Discovery site at Napudet, west of Lake Turkana, Kenya © Isaiah Nengo

Joan Cogswell Donner Field School Scholarship

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Applications are now being accepted for the Joan Cogswell Donner Field School Scholarship. This scholarship provides up to $2,000 towards field school tuition for students who are from countries with limited resources to support training in fieldwork related to human origins research.

*Important note – Applications for this scholarship are to be submitted by the field school director, not the scholarship recipient.

About Joan Cogswell Donner

Joan Cogswell Donner (left) with Mary Leakey.

Joan Cogswell Donner was elected to The Leakey Foundation Board of Trustees in 1979 and received the honorary title of Life Trustee in 2007.

As an Alumna of Stephens College and Colorado College, Mrs. Cogswell Donner has been an active member of many prominent boards and committees including the Smithsonian Institutional National Board. Currently, she serves as an Emeritus Board Member of the Smithsonian Institution, and on the Advisory Board of the Smithsonian National Zoological Park and the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute. Mrs. Cogswell Donner also serves as a Trustee of the Draper National History Museum of the Buffalo Bill Center of the West.

In response to questions regarding her motivation for establishing this scholarship, she said, “From early childhood, I developed a fascination from the Katharine Elizabeth Dopp, PhD books published circa 1904: The Tree – Dwellers; The Early Cave – Men; The Later Cave – Men; and The Early Sea People. My fascination expanded into cave art and rock art; how did early man live and survive; migration and so on. The bloom really matured when Gil Grosvenor “Gilbert Melville Grosvenor” of the National Geographic, at his home, introduced me to Richard Leakey. The Leakeys became dear friends. My first trip to Africa afforded my husband, Bob Donner, and me the opportunity to fly to Lake Turkana with Richard Leakey to visit some of the important fossil sites. This experience had a major impact on me and combined with my early interest in this subject kindled a lifelong passion. It helped me focus on the idea of young people from developing countries being able to share this experience and to have the opportunity to become educated in and pursue their interests in paleoanthropology and primatology. My wish is that the Joan Cogswell Donner Field School Scholarship will assist in achieving this vision. My hope is that ultimately all mankind will benefit from the opportunities made available to these young people.”


Recipients must be enrolled in an undergraduate or graduate program in a country where there are limited resources for academic development. Students from these countries may be enrolled in a university undergraduate or graduate program outside their home country as well.

Students from Sol Plaatje University, South Africa, learn excavation techniques at field school. Photo courtesy of Alex Sumner.


A qualified field school is a program established and affiliated with a university to offer hands-on training and education in the techniques of archaeology, paleoanthropology, and primatology. Examples of training include but are not limited to:

  • Field methods in primatology
  • Field methods in archaeology and paleoanthropology

The scholarship is offered to two students per field school.

Allowable costs

Up to $2,000 per student for one field school season per recipient. If field school expenses are less than $2,000 per student, the Foundation will consider increasing the number of awards per school. Funds may be used to cover travel expenses to and from the field school as well as other expense related to the attendance of a field school. All funds must be administered by the field school.

Excluded costs

No funds shall be provided from this fund for salary or wages for the applicant, director of field school or other field school participants, or for travel to conferences or professional meetings.


This scholarship will be awarded year-round. Apply any time!


The application must be submitted by the director of the field school (Host Sponsor). It is not submitted by the student.

To apply, we ask that you submit the following via email to [email protected] with the subject “Field School Scholarship” as a single page PDF on official letterhead. We will then supply a link to complete the application. 

  1. Please describe the training program for the Donner scholar. This should include what opportunities are there for Donner scholars to engage with international participants.
  2. Please describe why this student would be a good choice for attending the field school, including current studies, future plans, etc. If you are requesting funds for more than one student, you may include all students in this document.
  3. What is total cost of tuition? What does it cover? What are the additional expenses related to attendance of the field school? What are other sources of financial support? 

If you have questions about the Joan Cogswell Donner Field School Scholarship, please contact us at [email protected]