Nationally Competitive Scholarships & Fellowships:

Marist Stories

Scholarships and fellowships are more than a way to get money to pay for school. These funding opportunities present a chance for you to refine or re-chart the course of your studies, to integrate study abroad opportunities into your curriculum, to reflect on yourself and where you are headed, and to challenge yourself to go beyond what you thought possible.

As a convention, scholarships generally refer to funding for undergraduate studies, while fellowships are awarded for post-baccalaureate study. Often, however, these terms are used interchangeably.

What matters most is that there are myriad opportunities and awards. Some are specific as to discipline or area of studies. Many target a specific undergraduate class year for their applications. These opportunities may place high priority on community service or on research experience.

Across the board, all scholarship applications engage the student in a rigorous process, one of careful reflection and exploration of that student's most important aspirations. While working through the various components and stages of a fellowship application, students invariably develop a more nuanced sense of themselves, of their most closely held values, and of their long-term goals.

Fellowship applications, by definition, commit students to a highly competitive process, as there are always far fewer awards than there are applicants. In no way should this discourage a Marist student from applying. A cursory review of well-known fellowships and scholarships reveals that there is no neat typology of schools whose students routinely receive awards. More to the point, Marist undergraduates are increasingly applying for and succeeding in their pursuit of these outstanding opportunities.  Marist students have been awarded the Barry Goldwater Scholarship, recognizing exceptional promise in scientific research, or have been named as finalists for the highly competitive Harry Truman Scholarship.  Other students have received the Benjamin Gilman, the Freeman Asia, and the Boren Scholarships, all for undergraduate study abroad. Several graduating seniors over the recent past have been awarded the Fulbright U.S. Student Program grant for approximately ten months of research or teaching English abroad.  Two Marist seniors within the past three years received the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, supporting their doctoral studies in the sciences.  This inventory is by no means comprehensive, and will surely expand as more Marist undergraduates accept the challenge of the exceptional.

Following are accounts from Marist students, recalling their own experiences in applying for these opportunities and reflecting on the impacts of these awards.

The Fulbright U.S. Student Program Grant

Robin Miniter '11, Fulbright Research Grant to India, 2011-2012

Robin Rugby

[photo credit: Nina Rangoy; http://ninarangoyphotography.com/]

Robin Miniter majored in Journalism, and also held minors in Women's Studies and Global Studies.  Her Fulbright research in India will focus on the rise and success of women's rugby in that country, and she will record this research via written account and photojournalism.  Her scholarship reflections follow.

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‘How did I get here?’ I thought to myself.

On a sunny, sweltering morning in the summer of 2011, I found myself sitting amongst some bleary-eyed comrades in a conference room. As we guzzled our coffee — in the most respectable manner that our lethargy and three-piece suits would allow, of course — we prepared for another day of orientation. From across the country, we had descended upon Washington D.C. for a formal Fulbright orientation welcome.

We sat. We listened. We took notes. Culture shock? Livable. Monsoons? Okay, I’ll bring a snorkel. Malaria? DEET will be my new best friend. All of these warnings were taken as “safe” guarantees: they would be the predictable parts of our trips. Everything else? “Expect the unexpected,” they told us, “Get ready, hold on tight and let go often.”

The last few words resonated. They hit home. And then, in that moment, something clicked. Somewhere between the papers shuffling and the Powerpoint, it all made sense. I realized that my time at Marist has been punctuated by comings and goings, beginnings and endings; each one had led me here, up to this very point (and even to this catered fruit salad that I was picking at).

I chose Marist for a major I never ended up pursuing and a sport I never came to play. I was getting ready to go to Poughkeepsie when I had a drastic change of plans: I got a phone call that summer before starting my first year, offering me a spot in the fledgling Florence Freshman Experience. Fast-forward to a year (and tanti gelati) later, I crash-landed back in the Hudson Valley. I chased the things that interested me, including my new-found interest in gender studies encouraged by Dr. Robyn Rosen. I was inspired by the journalistic prowess of Dr. Lyn Lepre. I picked up a pen for the school paper, and I picked up a rugby ball for our women’s club team. I found people I loved and new ways to occupy my time.

But, once you’re bitten by that travel bug, you’re infected.  My year abroad ignited in me a cross-cultural curiosity that made it hard to for me to settle into complacency. Keeping my eyes and ears open for opportunity, my answer came from Pat Taylor. She wrote about a scholarship information session and invited us students to all come listen. I went. It was here that I had a feeling that my chance had come knocking.

A flurry of research and countless essay rewrites later, it was October of the following year. My research had taken me through twists and turns and unexpected surprises. The deadline was hours away as I sat in front of my computer. The online “Submit” button stared back. Here goes nothing.

For the next six months, I waited. I would peep into my e-mail every day, half-wincing and half frantically scouring the subject lines. I was spending my last Marist semester in the Netherlands, with the prospects of graduation and real life looming. Time was running short when I got the e-mail. Could it be true? I was in!

The Fulbright has been a turning point for me. I’m not speaking to the end result; I haven’t gotten there yet! Looking back, the Fulbright experience has been the sum of all of its parts. It is one of the pivotal experiences of my life. It was the path that I followed — from Florence to Poughkeepsie to Amsterdam and everywhere in between — that leads me to India today. The writing, researching and the hours that went into the Fulbright process were all essential: it was through those Google key-strokes and countless photocopies that I gained a clearer understanding of who I am, where I am going and from whence I came. It all makes so much sense.

So, once again, I find myself packing my bags and getting ready. I’m holding on to where I’ve been, who I’ve met and all that I’ve learned along the way. I’m letting go of what is familiar and embracing something that is going to be wild and extraordinary. I’m ready.

Janice Feng '11, Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship to Malaysia, 2011-2012

Janice in Vietnam 2

Janice Feng, a resident of Ramsey, NJ, was a dual major in Psychology and Studio Arts with a minor in Photography.  Janice brings to her assignment as English Teaching Assistant an impressive background in both community service and multicultural activities. While she grew up in the United States, Janice also grew up in a Chinese-speaking household as both of her parents are originally from China. She spent the fall semester of her junior year in Florence, worked in Newburgh, NY with Big Brothers/Big Sisters, and has developed a love for the country of Haiti after having taken two trips to assist the earthquake survivors there.

In reflecting on her Fulbright application and her pending work in Malaysia, Janice observed:

“Both (application) essays demanded I talk of basically anything and everything about myself that would show my potential as an ETA for Malaysia. I uncovered a lot about myself during this short time, so I know the ten months in Malaysia will do wonders. Who gets the chance to fully immerse themselves in a rural village in a foreign country, where the majority of its inhabitants have never seen an outsider? For that reason, I chose Malaysia because its culture is nothing similar at all to the one I have grown up with in the United States.

I spoke with an alumna, who told me about her role in her school in Malaysia. She had 35 to 40 kids in each class, 5 classes a day, 5 days a week, and she saw them once every two weeks. Her 2000 or so students ranged from 12 to 18 years old, with a wide range in understanding of English. She said the hardest thing is that Malaysian youth are extremely shy. I tend to become very quiet when I'm surrounded by people I don't know, so the idea of being in a class –all alone, with teenagers just smiling and nodding their heads at everything I muster the courage to say—frightens me. Not to mention the language and cultural barriers. But then I think: what won't I be able to accomplish in my future if I can handle this?”

Janice intends to draw on her own experiences abroad as a non-native speaker when teaching her new students.  She also hopes to integrate her love of art as a tool in the classroom, to capture her experiences in a photographic record, and to explore Malaysian art forms such as wax dying and weaving.

