Winning a major national scholarship, like the Rhodes or Marshall, can change a student’s life. It also underscores UT’s commitment to student success and increases our reputation as we try to become a Top 25 public research university.
Our Office of National Scholarships and Fellowships was created in 2007 to provide information and strategic guidance to UT students about nationally competitive scholarships and fellowships. Michael Handelsman, a professor of Spanish, became director in July 2011, and Nichole Fazio-Veigel was brought on a few months later as associate director.
Handelsman and Fazio-Veigel have worked diligently to educate the campus community about scholarship opportunities and guide students through the highly competitive application processes.
Their hard work is paying off in a precedent-setting year. This past fall, senior Lindsay Lee was named a Rhodes Scholar and senior Brianna Rader was named a Marshall Scholarship finalist. More than two dozen Fulbright and other scholarship applicants are awaiting word this spring.
What It Takes
A critical part of the office’s job is reaching out to freshmen and sophomores to make them aware of scholarships they might want to apply for later in their college careers. While grades are important, students don’t have to be honors students to be candidates.
In years past, major national scholarship scholarships focused on academics. Now the major scholarship foundations “want to support change agents,” according to Fazio-Veigel.
“You don’t become a Rhodes Scholar six weeks before the deadline. You become a Rhodes Scholar because you’ve taken advantage of every opportunity the university has to offer you over four years,” Fazio-Veigel said.
To be strong contenders, students need established relationships with faculty, a history of undergraduate research, a resume of civic involvement, and meaningful study abroad experience. Students also need to give careful thought about where they want to study and how their intended studies or research will impact society.
Handelsman noted that the scholarship application process is a tremendous learning experience for students no matter what happens.
“We take pride in offering outstanding students a process that—regardless of the immediate outcome—will contribute to their long-term growth as socially responsible citizens who understand that college is a time when they have the opportunity to create themselves for the rest of their lives,” he said.
Faculty Are “Eyes and Ears”
“We have world-class faculty at UT, and we need them to be our eyes and ears,” Fazio-Veigel said. The ONSF counts on faculty to refer students who have that special spark.
Once a student is deemed a viable candidate for a particular scholarship, ONSF guides him/her through the process—keeping note of deadlines, coaching on how to write a winning application, editing essays, and staging practice interviews.
“We know what a Rhodes or a Marshall application should look like,” said Fazio-Veigel, who studied at the University of Oxford on a national scholarship and helped launch the highly successful national scholarship office at the University of Washington.
Handelsman has held multiple Fulbright Scholarships—one as a college senior and five since he’s been at UT.
Fazio-Veigel and Handelsman are also members of the National Association of Fellowship Advisers, a forum for scholarship experts to share information and tips.
Setting Sights High
The ONSF is thrilled with UT’s recent successes—and they hope the publicity generated by the awards will encourage more student and faculty involvement.
UT is still playing catch-up to other universities in producing major scholarship applicants. While we have twenty-six Fulbright applicants this year (compared to only seven last year), our peer institutions have fifty to sixty and our aspirational peers have upwards of 100.
The office has launched a new website with extensive resources and guidance for those interested in applying for nationally competitive opportunities. It also offers tips for faculty and staff on identifying and supporting potential candidates, as well as writing letters of recommendation.
Spring is the peak of scholarship season.
Fulbright awards, as well as Goldwater and Udall Scholarships, will be announced between now and March. Critical Language Scholarships and Public Policy and International Affairs Scholarships are announced in late February. Truman Scholarships are announced in March.
“We have more applicants—and stronger applicants—than ever before,” Handelsman said. “We look forward to good news in 2014. And much more good news in the future.”