Citadel students competing for fellowships in a global village
"Embrace your opportunity, be open to new thinking, and stay flexible," guest speaker Andrew Jones, '07, urged five rapt cadets seated at the seminar table on a bright winter afternoon. "And bear in mind that intellectual engagement and cultural awareness are universal virtues always in demand."
His parting advice resonated with the select group of eager, young scholars. They lingered to chat with Jones long after the lecture ended. His, to be sure, was the voice of vibrant, recent experience—experience to which they each aspired. Their conversation concluded with handshakes, smiles and the exchange of cell phone numbers.
Starting in October 2007, Jones held a Fulbright Research Grant to study the German ecumenical movement inspired by Pope John Paul II's controversial 1980 visit. After two productive semesters at the world's first Protestant college, the venerable Philipps-Universität Marburg in west-central Germany, Jones returned to the Lowcountry to begin the discernment year required of candidates for priesthood in the Episcopal Church. On a Wednesday in mid-February, he spoke of his Fulbright experience for the fellowships preparation seminar.
"If only there had been such a course three years ago!" Jones said to the class of fall 2009 cadet applicants for Fulbright, Marshall, Rhodes and Truman scholarships. "At that time, we drafted our personal statements and project proposals on the fly, stealing time as best we could. The ink was still wet when the campus review panel opened the packets."
The new crop of candidates agreed on the seminar's benefits. Noah Koubenec, a double major in political science and Spanish, as well as a contender for The Citadel's second Truman Scholarship in five years, remarked on the difficulty of drafting a proposal to redress an ineffective government policy. "I can't imagine pulling together a credible application without significant guidance. Just knowing what to expect in the national interview boosts confidence."
English and biology major Brian Burnley, whose interest is bioethics, concurred. "Settling on which of your credentials or experiences to highlight in the personal statement is hard if you're guessing at what this or that selection committee values. I have a better feel for it now."
The seminar is but one service provided by the new fellowships office in its first full-fledged year. Initiated in May 2006 by joint initiative of the president, provost, honors program director and interested faculty from several departments, the Office of Fellowships identifies and prepares superior students for national and international fellowships. Its director serves as campus representative for various granting agencies, disseminates information, advises student candidates, collects applications, schedules interviews and certifies nominees.
During the 2007-2008 academic year, the office operated with a limited mandate and no budget. Nonetheless, the first contingent of applicants in its charge achieved results. Two senior cadets notched grants: one Fulbright English teaching assistantship to Germany and one U.S. Department of State Critical Language Scholarship in Turkish at the American Research Institute in Ankara, Turkey. Last year, the success continued when senior French majors John Marcus and Julius Siler won English teaching grants sponsored by the French Ministry of Education. To take up the position in Montpellier, France, Marcus deferred by a year a graduate scholarship at the University of Colorado.
"Teaching English in a French school is a major step toward my doctorate and an academic career,” he said. "The practical experience there will make me a better instructor of French here." Certain internships and volunteer work with international relief organizations also fall under the Office of Fellowships' purview, especially if the applicants have requisite language skills or technical expertise that they want to put into practice and strengthen.
Senior Alex Byham chose to broaden her horizons and enhance her resume by applying for a two-year stint in the Peace Corps. "I wanted a break from school," she said, "but I also wanted a challenge to test the skills I've learned at The Citadel."
Despite its recent formation, the Office of Fellowships builds on a history of institutional success. In the last two decades, cadets have claimed Truman, Fulbright, Department of State, Congress-Bundestag, Rotary and Max Kade awards to pursue graduate study, language immersion and professional development at select institutions worldwide. Dedicated individual faculty helped groom competitive applicants. Those recipients have forged distinguished careers in the professions, public service and business. Among them are three former Fulbright scholars: David Smith, '92, Andrew Brooks, '06, and John Alexander, '03. Smith is currently a professor at East Carolina University; Brooks, a defense intelligence analyst in Washington, D.C.; and Alexander, a managing auditor for ExxonMobil's refining and supply division.
The Office of Fellowships assists students by matching their expertise and interests to the appropriate opportunity. Whereas the Truman Scholarship goes to accomplished students intent on careers in government or public service, Fulbright grants for research and teaching abroad require proficiency in the language of the host country. The Boren Scholarship and the U.S. Department of State Critical Language Scholarship fund study of languages rarely taught at American colleges and universities. Rhodes, Marshall and Gates Cambridge scholarships promote graduate degree work at British universities. The vast array of granting agencies, their missions and application procedures can be daunting for undergraduates, however outstanding, who are already balancing such demands as double majors and extracurricular activities, which often include holding cadet rank, editing student publications and organizing service projects in the community.
Several factors contribute to producing the pool of solid candidates. A rigorous core curriculum, nationally prominent degree programs, individualized honors tutorials, sponsored internships and munificent grants for summer study abroad prepare The Citadel's top students to vie with peers from the nation's most renowned schools for elite graduate fellowships. Critical to the process is early identification of potential candidates. Experienced faculty in each department find and help advance emerging talent. Promising candidates get help in cultivating their areas of expertise by the Star of the West International Summer Scholarship, affording travel, advanced study, independent research and field experience. The 2009 International Summer Scholars pursued projects in Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Germany, India, Mexico, South Africa and Spain. There are many people who have committed to the vision of a fellowships office on campus. When it comes to producing competitive candidates for the major grants, it takes a village.
Senior Ryan Keiper, a civil engineering major, used his summer scholarship to travel to Isla Mendez, El Salvador, where he worked on a water purification project mounted by Water Missions International, Engineers Without Borders and the Yale School of Public Health. The experience shaped his application for Fulbright, Marshall and Rhodes scholarships. Health, exercise and sport science major Natalie Obst spent her summer in Mumbai, India, studying traditional ayurvedic medicine. She is convinced that the combination of yoga, meditation and specialized diet has applications to quality, low-cost public healthcare in post-industrial Western societies. Obst has applied for a Fulbright Research Grant to continue her research in India. Both students were among the five present at Andrew Jones's talk.
Students interested in pursuing a graduate fellowship learn early in the process that competition for the awards is fierce. The Marshall Scholarship received 982 endorsed applicants for 40 awards in 2009. Last year there were 16 applicants for three Fulbright research grants to Venezuela. The Office of Fellowships nominated a Spanish major with stellar class rank and impressive prior study in Bolivia, Spain and Venezuela. Although he did not make the cut, there was nothing more he could have done at this stage of his academic career to prepare himself. Undergraduate seniors frequently find themselves in the mix with master's-level candidates.
Then there are unexpected setbacks. Last year's candidate for a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship in Chile was informed that the Chilean government had cut the program. Despite the disappointments, there is often a beneficial fallout of an unsuccessful fellowship application. The applicant to Venezuela was admitted to renowned graduate programs at Georgetown and Colorado. He has accepted a scholarship at Boulder, and he may well reapply for the Fulbright in a year or two.
Story by Col. Albert E. Gurganus
Dr. Al Gurganus is the founding director of the Office of Fellowships. He was named to a three-year term in June 2008 after logging two years of preparatory organizational work as director-designate. The former head of the Department of Modern Languages held undergraduate and graduate scholarships to Germany and counts himself a true believer in the value of the experience. He personally advised half a dozen Citadel German majors in successful bids for Fulbright scholarships.
Reprinted from The Citadel magazine.Read more from the 2009 edition of The Citadel magazine.