Regarding her future plans, Janice stated in her application:

“I plan to combine my love for teaching and art, and receive my masters in either Art Therapy or Art Education. I hope to continue having international teaching experiences like that I will have in Malaysia. These opportunities are especially important as they will allow me to grow as a person and as an educator. I plan to relay the importance of having a positive effect abroad to my peers in the United States, and hope that my love for such experiences will spread.”

Nichole Boisvert '09, Fulbright Research Grant to Trinidad and Tobago, 2009-2010

Nicki in Cambodia

You have an idea and are given a task: in no more than two pages, you must outline the idea, how you plan to accomplish it, and why it is necessary. And then, you must take one page and describe who you are and why you are the person to carry out this idea. If it sounds daunting, it is, but it has also been one of the most amazing challenges of my academic career. The task: the Fulbright application. The reward: the potential to live in another country for ten months to research and immerse yourself in another culture, and the opportunity to discover something about which you are truly passionate and to articulate that passion concisely and eloquently.

 When I chose to apply for a Fulbright, I did not fully appreciate the application process. It seemed a means to an end. I did not expect to sit in Dr. Ivette Romero’s office discussing HIV and Caribbean culture in between science classes and studying for the MCAT, and to take from that hour a plethora of new ideas and directions as well as enough energy to last me the day. I could not anticipate how exploring narrative medicine would open the door to a world of cultural competency and lead me to discover another passion—working in HIV/AIDS. I was fortunate; after many drafts and waiting, I was awarded the Fulbright to Trinidad and Tobago to study cultural competency in medicine as it related to HIV/AIDS. The experience of the Fulbright changed my life and keeps me grounded as I complete medical school, but even if I had not gotten it, simply applying helped me to discover the work I love and to articulate my desire, taught me to write a solid research proposal, and taught me why cultural competency matters. As I write this, I am sitting on a boat in the middle of the Mekong River in Cambodia, wondering how I can bring my Western medical knowledge to places like this, melding what I know and what the people know to teach, rather than coming to force a narrow agenda. This is what I want to do—to serve and to teach as a physician, but to do it in a culturally and narratively competent manner, an interest I may never have explored if not for the Fulbright.

Karl Minges '07, Fulbright Research Grant to Australia, 2009-2010

Karl and Ang

Karl Minges majored in Social Work, and minored in Biology, Spanish and Sociology at Marist.  He then obtained his Master of Public Health degree in 2009, concentrating in Sociomedical Sciences at Columbia University.  His Fulbright research focused on physical activity interventions for those with, or at risk for, Type 2 diabetes.  Currently, Karl works at the Center for Outcomes Research and Evaluation at Yale University.

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The decision to apply for a Fulbright Scholarship was one I did not take lightly. There was a multitude of factors to consider, such as being uprooted from one’s environment and the intricate application process. Yet after I was committed to the idea of applying for a Fulbright, it became quite evident that Australia would be my country of choice. Simply put, this was the environment that would best allow me to fully pursue my research interests. Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute, my host institution, is among the most celebrated and influential diabetes research and practice centers in the world, and provided me with unrivaled peer support, high impact data, and the true sense that the work I was doing had broad and significant public health implications. Combined with the promise of a few academic connections, I knew this would offer the ideal environment for a novice researcher. Indeed, that Fulbright year will culminate with five publications in peer-reviewed public health journals.

Now, as a Fulbright alumnus, I can vouch that this program has both professionally and personally opened up doors that may otherwise have been closed. In terms of professional growth, the scholarship has provided me with credibility in the competitive academic environment and leveraged my acceptance of a research position at Yale University upon my return to the United States. In a similar respect, the Fulbright will also be a catalyst for my applications to competitive doctoral programs.

