Multiple NYU flags hanging from buildings on campus.

Students, two of color, working together in a classroom.

NYU values students who commit to making a difference in the world, both within their local communities and on much larger scales. As such, NYU has an honors program dedicated to students who are also agents of change. Named after Dr. King, the NYU Martin Luther King, Jr. Scholars Program (NYU MLK Scholars Program) honors his commitment to community service and distinguished leadership.

The NYU MLK Scholars Program includes students from diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds. While on campus, they get together and share the common goal of making our communities more socially and economically equitable. As a cohort, NYU MLK Scholars participate in structured activities. What’s more, NYU is committed to providing students with a global education. So these activities and opportunities include both domestic and international experiences.

For Gianna Jirak, a rising junior majoring in Global Public Health and Sociology, being an NYU MLK Scholar has been a source of support for her, especially academically. “The program connects me with funding sources, from study abroad scholarships to grants to take on research projects and unpaid internships,” she says. Gianna’s interests center on sexual and reproductive health and education. “I hope my career allows me to empower people to make informed decisions about their bodies and have greater access to health resources,” she explains.

The MLK Scholars spring break trip to Ghana was another standout opportunity for Gianna. “It was an experience I never thought I would have,” she recalls. “It was so incredibly meaningful to me. As a biracial (Black/white) person, I have always wanted to go to Africa to connect with my ancestors. I am so grateful I had that opportunity. It’s something I will always cherish.”

A large group of students outside of a school building in Accra.
Gianna, along with fellow MLK Scholars, after classes wrapped up for the day during their travel colloquium in Accra, Ghana.
Scholarship and Growth

During their cohort meetings, NYU MLK Scholars dialogue about a variety of topics. It is important for our scholars to not only excel academically but socially. Many of the conversations they have aim to identify ways to dismantle the preexisting systems that promote social inequities. By bringing together a group of students from different cultural and educational experiences, the program challenges students to think in ways a traditional classroom cannot replicate.

Marleyna George, a 2023 graduate who majored in Global Liberal Studies with a concentration in politics, rights, and development, explains how being an NYU MLK Scholar transformed her college experience. “Being part of a cohort of like-minded people was so great,” she says. “We are like-minded because we see service and activism as a civic, human responsibility—not an achievement, hobby, or résumé builder.”

In addition to connecting Marleyna with many close friends, her cohort provided a platform for deeply meaningful conversations that engaged her with diverse perspectives and, in the process, refined her thinking. “NYU MLK Scholars are always trying to learn and see how we can integrate new ideas into our own philosophies on how to be and how to create change.” She credits the program with encouraging her to take her activism further. This fall, she heads to Peru with the Peace Corps.

Community Service

Similar to the work they did prior to attending NYU, the NYU MLK Scholars engage in community service activities. Our students partner with various organizations to support projects that align with their goals. For example, students have worked with organizations such as Project College, Relay For Life, and New York Cares. And every year, our scholars engage current high school juniors and seniors in workshops to facilitate dialogue about Dr. King’s legacy today.

MLK Scholar Ricardo Sheler and fellow student at a volunteering event.
Ricardo (right) and a fellow MLK Scholar during their travel colloquium trip to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.
MLK Week

In addition to the NYU MLK Scholars Program, we have MLK Week on campus. MLK Week provides all members of the NYU community the opportunity to recognize people who are advancing Dr. King’s work. Throughout the week, NYU hosts events that are free and open to the public in an effort to continue their engagement with the community. The week also hosts the MLK Day of Service. It is a day to remember and embody Dr. King’s legacy. A day to engage in service, bring people together, and advocate for change.

“In terms of opportunities that inspire continued relationships, NYU MLK Scholars has really hit the mark for me this year,” says Ricardo Sheler. Ricardo is a rising senior studying sustainable urban environments at the Tandon School of Engineering. “At least once a month, I volunteer with Xavier Mission, a local church that provides community food service. It’s been cool to chat with people, build relationships, and just take care of each other.”

NYU MLK Scholars also connected Ricardo with volunteer opportunities at the Bronx River Alliance, a nonprofit focused on environmental advocacy, education, and engagement, and an internship at the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development. “The opportunity to serve people in meaningful ways and make connections with communities is an important part of my education. It fulfills, humbles, and grounds me. And it makes me more passionate about my interests in urban infrastructure and advocacy.”

A Black student sitting in a library, reading a book, and smiling.
How to Get Involved

Our first interaction with NYU MLK Scholars typically occurs during the application period. Many students write their essays about their passion for social justice and the impact they have already made in their communities. For some, it’s a reflection of their identity and how that shapes their experience in the world. Others tend to spend their time outside of the classroom working to effect change within their communities.

Regardless of the specifics, there are a few core values that every NYU MLK Scholar shares. Excellence in academic achievement, distinguished leadership, and community service. We automatically consider all students who apply to NYU for opportunities like the MLK Scholars Program. There’s no additional step an applicant needs to take.

NYU is committed to meeting the demonstrated financial need of its admitted first year students, as determined by the on time submission of the CSS Profile. While our program offers the potential to utilize research grants and summer internships, we do not offer merit-based scholarships as a supplement to NYU scholarships that are based on financial need. Explore the following links for more information about financial aid at NYU: