(CBS Local) — Stanford University, Silicon Valley’s most prestigious university, is trying to help improve business in the heartland.

The university announced Wednesday the three winners of its inaugural Stanford USA MBA Fellowship, which pays the $160,000 tuition and fees for up to three students over a two-year period. Stanford had previously implemented similar programs for students from India and Africa.

Students applying for the scholarship must have a connection to the Midwest in order to be eligible. Applicants must fulfill at least one of the following criteria: be a resident of a Midwestern state, previously lived in a Midwestern state for three consecutive years,  graduated high school in a Midwestern state or have “experiences that demonstrate a strong commitment to, and interest in, the development of the region.”

For the purposes of the fellowship, Stanford defines the Midwest as Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota and Wisconsin.

The MBA scholarship winners must return to the Midwest “in a professional role that contributes to the region’s economic development” within two years of graduation, Stanford said. They must have worked in the Midwest for two years once they are four years removed from graduation.

MBA fellows who do not complete the Midwest work requirement will be obligated to repay the scholarship.

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

The average salary for Stanford MBA graduates was $140,553 in 2016, and the median salary was $136,000 — both records, according to university data released in November.

The winners of the Stanford USA MBA Fellowship include a man who was raised on a Wisconsin dairy farm, a 10-year Minnesota resident and a longtime St. Louis resident who worked at 3M and volunteers at local public schools.