From a personal standpoint, I gained just as much from this experience, and my passion for Australia is now deeply entrenched. My involvement with the Big Brother/Big Sister program was an incredible opportunity to forge relationships with socially disadvantaged young people and to be a “mini-Ambassador” – the kids were thrilled to have an American mentor. Additionally, I took up a somewhat atypical hobby –sled dog racing in the Australian bush. When one considers the notion of a Siberian Husky, typically the Arctic tundra and the formidable Iditarod come to mind. I, however, had the joy of "sled dog racing" (albeit with a scooter rather than a sled) with the Siberian Husky Club of Victoria. In addition to packing an extra suitcase for my flight home, a living souvenir of Australia also came with me –a husky I adopted named Ang.

I will part with some advice to a prospective applicant: After evaluating your chance of being a competitive Fulbright applicant, and having decided you have the personal wherewithal to travel abroad for a year, consider the following. 1.) Apply to a country that most adequately houses your area of research interests (not the one that is the most tropical or where your friends are most apt to visit). 2.) Avoid playing the ‘numbers game’ when selecting your host country. This approach is a waste of time. Instead, you should research which country has the institutions that best complement your research interests. 3.) Correspond with advisors at your host institution to make certain they have adequate time to contribute to your mentorship and research projects. 4.) Don’t be preoccupied with listing a university as your host institution. I was affiliated with both a university and another academic/clinical institution, and spent almost all of my time with the latter. 5.) Exploit your friends, family and respected mentors to help motivate you through the application process and to give honest feedback on your proposal. 6.) Don’t be afraid to speak up if you are confused about the application process or have other concerns. 7.) For the applicant who is discouraged about not being accepted: Apply again! Take the time to critically examine your initial application and research proposal, taking note of what past scholars have done and why they were successful.

Jennifer Goldsmith '05, Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship to Slovakia, 2006-2007

Jen's photo

Jennifer Goldsmith completed the major in English/Writing, and three minors, in Philosophy, Psychology and Theater.

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After graduating from Marist in 2005, I took a year to work and to get graduate school applications in order. I worked at a tiny local newspaper, lived with a bunch of roommates, and was fairly astonished when my letter from the Institute of International Education said yes, I was awarded a Fulbright English Teaching grant, and would be living in the post-communist hills of Central Europe for a year.

My post was in Nitra, Slovakia—a large city by Slovak standards; a midsized town by ours, complete with its own castle, two universities, and three Tescos. I was placed at the University of Constantine the Philosopher (Univerzita Konstantina Filozofa v Nitre), where I taught college-level English classes in everything from conversational English to academic writing. During my time at UKF, officials from the European Union were investigating educational standards in Slovakia—presumably to see how far they were from EU norms—and, in some bizarre plot to impress, the head of my department decided I would teach a class in Shakespeare Performance, culminating in a presentation at the end of the semester, with an audience comprised of those EU officials, as well as local news and theatre personnel.

I traveled.   A lot.   I visited England, Norway, Italy, Greece, and Poland. (Norway, in January, is bloody cold. Greece in July, bloody hot.) The Czech Republic and Austria were each a quick train ride from where I lived, and the other Fulbrighters and I would hop over to Vienna for hot chocolate on weekends, or to Prague to see the holiday markets. I saw different parts of Slovakia: skied in the Tatra mountains, spent a weekend with friends near Hungary, and attended an academic conference on the Ukrainian border. I picked up enough of the Slovak language to get by in a city with few English-speakers, and have continued to learn the language back in the United States.

Upon returning, I moved to the Washington, DC area to attend George Mason University’s MFA program in Creative Writing. Through their Teaching Assistantship program, I earned my MFA debt-free, and was able to spend three years teaching, taking classes, and writing. Essentially, between the Fulbright grant and graduate school fellowships, I had four years to simply do the things I love—to explore, to write, to see the world.

In my first semester at George Mason, I was appointed the Editor-in-Chief of So to Speak, a national literary journal run by MFA candidates. We received hundreds of literary and visual art submissions, selected what best met our criteria (through a highly decentralized, democratic process), and formatted it for publishing. One of the other Fulbright fellows to Slovakia, an acclaimed artist and political activist, helped judge the journal’s first-ever visual art contest.

