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September 20, 2013

Faculty support ‘critical’ to student fellowship success

Biomedical engineering major Amanda Chen ’14 was among a select group of students nationally to receive the 2013–14 Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship, a competitive fellowship endowed by the U.S. Congress for undergraduates in science, math, and engineering.

With assistance from Belinda Redden, director of fellowships, and Detlef Gabel, professor of chemistry at Jacobs University in Germany, with whom she worked as part of a previous fellowship program called DAAD-RISE (German Academic Exchange Service Research Internships in Science and Engineering), Chen worked through the Goldwater application process last fall. She completed an academic profile and answered a series of essay questions about her research experience, professional goals, and career motivation. She also consulted with Danielle Benoit, assistant professor of biomedical engineering and chemical engineering. Chen has studied therapeutic biomaterials in Benoit’s lab since 2011.

The College’s Student Fellowships Office is often the first stop for undergraduate students like Chen who are interested in seeking an award. The office provides support and guidance on applying for a wide range of prestigious, nationally competitive fellowships and scholarships. An integral part of that support, Redden says, comes from individual faculty and staff members who volunteer their time.

“Faculty play a critical role in the fellowship application process, from multiple perspectives,” she says.

Faculty members can volunteer for a campus committee tasked with reviewing fellowship candidates and making endorsement decisions. In addition to reviewing nomination materials such as applications and essays, along with recommendation letters usually written by faculty, nomination committee members for some awards conduct interviews with candidates. “The campus Goldwater Committee provided me with useful feedback on my proposal,” Chen says.

Campus interview panels help students selected as finalists prepare for national interviews with the fellowship program sponsors by conducting practice interviews. Faculty and staff are invited to volunteer.

Most fellowship applications require essays pertaining to a student’s academic interests, research experience, leadership record, graduate-study plans, and career goals. Redden encourages faculty with relevant expertise to serve as mentors and assist students in developing the essays.

Faculty can also help by identifying excellent students who may be good candidates for fellowship programs and recommending that they pursue the application process. The names of these students can be sent to the director of fellowships.

Ryan Prendergast, associate professor of Spanish, has served as a member of the campus evaluation/interview committee for the prestigious Fulbright student grant program since 2005 and as chair of the committee since 2011.

He says his involvement “is a natural extension of the intellectual exchange and mentoring that occur with my students in classes.”

Prendergast says he has learned a lot from students with whom he’s worked and he says he’s often impressed with the well-conceived research projects and how well students articulate their ideas in a clear, concise manner. A University record of 15 endorsed candidates won 2013- 14 Fulbright student fellowships this past spring. Thirteen applied as seniors, including two Eastman students, and two alumni.

“I think all of us who have been involved with the Fulbright campus evaluation committee over the years are pleased to see the number of UR grant recipients steadily increase and to see many superb candidates receive national and international recognition for their achievements and projects,” he adds.

Visit the Fellowships Office website, College/student fellowships, for more information about fellowship opportunities. Contact Redden at 276-5869 or to get involved in one of the committees.

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