case studies, and what is the rationale for choosing these? What research methods do you propose to use in the field?
  • Your Preparation should highlight why you are the person capable of conducting this research.  Explain the training/teaching that you have received that leaves you ready to successfully complete the project.  Indicate your previous travel experience and any relevant language skills. Also include in this section any preparation that you expect to undertake in advance of the trip.
  • The Conclusion need not summarize your proposal; instead it should look forward towards what you hope to do with the experience of this trip in the future. In other words, use this section to explain the relevance of the study project to your larger goals and future plans.

The text of your research proposal should be no more than five double-spaced pages.  Longer proposals may not be considered.  You may include additional information, such as details of your proposed itinerary, as appendices.


Do I have to be on campus both winter and spring quarters of junior year to be eligible?

Yes. You must attend the finalist interview in person to be considered, and it takes place in January. The winner meets regularly with the Circumnavigators Club in the winter and spring to work out the logistics of the trip, something which is not feasible from long distance.

Do I have to be on campus all of senior year, too?

Yes. The responsibilities of the Circumnavigators Grant winner include being available to advise potential applicants in the fall, serving as a mentor to the next winner in winter and spring, and attending Circumnavigators Club events during the academic year after the trip.

How will I plan the actual trip?

Representatives of the Chicago Chapter of the Circumnavigators Club will work closely with the winner to develop the final itinerary, ensuring that the trip is feasible and meets all requirements. Their preparatory work will also include activating contacts in countries prior to the circumnavigation to ensure that the travel and research project will proceed smoothly. They will also be available to help you during the trip. You will also work with the NU Circumnavigators Coordinator to set up a blog for your trip and the Chicago Circumnavigators webmaster to establish dedicated pages for your circumnavigation.

When will I find out if I am a finalist or if I've won?

Applicants are notified in mid-December if they have been selected as a finalist. The Circumnavigators Club selects the winner immediately following the interviews in January and notifies all three candidates the next day.

What other opportunities do I have if I don’t win?

While only one Northwestern student wins the Circumnavigators Grant each year, there are many other options for using the ideas and proposal you've developed.  With some modifications, most Circumnavigators applications make excellent Summer URG proposals, and the core ideas can serve as the basis for other grants and fellowships.  


What are my options for publishing, presenting, or building on my findings from the trip?

One of the benefits of the Circumnavigators Grant is the opportunity to present your research to diverse audiences.  In addition to submitting your research paper to the Circumnavigators Club Foundation, you will speak about your experiences at least two Circumnavigators Club banquets during the  nine months following the trip. 

But you have lots of other options for disseminating your findings or final product once you’ve finished your trip. Please check out our section on “What to do with your research.

Many Circumnavigators Grant winners go on to apply for prestigious fellowships, such as Fulbright, Rhodes or Luces, and/or PhD scholarship programs. Contact Northwestern’s Office of Fellowships to find out more about these opportunities.