Each summer, I worked as a teaching artist at a local theatre camp, helping children ages 4-14 craft short plays from their whimsical imaginings.

In 2010, the theatre where I worked each summer commissioned me and a co-writer to write a play about the hidden African-American histories in the city where the theatre was located, to debut at the annual Falls Church Blues Festival in early summer. It had a successful run for a month and a half, playing to some audiences intimately familiar with the histories addressed by the work. The play was revived again for the Blues Festival earlier this year, and I’ve continued to work with this group to develop short plays for young audiences.

After completing the MFA program in 2010, I found a job as a grants writer for The Studio Theatre, a professional non-profit theatre in Washington, DC (different from the one in Falls Church). I continue to write in my own time, to develop freelance projects for other small theatres nearby, and to travel as often as possible. This past summer, my then-boyfriend proposed to me in the courtyard of the castle in Nitra, Slovakia, overlooking the city where I lived on my Fulbright grant.

Freeman-ASIA Scholarship

Karen Grunstra '08, Freeman-ASIA to China, 2007

Karen for Freeman Asia

Karen Grunstra majored in Political Science/Public Affairs, and held minors in Communication and Global Studies.

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I took my first trip across the Pacific when I had just finished my sophomore year at Marist. At the time, I had no idea how much that three-week tour through four Chinese cities would shape the course of my life. Since that time, I have studied Mandarin for five years, interned at a Chinese environmental NGO, edited policy papers at the Asia Society, helped U.S. businesses export their products to China, worked in the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, received a Master’s in Pacific International Affairs from the University of California, San Diego, and am currently aiding the investment community in understanding Chinese regulatory issues. Ever since I first landed in Beijing, my life has been non-stop China –and that’s just the way I like it.

The fertile ground at Marist for new ideas, curious minds, and steadfast hearts was the perfect place for me to touch down from my first trip across the Pacific. Though no Marist student had ever studied in mainland China before, I came back from my first trip determined to get back there again. A few faculty members cultivated my curiosity in China by instilling in me the confidence to break the mold and color outside the lines. They asked me thought-provoking questions and helped me to picture what I wanted out of life one year after graduation, five years later, and even twenty years after I left Poughkeepsie. China was always the answer. With their persistence and my newly formed passion, I set out to chart a new course for Marist students who aspire to study in China, and found out about amazing fellowships along the way.

The Freeman-Asia Fellowship provides undergraduate students seeking to study in either East or South Asia with grants to help them cover the costs of tuition, transportation, basic living costs, and educational materials. Though the grants aren’t profound in nature, they go a long way toward offsetting the costs of studying abroad. Perhaps more significantly, the Freeman-Asia Fellowship underscores the importance of building greater cultural understanding between the United States and Asia. For me personally, the Freeman-Asia Fellowship provided the reaffirmation that China was not only important to my own personal future, but also to the future of my country and the world.

It has now been over four years since I was awarded the Freeman Asia Fellowship and studied in China. I have applied for many other fellowships since and was not as successful as I was with the Freeman Asia Fellowship. As time has passed, I have come to realize just why that has been the case. As I was applying for the Freeman Asia Fellowship, my curiosity and excitement were palpable. Though I had moments of hesitation, I felt this magnetic pull back to China, and nothing was going to get in the way. That sense of purpose resonated throughout my application and helped me secure a fellowship.

In my other fellowship applications, I never had as much clarity as I did when I was trying to get back to China that first time. Though unsuccessful, those other applications I slaved over and submitted did not go to waste. The process of self-reflection required in writing an intensive application is difficult simply because all of your own personal uncertainties come to the fore. Coming to the realization that you are uncertain about many aspects of your life can be unsettling, but it also provides an opportunity to more firmly ground those interests about which you are certain.

