Stanford University may be known for its proximity to Silicon Valley, but the prestigious private school is focusing its efforts on the Midwest.

On Wednesday, Stanford announced the winners of its first USA MBA Fellowship, a scholarship that covers the $160,000 for tuition and fees for up to three students over two years. There's just one catch: To be eligible, students must have a connection to the Midwest (Stanford defines that region as Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, and Wisconsin). In addition, they must return to the area "in a professional role that contributes to the region's economic development" within two years of graduating.

"The Midwest is strategically important to the United States and global economy," Jonathan Levin, the dean of Stanford Graduate School of Business and Philip H. Knight Professor of Economics said in a statement announcing the winners. "And Stanford wants to contribute to its strength by encouraging students and alumni to foster economic development and pursue careers in the region."

To qualify, students must prove they lived in one of the states for three consecutive years or graduated high school in the area. Alternatively, they can show they currently reside in a Midwestern state or demonstrate a strong commitment to or interest in development of the region. Stanford says proven financial need is preferred for the fellowship.

If scholarship winners don't complete the work requirement, they will have to repay the scholarship. While fear can be a strong motivator, the Midwest is also home to some of the best small cities to start a business, according to the personal finance website WalletHub. Nearly half of the cities listed in WalletHub's top 30 areas to start a business are located in the region. The ranking was determined by looking at factors like business environment, access to resources, and business costs.

The winners this round are Adam Verhasselt, Amanda Donohue-Hansen, and Taylor Seabaugh. Verhasselt was raised on his family's dairy farm outside of Green Bay, Wisconsin, and is a first-generation college graduate. He earned his bachelor's degree from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and has worked in middle market banking at Wells Fargo since graduation.

Donohue-Hansen graduated summa cum laude from the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, where she was awarded the Tomato Can Loving Cup, the business school's most prestigious award for undergraduates. Seabaugh was born and raised in St. Louis, returning to the area after graduating magna cum laude from Cornell University. He's filed eight patents through his work as a product development engineer at 3M Company in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Stanford has already opened up the application process for the next round of USA MBA Fellowship recipients. The first round runs through September 19, 2017, and the second runs through January 10, 2018.

Published on: Aug 4, 2017