When URI President David Dooley and a crowd of other officials recently gathered outside Autumn Guillotte’s history class, she had no idea that she would soon be the center of attention. The faculty and administrators were there to announce that Autumn had been awarded a $30,000 Truman Scholarship, the most prestigious scholarship in the nation for students seeking careers in public service.
“I wondered why I was seeing everyone I knew on the way into class, but I didn’t catch on because I had convinced myself that I wouldn’t get this award,” said Autumn, an honors student majoring in history and philosophy. “When President Dooley walked in, I think I knew then. I had to hold back all sorts of emotions—I just wanted to cry and laugh and scream.”
Senior Alexia Williams had a similar reaction when she found out in March that she had been awarded a Fulbright Fellowship to travel to Spain next year to teach English to elementary school students. As did junior Cherish Prickett, who learned last month she won a Goldwater Scholarship, the most prestigious undergraduate scholarship for students in the fields of mathematics, engineering and the natural sciences.
“I was shocked,” said Cherish, an industrial and systems engineering major. “I didn’t expect to win. Then I called my mom: ‘Mom, I’m a Goldwater.’”
URI administrators weren’t shocked, though. In fact, URI students are routinely among the winners of many of the nation’s top scholarships and fellowships. In addition to Autumn’s Truman Scholarship, Cherish’s Goldwater Scholarship, and Alexia’s Fulbright, recent graduate Hilary Lohmann also won a Fulbright this year. Four other students—Samuel Browne, Evan Cummiskey, Zöe Mitchell, and Joe Silva—won Boren Scholarships to study languages overseas, and three students—Dawn Parry, Sara Shapiro, and Samantha Ward—each won a NOAA Hollings Scholarship, the top scholarship for undergraduates studying the marine sciences. About half of URI applicants advance to the final stages of these competitions.
But that’s not all. This year URI students also won a Critical Language Scholarship from the U.S. Department of State, an Emerson Hunger Fellowship, a Venture for America Fellowship, 17 Demers Foreign Language Fellowships, and four Metcalf Fellowships.
“These are among the most highly competitive and prestigious scholarship programs in the country and it has almost become routine that our students are winning them every year,” said URI President David M. Dooley. “I couldn’t be more proud.”
This success is obviously not a fluke. Most of the winning students give a great deal of credit to Kathleen Maher in the University’s Office of National Fellowships and Academic Opportunities—part of the URI Honors Program—who mentors and coaches them and recruits faculty volunteers to provide important guidance, like reviewing personal essays, conducting mock interviews, and providing written recommendations.
“One reason for our great success is URI’s pool of high-achieving students keeps growing,” said Maher. “Our students also engage in a wide variety of co-curricular activities—like the Honors Program, undergraduate research, study abroad, and advanced language programs—that position them well to compete on a national level. Beyond that, it’s the extra mile that our faculty and staff are willing to go to foster the potential in students and to encourage them to strive for excellence.”
Although the application process can sometimes seem daunting, the rewards are sweet—and not just because they come with a big check. Lifelong networks are forged and doors to other opportunities open—not the least of which is entrance to world-class graduate school programs.
“Beyond the financial aspect, when I started to learn about the Truman program, I found it to be a community that I wanted to engage with,” Autumn said. “It’s about taking your education and using it to help people. That’s my goal—to work with and help people.”