Through my very efforts to obtain the Fulbright Scholarship, I came to realize exactly what I wanted to do with my passion for China and, more importantly, how to write it down eloquently on paper. In 2009, I applied to graduate school at the University of California San Diego’s School of International Relations and Pacific Studies to study with some of the most accomplished and respected China scholars of our time. Having just graduated with my Master’s in Pacific International Affairs, I now know that my future entails helping U.S. businesses better understand the political and regulatory environment in China to more successfully engage with the Chinese market. Through the perspective granted by hindsight, I see my present career path taking shape in the same way as my first interactions with China: broad curiosity followed by deep intrigue, guided by advisors and opportunities, all culminating in eventual success. Of course this time around, I hope to be the advisor.

Benjamin A. Gilman Scholarship

Luis Castillo, Jr. '13, Gilman Scholarship to Spain, 2011

Luis in Spain 2

It is funny to me when I speak about my studies to those who have no idea why I am studying Spanish. People are never satisfied with the answer I give them to their question,   "Don't you already know Spanish?" It’s the one question people always ask me when they find out that I am a Criminal Justice and Spanish double major. Just as I am asked the same question over and over, my answer is the same every time. I simply say, "It would be the same if I were an English major." Why do English majors get away without being asked if they don’t already know the language?

Given that I am of Hispanic background, studying in Spain this upcoming semester was a choice a lot of people did not understand. I would not be learning the language, so why go there? Wouldn't traveling to Japan, France, or even Italy be more understandable? It would be to learn a new language and new traditions that I have never experienced. Yet I will still be experiencing some new traditions though I already have the language. This trip for me is more to learn about Spanish history and experience it first-hand. Yes, I have learned the language, but I do not know the Spanish lifestyle. I do not know how the people are. I do not know the country and how to get around. According to what we do know, my family can be traced back to Spain, so traveling there makes all the sense in the world to me.

I knew for a fact that I wanted to travel to Spain even before I entered college. It was my sophomore year in high school when I told myself that I would travel. Nothing was going to stop me. Money would not be a problem; school, sports –nothing would stand in my way. It’s something I have wanted to do because my cousin traveled there when she was in college and brought home some interesting stories from her trip. I fell in love with the idea, and now here I am on my way to spending four months that I will probably never forget. The process took about a month. I filled out an application for the Gilman Scholarship because I was told that I had a chance to receive some help. Never did I think I would actually receive the scholarship. I wrote about three versions each of the “statement of purpose” and the “follow-on project” because I could not get those first and second drafts right. I am glad I worked for it and that the scholarship was not just handed to me. The hard work that it took me to achieve this opportunity will continue to carry me to even greater heights.

The trip itself should be an adventure. Traveling from city to city will probably be the best thing I do. This will allow me experience and discover those things I am looking for. The cities will be full of amazing things to see, new people to meet, friends to make, and memories to never forget. I expect to adapt to the different style of living, learn the different dialects of Spanish and have a terrific time just being there. Hopefully Spain braces itself because I am going to learn as much as I can and enjoy all!

Nicole Chin-Lyn '13, Gilman Scholarship to China, 2011

Nicole and pagoda 3

Nicole Chin-Lyn is pursuing dual majors in Communication Studies and Public Relations, and minors in Business and Global Studies.

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“Jamericanadianese. This is the name I came up with in middle school when asked to describe my family’s culture in one word.  I am a Chinese-American, a dual citizen of the United States and Canada, and my parents were born and raised in Jamaica.”

This is how I began my Statement of Purpose in applying for the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship. While there have been many cultural influences on me from family members and the communities in which I have grown up, I haven’t had the chance to truly connect with what I know to be a strong, underlying influence in my life: my Chinese heritage.

When I first started the study abroad application process to go to China, I was unsure how I would find the necessary funding. I knew I had to work hard throughout the school year and summer to save up, but I also hoped there might be additional sources of help. In talking with staff in the office of Marist International Programs, I realized that I was eligible for the Gilman Scholarship. I soon found myself in Pat Taylor’s office, launching headfirst into the application process with less than a week before the submission deadline. With Pat’s advice, I was able to put together my story and a proposal for a “follow-on project,” geared towards promoting the Gilman opportunity through Marist’s Global Studies minor. I was stunned when I received my award notification letter in the mail three months later!

