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Department of Communications/
News Bureau
22 Davis Hall, 10 Lippitt Road, Kingston, RI 0288
Phone: 401-874-2116 Fax: 401-874-7872

Media Contact: Jan Wenzel, 401-874-2116

URI’s Office of National Scholarships
boosts student success

KINGSTON, R.I. -- September 19 2003 -- Have you noticed that University of Rhode Island students keep winning awards in nearly every national and international scholarship competition? During the 2003 spring semester alone, students have been awarded the prestigious Truman, Fulbright, Boren, and Udall scholarships. (History student Carter Johnson is heading to Cambridge University this falls after winning an Economics and History Prize grant from that prestigious institution.)

It’s not a coincidence. The story behind those successes is URI’s Office of National Scholarships, which opened its doors in 1996, under the auspices of the Honors Program and at the urging of Cheryl Foster, professor of philosophy, who directs its activities.

URI is in the trend of having a designated advisor to help select and guide candidates for major scholarships.

Foster is a member of The National Association of Fellowship Advisors (NAFA) which was formed in 2000 after several university staff and faculty members met in Chicago to discuss an organization that addressed common issues, following the growth and change of prestigious scholarship advising.

"University faculty/staff who manage prestigious scholarships are dealing with one of the fastest growing areas in all of higher education," a NAFA newsletter noted that year. Today, more than 180 college and universities across the country are NAFA members.

"NAFA is growing because of the increase of information we need to complete our work, the number of students interested in participating (and the opportunities they enjoy), the demands on faculty time (who used to do this on their own), and pressure from regents, administrators, alumni, and legislators to be successful in this arena—all while maintaining high ethical standards and making elevated programming available for more students," says NAFA President Robert E. Graalman of Oklahoma State University.

Prior to the opening of URI’s scholarship office, the University had no real institutional pattern of nominating or winning awards, except for the Truman scholarship for which URI political science professors Al Killilea and Gerry Tyler recruited candidates. From 1977 to 1992, URI had seven Truman winners. Since 1992, URI has had four more winners.

Foster works with 30 faculty and staff members who volunteer to serve on selection committees, mentor applicants, and provide mock interviews for finalists.

The effort is paying off. So far, approximately 150 students have made campus applications for consideration. Of those, 100 have been nominated and have submitted applications to major competitions.

Since its office opened, URI has had 29 winners and additional 25 finalists for major awards in a wide range of programs, including the Rhodes, Truman, Marshall, Udall, Goldwater, Madison, Boren, and Fulbright competitions. In addition, the office also helps prepare undergraduates and graduate students interested in 13 other national scholarships as well as the A-10 postgraduate awards, local competitive scholarships, the R.I. Bar Association, and the Michael P. Metcalf Award from the Rhode Island Foundation.

"Institutions like URI do not have a long tradition of mentoring students in the most selective arenas of academic life, yet we increasingly have a student population where 20 percent of the student body is truly top notch academically and which responds well to educationally stimulating opportunities," says Foster. "Private institutions, by contrast, have long expected their best students to aspire to rigorous scholarship and graduate programs. We are developing similar expectations.

"It’s not about the money. We measure the success of the program not by the numbers of scholarships won," adds Foster, "but rather by the numbers of students applying for nominations, as we believe participation in the process to be an important academic opportunity for its own sake. Indeed, many students who do not advance beyond the URI nomination are able to recycle their scholarship applications into successful graduate school and professional school applications, most of which come with fellowships. Most importantly, preparing and completing an application allows a student to engage in a serious and extended period of self-reflection, and this often has an extremely positive impact on their personal sense of direction for the future, whether or not that involves additional study or scholarships."

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Page last revised Monday, September 22, 2003 .