Ambitious ASU students guided toward the world's most prestigious awards

By

Mary Beth Faller

All of Arizona State University celebrates when its students win prestigious awards.

The journey to those prominent scholarships and fellowships is long, requiring years of work and reflection, and ASU provides an enormous amount of help along the way. The Lorraine W. Frank Office of National Scholarship Advisement works with students as young as freshmen, providing information sessions, writing help and practice interviews.

All of that sounds like practical assistance, but guiding these accomplished people as they refine their goals and reflect on their talents can be life-changing in ways that will help the world.

Frank Smith III, who’s majoring in political science, is applying for the Rhodes, Marshall and Schwarzman scholarships this fall. The process has altered his path.

Frank Smith III

“I’ve done a lot of foster-care reform work. I’ve helped to get bills passed in the state legislature and I’ve gone to the White House,” said Smith, who was in foster care as a child and took a semester off last year to work on Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.

“At first I thought that’s what I wanted to do. And yes, I’ll always be an advocate for foster reform. But working on these applications has helped me tie my previous work into a much larger goal of closing the opportunity gap, providing equal opportunity to all.”

Smith, who hopes to get a master’s in public policy, took some time after the campaign and traveled in Europe, then did a study-abroad program in Ghana over the summer.

“The more I’ve gone abroad the more I see that you can’t just look at public-policy issues through the lens of a single nation or single point of view — you need to see it from that global vantage point,” he said.

Bren Ram had a vague idea of wanting to work in the world of academia after acquiring a doctorate, but the Marshall Scholarship application has created a new vision.

“It’s now solid that teaching is the thing I want to do with my life,” Ram said. “I’m passionate about education, research and writing.

Bren Ram

“This process helped me to learn that what I enjoy doing is working with students, and I always want to do that.”

ASU has been raising its profile with elite awards. In March, ASU became one of only four institutions to have winners of the three most prestigious international scholarships – Marshall, Rhodes and, for the first time at ASU, a Churchill Scholar. And ASU has become a top producer of Fulbright winners, with 15 students currently abroad in the U.S. government’s flagship exchange program.

In addition, 19 Sun Devils won a prestigious Gilman scholarship to study abroad this past summer — the most ever for ASU.

These awards are highly competitive but within reach of many students, according to Kyle Mox, director of the Lorraine W. Frank Office of National Scholarships Advisement at ASU and associate dean of Barrett, the Honors College. He has seen ASU’s students, especially at Barrett, arriving with higher academic ability and more ambition.

“They’re well aware of where they are and what the values are. They feel empowered,” he said. “They made a choice to come to ASU and to benefit from that choice.”

Mox is the president of the National Association of Fellowship Advisers, so he has a good perspective on the national landscape. Many universities have small offices, with a part-time faculty member doing the work. ASU has three full-time and two part-time staffers in its office, housed in Barrett, the Honors College. Besides recruiting students from across the university, including non-Barrett students from all campuses, the office also helps applicants work with faculty to get good letters of recommendation and offers workshops showing examples of successful and unsuccessful application packages.

Most deadlines are in the fall, so the scholarship office ramps up in the spring with information sessions and workshops.

Simply choosing among the many options is another way the office helps, Mox said.

“A lot of students come in and say, ‘What am I eligible for?’ And it could be dozens of awards,” he said, each with varying requirements.

But many have a rigorous application process and students get a lot of help with that.

“My original rough draft for my personal statement for the Marshall was about 700 words over the limit. It was rambling. It was incoherent. It was me talking about my life story and all these things I was interested in,” said Ram, who is majoring in philosophy and creative writing.

But Mox helped Ram whittle away and shape the narrative.

“So I was able to look back on my life and goals and interests with an eye toward how they made me who I am rather than a series of disconnected events,” Ram said. “Even if I don’t get the scholarship, the process of the personal statement has helped me learn about myself in a personal way.”

Cara Popeski

That process can be long, as Cara Popeski found out when she applied for the Marshall and previous scholarships.

“I sent Dr. Mox dozens of drafts of my essays, and I mean dozens,” said Popeski, who said the work is helping as she also applies to medical school. Popeski graduated in May with a degree in psychology and hopes to have a career in behavioral health.

Applicants also get prepped for interviews. Some are practice sessions, but many top awards require the university to endorse or nominate students and that means an interview with ASU staff and faculty. Smith, who won a Truman Scholarship two years ago, said his interview at ASU was more difficult than with the Truman panel.

“It was the most intense interview of my life,” he said.

“It was confrontational — anything is on the table. And it made me better. It made me think more meticulously about what I say and where I can steer the conversation.”

Ram is actively involved with the forensic debate team and is a confident speaker. But the ASU interview was tough.

“I thought I bombed it. It went well enough that ASU decided to endorse me, but I learned a lot,” Ram said.

“I always think that I can just wing, it but it opened my eyes that I have to be ready.”

 

Top photo by Jarod Opperman/ASU