New office makes fellowships and scholarships easier to navigate

Wednesday, March 8, 2017 - 3:52pm

On Feb. 1, the Office of National Scholarships and Fellowships opened as a centralized office to provide information and advising on application processes for all University of Michigan students interested in postgraduate fellowship opportunities.

The office’s staff now provides information about opportunities such as the Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford University, the Truman Scholarship for graduate studies with a public service focus and the Marshall Scholarship for graduate studies in the United Kingdom. The staff will also provide advising through the application process, including putting students in contact with faculty who have won these scholarships in the past.

ONSF Director Henry Dyson said this office is a resource many of the University’s peer institutions already provide their students.

“This is something that most other universities have, and we didn't have a central office that was doing it," he said. "We had at that time as many as 10 different offices that were doing different pieces of what my colleagues at other universities would have in a centralized system.”

He said the previous, decentralized system could be confusing for students and was part of the motivation for the creation of a centralized website and office.

“It used to be before we had a centralized office that you almost had to know what you were looking for before you could go hunt for it,” Dyson said.

ONSF is housed in LSA, and there will still be some scholarship opportunities coordinated by other departments, like the International Institute continuing to advise applications for Fulbright Fellowships. However, Dyson said the aim is to guide students in all colleges at the University in their pursuit of postgraduate scholarships and fellowships.

“We want to provide this as an LSA service to students, to the whole university and have our services be open and welcoming to all of those students,” he said.

LSA senior Amalia Gomez-Rexrode, who was awarded a Truman Scholarship in 2016, wrote in an email interview how advisers played a vital role in her application.

“When planning on applying for the Truman Scholarship, I consistently met with Dr. Dyson who helped me every step of the way — he was instrumental in allowing me to put forth the best application possible,” she wrote.

Michigan alum Layne Vandenberg, recipient of a Fulbright Fellowship and a scholarship to complete a master’s degree at the Yenching Academy in Beijing in 2015, also voiced the importance of advising in the application process. She initially disregarded the Yenching Scholarship and only applied because of encouragement from Dyson, her adviser.

“I saw and immediately deleted the email and thought, OK, this is for people who specialize in China, people who speak Chinese,” she said. “And I had never studied China at all. Not even a little bit. So I saw it and deleted it. And then Henry sent it to me again and was like, ‘Hey, did you see this?’ … He said, ‘I think you should just apply. I think that you would probably be a good candidate.’ ”

Vandenberg, after completing her master’s degree and Ph.D. in international studies, hopes to pursue a degree in sports governance. She said she felt Dyson’s help was a key component to her success with these experiences, with his focused suggestions of opportunities based on her interests as well as help through the process.

“I think I was competitive for some of these fellowships because I had people like Henry talking to me about my application and because I had the opportunity for a sounding board … he put this in front of me, and without him doing that, I wouldn’t be here.”

She said ONSF will reach a wider variety of students at the University and will allow more students to participate in programs similar to hers.

“This is going to be a great resource for students and I wish I had had it,” she said. “In a way I did, because I had Henry, but now other people are going to know who to go to and how to get that information. I think a lot more Michigan students are going to be able to do things like this.”

Dyson said in addition to informing more students about these different scholarships, he hopes more University students will also receive those scholarships. He said the University tends to perform well with some opportunities, like the Fulbright Fellowship, but lags in others, such as the Truman Scholarship and the Marshall Scholarship.

“Of course I'm competitive,” Dyson said. “I want to win. I want my students to win. There's nothing happier than, you know, getting that excited phone call from a student who just found out that she's got a full scholarship to Cambridge. It's a wonderful experience. And then to celebrate that with the University to say this is a win for you. So, yeah, I definitely want to close the gap, I've got that competitive streak as well.”

2009 Rhodes Scholar Abdul El-Sayed, an alum who helps vet University applicants for the Truman Scholarship and is campaigning for Michigan governor, said he believes the creation of this office will help University students compete for these opportunities.

“I just think it's really important that our university provides the opportunities for all kinds of students to succeed and really providing the means for some of the students coming out of the University to compete for these scholarships alongside kids from private schools and Ivy League schools is really important,” he said. “I know I benefited a lot of the support that I got from the administration and my counselors and I'm really glad that it's now being formalized.”

El-Sayed said these types of postgraduate experiences, like his with the Rhodes Scholarship, are essential to students both personal growth and career.

“It really opened my horizons and gave me a set of experiences and insights that I brought back to Michigan when I came back after my experience,” he said. “And I think they will create the kinds of spaces and opportunities and experiences that really just grow the depth of knowledge and experience that a student can draw on. So I think they're a great opportunity. I think they're really valuable insights, particularly among folks who are committed to our state.”