Sometimes, being the best isn’t good enough.
Coming off a year when the University topped all American colleges in the number of students winning Fulbright grants for international study, University officials are discussing ways to improve support services for scholarship applicants.
At last week’s meeting of the Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs, faculty members raised concerns about the University’s methods for recruiting applicants for prestigious post-undergraduate scholarships – like the Rhodes and Marshall – and about the University’s support services for students applying for these scholarships.
Although University students won 37 Fulbright awards this year, the most in University history and 10 more than Yale, which had the second-most winners, the University’s Fulbright endorsement process isn’t perfect, said Biology Prof. John Lehman, the chair of the Academic Affairs Advisory Committee. The University struggles to give enough attention to each applicant, Lehman said.
The University’s recent Fulbright success has driven more students to apply and that has put stress on University interviewers and scholarship advisers, said Gretchen Weir, the University’s assistant vice provost for academic affairs.
With more than 300 initial applicants this year, University faculty members were unable to interview all the applicants. It was the first time that had ever happened, Weir said. The University eventually chose 119 students.
Lehman said one problem with the interviewing system is that it’s difficult to predict how many students will apply each year. Faculty members would need outside assistance to meet demand for interviews, he said.
One of the suggestions at the AAAC meeting was to identify the University’s past applicants and recipients of the various scholarships and ask them to conduct interviews.
Lehman said the AAAC would discuss that idea with University Provost Teresa Sullivan in the next few weeks and hopes to change the existing system by as early as next year.
Weir deals with a different set of issues in her work. She recruits and helps students apply for the prestigious Rhodes, Marshall and Mitchell scholarships, which provide funding for graduating students to study in the United Kingdom.
University students traditionally haven’t fared as well when applying for Rhodes and Marshall scholarships. While University students have won two Rhodes scholarships in the last decade, Harvard University and Yale University routinely win five or more in a single year.
Weir said she wants to make sure students who are qualified for a scholarship are aware of their opportunities while simultaneously ensuring that students receive the attention they need during the application process.
When it comes to some scholarships, it seems that students aren’t getting the message. Engineering Prof. Michael Thouless raised concerns at last week’s SACUA meeting about the low number of students applying for Churchill scholarships, which allow winners to engage in graduate study at the University of Cambridge’s Churchill College in England. Thouless, a graduate of Churchill College, said he would be willing to interview students applying for Churchill scholarships.
Only one University student has won a Churchill scholarship in the last decade.
Weir said she seeks out potential scholars by educating faculty members about the scholarships so they can talk to their most talented students about applying and by directly contacting students with a GPA of at least 3.7 through e-mail and orientations. She said her department plans to organize an advertising campaign to inform students of their scholarship possibilities this year.