Preparing to go to Beijing, China has been surreal for me.  I am the first of my siblings to visit the country where our family originates –and where our family hasn’t been for the last three generations. I’m nervous. I’m anxious. And I am excited to learn as much as possible about the Chinese culture, economy, and business systems over my four-month, fall semester adventure.

I will be studying at the University of International Business and Economics (UIBE) through the Knowledge Exchange Institute (KEI). Studying abroad in China will allow me to grow through immersion in this rich culture, one that has been foreign to me growing up in suburban New Jersey. It’s an experience that I have been anticipating and have had my heart set on my entire life. Being awarded the Gilman Scholarship, along with Marist financial aid and the Peter and Virginia Foy Marist Endowed Scholarship, has provided me with the boost I needed to surmount the financial hurdle that stood between me and my studies in China. I couldn’t be more grateful.

Knowing where you came from is the key to knowing who you are and where you are going. The Gilman Scholarship has allowed me to embark on a search for this connection, and I want to encourage others to do the same. Please follow my blog, which I will start soon to record my journey, at http://www.meinli.tumblr.com.

James Madison Memorial Fellowship

Nicole Brooks-Donolli '08, Madison Fellow 2008

NBD

Nicole Brooks-Donolli majored in History/Adolescent Education, and also completed two minors, in English/Literature and American Studies.

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I learned I was a recipient of the James Madison Memorial Fellowship (JMMF) in a rather unconventional way.  After trudging to the mailroom for what felt like every day of my life, I never got a pretty box with sunshine beaming from it as my acceptance letter or a depressing little envelope that was way too thin to be good news. Instead, I got an email.  I got that email a week after late March when I was supposed to hear word, an email reminding me to send in all my signed paperwork by the end of the week.  Paperwork?  Signed paperwork?  Did that mean signed acceptance paperwork?  When I first saw the email in my inbox, I thought for sure this was a rejection email: bureaucrats saving money by eliminating paper waste.  If you cannot tell, I am not an optimist.  A dear friend would later describe my outlook on life as pessimism disguised as realism.  So, when I read this email requesting completed paperwork, I freaked out.  I yelled to my roommate – the same roommate I shared a room with from the first night of freshman year – and she responded in her normal calm, but excitable form.  She suggested responding to the email in a gracious, but inquiring manner.  And, like a good roommate, I took her advice and some twenty minutes later received a reply from Lew Larson - the then Vice President and now President of the JMMF – apologizing for the way I learned about my fellowship.  After that, a lot of yelling to late-sleeping housemates and celebratory hugs ensued, and then a phone call.  My first call was to the person who pushed me, if not told me I had to apply for the fellowship.

I met Pat Taylor two years before that April 2008, when I learned I was the New York State Madison Fellow.  I sat through her informational session about fellowships with little enthusiasm for science scholarships and teaching abroad opportunities.  I figured that, even if I did not find an appropriate fellowship, I still got some of those good cookies from the dining hall by attending the session.  And then Pat spoke about the final fellowship on her list, and it was as if she were speaking directly to me.  What I learned about the JMMF that day was that it was for social studies educators who wanted to teach high school students about the importance of the Constitution.  It sounded easy enough to me.  I decided to be a social studies teacher at age five, and had stuck to my guns about that choice ever since.  It was only after my first meeting with Pat about a week later that I learned the application process was not going to be as simple as I once thought.  And it was a year and a half after our initial meeting that I learned how excruciating and inspiring the entire process would be.

The JMMF application was demanding and time-consuming, with several small writing pieces and one intimidating Constitution essay.  I spent hours, days, weeks, working to best articulate why I thought the Constitution was important to people who cannot yet vote.  Yet eventually it happened, and I went to Pat with a sense of completion.  I thought the process was over, that I could sit back and wait for word, but Pat reminded me of one little section that still needed work: the ‘Additional Information’ portion.  Easy, throw-away section. I’ll get it done tonight.  No, Pat told me.  This was not a throw away; it may be one of the most important parts of the application.  And she was right.  The ‘Additional Information’ was the hardest part of the process.  It was the most difficult because there were no parameters, just a blank space to write any extra details about myself.  I had to decide who I was and how I was going to present myself to a panel of strangers who would literally judge me for it. It was a terrifying process, but I when I look back at my application,  I am most proud of that section because it represents who I was at age twenty-one.  I will forever have a record of myself, of who I was just before I graduated from Marist College.

By late April of 2008, my application was in the mail to the JMMF office and I had come to terms with the fact that, even if I did not receive the fellowship, I had learned an incredible amount about myself.  That was over three years ago.  Those years have been filled with so much graduate school reading at Boston College that I took a six-month reading hiatus after graduation, learning what is really important in life while serving as a nanny to a toddler with Short Gut Syndrome, spending an amazing summer in Washington, D.C. with my fellowship class meeting Justice Roberts and having private tours of federal buildings, and job searching in an incredibly turbulent economy.  And although all the goals I had when I was twenty-one have not been met and I now have new goals thrown into the mix, I would never take back my time working on the JMMF.  I grew as a person and was lucky enough to make a professional family with other JMMFs all over the country.  The James Madison Memorial Fellowship pushed me and I am grateful for that, and for the support Pat Taylor gave me then and has given me since that time.

Goldwater Scholarship/NSF Graduate Research Fellowship

Cathy DeBlase '11, Goldwater Scholar 2009, NSF-GRF 2011

Cathy the chemist

I recall being extremely nervous when starting the Goldwater application, yet applying for the Goldwater was surprisingly exciting. While the financial benefit of the scholarship is a positive incentive, the most advantageous and rewarding aspect of the entire application process is developing an original research proposal. When I applied (Fall 2008), I had completed a summer of research and was becoming familiar with searching and analyzing scientific literature. Still, I had never written a proposal before. It is amazing how an idea and infinite drafts develop into a proposal to be proud of. To this day, I still wish I could go into a lab and start working on the project I proposed! If you are awarded the Goldwater scholarship, you are not expected to carry out the proposal of your work, so you are free to propose anything you are interested in. The application also requires personal essays. My advice to anyone embarking on an application journey would be: do not underestimate the personal statements. During the process, I discovered character traits I never knew I had, and the process led me to trace my interest in chemistry and research back to its beginning. Completing the application is time consuming and has many ups and downs, but there is no substitute for being told you were named a Goldwater Scholar by your ecstatic mentor –and there is no substitute for sharing success with those who made it possible.

For me, the Goldwater application process set the stage for many opportunities including summer research experiences (REUs) and, most recently, the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship (NSF-GRF). This fellowship provides recipients with government funding to pursue the doctorate in his or her chosen field. The application consists of a previous research experience essay, a personal statement, and a proposal for graduate research. I started the NSF application during Summer 2010. While at the national meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS) in Boston, MA, I attended a lecture hosted by Professor William Dichtel of Cornell University. He spoke about Covalent Organic Frameworks (COFs), which are new materials that can be incorporated into photovoltaics. At the end of his lecture, I recall leaning over to my friend and stating, “That’s the research I want to do.” After I returned from the meeting, I began searching the literature and developed a research proposal for incorporating singlet fission into COFs, which may greatly enhance the efficiency of organic solar cells. The most influential aspect of the NSF-GRF application is that it helped me choose the research I wish to pursue as well as the institution and research advisor with whom I want to conduct it. Just this summer of 2011, I have traveled to Ithaca to start my graduate studies at Cornell University.

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